I go back to work on Wednesday. Even writing that sentence, my heart simultaneously plummeted and soared, like when you get on an elevator that you think is going down but then the doors close and it starts going up.
Thanks to a generous maternity leave policy and a lot of saved-up vacation days, I got to spend six full months at home with Hugo, watching him grow from a tiny inert little thing who slept all day to a solid six-month-old who babbles and chatters and lights up when I enter a room, who sits up for minutes at a time before listing suddenly sideways, who laughs uproariously at the opening bars of "Old MacDonald," but only if you do the verse about the cow. I was incredibly lucky to have that time, but now it's over and I feel sad.
I feel sad. Are we allowed to say we feel sad, we brand-new mothers who straddle the will-I-or-won't-I line the moment we see that pink and wrinkled creature in the delivery room and then decide, ultimately, that we will? Hugo and I have spent every waking moment together in the days and months since he was born, and now we won't anymore, and I feel sad.
I feel sad that he won't be my constant companion, my accomplice at the post office and the grocery store. I feel sad that I'll be replacing our cuddled-up feedings with a locked conference room and the sterile whine of my breast pump. I feel sad that he'll be sleepy and bathed and pajamed just as I'm getting home from work in the evenings. I feel sad that I'm just the tiniest bit excited to go back.
(Is it awful that I'm the tiniest bit excited to go back? To have conversations with adults who aren't the long-suffering UPS man, to exercise parts of my brain that have long lain dormant, to do a job that I love? To wear clothes that are ironed and dry-clean-only, that don't have that telltale spit-up stain on the left shoulder? To spend the hourlong commute on the bus reading—luxury of all luxuries!—a book that doesn't have pictures? Oh, small pleasures, sure. Thrilling ones, even. But I'm still sad.)
Here is what makes it all a little easier, for now at least: when I leave my baby in the mornings, I will be leaving him with his dad. A few weeks before we had Hugo, Sean's company started offering—in a rather jaw-dropping turn of events, for which we are eternally grateful—a generous paternity leave of their own, which means Sean will be able to stay at home, full-time, with Hugo for the next three months. At some point, I guess, I will have to start doing some research on daycares and nanny shares, but for now I am clinging—in denial? Definitely in denial—to the one thing that makes it all slightly more bearable. I might not be with my baby every waking second anymore, but I know he'll be in good hands, at least. The very best.
A month or so ago, I was driving home through Golden Gate Park and this came on the radio—these days are numbered / this life absolute—and when I glanced back into the rearview mirror and caught sight of Hugo asleep in his car seat (head lolling sideways, spiky eyelashes against creamy white cheeks, hands folded heartbreakingly over his chest), it was all I could do not to pull over and weep. The thought of leaving him....well, it almost tore me in two. If you have a story about going back to work after having a baby and everything being okay in the end, now would be a really good time to tell me about it.