Last September, I gave birth to a baby girl. She was 11 days late, weighed in at nearly 9 pounds, and had a head full of dark hair. I worked up until the moment I went into labor. I’m admittedly not the most patient person, so my wait for labor was my first lesson in patience from my daughter. I thought that working up until I went into labor would keep me distracted. Oh, how wrong I was. Let’s be honest. When you’ve got a giant baby perched directly on your bladder and you can’t sleep because you can’t get comfy, there is no amount of distraction in the world that can take away your sense of frustration and anticipation.
For months, my boss and I discussed my plan for maternity leave. (I work as a music publicist for an indie record label). We even had this kid who was supposed to take over some of my more mundane and administrative tasks while I was out. I farmed out all of my projects to our independent publicists. I was ready. Work was slowing down since everyone expected me to give birth literally any moment. I was the first woman who ever worked at our male-dominated company to ever have a child while working there and they were surprisingly supportive. My boss said to me, “I do not want you even looking at your work emails while you are gone. Enjoy your daughter.” I took it to heart. As we were on our way to the hospital, I texted my boss that I was in labor (finally!) and I immediately took my work emails off of my phone lest temptation got the best of me and I decided to look.
The next three months went by in a delirious blur. A wonderful blur, to be sure, but I can’t honestly say that I had much of a daily structure. I would wake up, stare at my baby, nurse her from bed, watch her fall back asleep, and drink coffee while watching Live with Kelly + Michael. (Please don’t judge. My brain didn’t have much capacity for deep thought). Eventually, I would move to the den where I joke that I spent the first three months of my daughter’s life topless while nursing and watching Breaking Bad. Seriously, y’all. I plowed through all five seasons of that show in about 3 weeks. That’s some serious addiction. I was worried my child’s first word would be “bitch” or “yo.” Thank you, Jesse Pinkman. Sometimes we would take walks. Sometimes I’d attempt to go to the grocery store. Some days I would drive somewhere with the intention of getting out of the house and then turn right around and drive home.
Anyway, I was scheduled to be back at work at the beginning of January. The days after Christmas I spent snuggling my baby. I was a little excited to get back to the office; adult conversation and a structured day are good for the soul. But I was also a little apprehensive about coming back since my warm baby who smelled of milk had been the center of my universe for three solid months. The first day back was kind of strange. I drove my usual route to the office. I listened to Morning Edition. I checked my overwhelming email inbox that hadn’t been looked at since I had taken it off of my phone while in labor. I pumped in my little room with the door locked and a John Doe poster staring down at me. I didn’t cry.
The next two weeks were fine, since the baby was home with my husband at first. And then, our nanny started. Our glorious, amazing nanny. I love her dearly, as a friend first (which is how she ended up being our nanny) and as a nanny second. She is generous and loving with my child. But after she started, my guilt set in. My baby rolled over. She learned to sit on her own. She was hitting all of these developmental milestones and I wasn’t there to witness them. At first, I felt pretty sad about it. I was in this male dominated industry trying to pump two times a day at work with punk rock posters staring down at me and my sweet daughter was at home growing like a weed. I knew I had never intended to be a stay-at-home mom. I had been working for years to be where I am in my career and it isn’t something that I want to stop doing. But at the same time, I wanted to be there for everything.
Then came the dreaded first work trip. Every year, our label has a presence at SXSW in Austin, Texas and each year I am required to go as part of my position. I dreaded this beyond belief. I was anxious about leaving for four days while in the midst of breast feeding. I diligently pumped to stock up milk for the four days I would be gone. I flew to Texas on a Wednesday and pumped in a family bathroom in the Houston airport during a layover. I over-used FaceTime to see the face of my darling young one several times a day. During our label showcase, I pumped in a band van in an alley behind the venue. I stored breast milk in a bar fridge while my acts were performing. All in all, it was fine. Our daughter was fine (if not a little fussy), I was fine, everything was great. And I realized… I’m doing alright.
Before my trip, my friend gave me some sage advice. “It’s good to have something of your own to focus on,” she said. “It is so important for your daughter to grow up seeing her mama have a career and passion all her own. It will be okay.” And you see? She’s right. I keep reminding myself that my goal is to raise a bright, independent daughter and the best way to do that is to give her an example. While there will always be a part of me that wants to be home with this little girl I love so much, there will also always be this part of me that owes it to her to be what I’ve always wanted to be, to have the career I’ve worked so hard for, and to show her that independence is a quality to be admired.
So. Now I don’t feel guilty anymore. I’m sure there will be moments during this process where these feelings will come and go. But I also try to remember that I’m staying true to myself, and I’m being the best mother I know how to be….And that mother pumps breast milk in band vans, which is pretty cool.