It’s like déjà vu all over again.
10 years after I returned to work for the first time after mat leave, I’m back again for the first time in what feels like a long time.
You see, last week was my first week back after having been on mat leave with my second child for over a year. (Why so long? Oh that’s a story for another day…) My first mat leave was over 10 years ago, when my first daughter had just turned 9 months old.
The circumstances were different then. I was forced back to work early due to my husband’s layoff, and the fact that the maternity pay was roughly $125 a week at that stage, once my top up had run out.
I remember dropping her off for the first time. There were no transition visits then. Just the initial one where we got to meet the staff and see how we liked the facility. No gradual introduction of my baby into the environment. Just a cold turkey drop off and a lot of tears…not just hers.
I was lucky though. The centre came highly recommended (my cousin worked in an adjacent room with the older kids). The key worker seemed lovely and had oodles of experience. They were incredibly caring, incredibly qualified, and I was incredibly sad.
I will never forget Emily (her key worker) having to literally pry her from my arms that day. Not only was my Girly holding on for dear life, I couldn’t physically bring myself to leave her in the care of anyone else when she had been solely mine all her little life.
She cried all day that day. And the next. And the next. Often crying herself to sleep out of exhaustion. Often crying so much she made herself sick. They’re not supposed to tell you this, obviously. But my cousin checked in a few times, and I told her I’d rather know the truth.
Eventually, she stopped crying. I don’t remember how long it was…maybe a few days…maybe a few weeks. All I know is that I’ll never forget it. And part of me will never forgive myself either.
Fast forward 10 years to my sweet little surprise. I got to keep her home with me a little longer – 13 months to be exact. And D-Day (Daycare Day) came sooner than I thought it would. We did get a few transition visits the week before I came back to work, but as I watched through the monitors in the parent room while she wailed and wailed in the arms of her key worker, I couldn’t stomach more than an hour each time, running to her rescue and taking her home.
Last week I went back to work and she went to daycare cold turkey for the full day. I called to check in on day one and heard her screaming in the background. When daddy picked her up, she had puffy eyes, and was doing that little hiccup cry they do when they’ve been at it a while. On day 2 he kept her home (he was too distraught from pick up the day before and took the day off work).
Day 3 she was asleep when I arrived so was too disoriented to know what was going on anyway. But her key worker mentioned she’d been crying and napping pretty much all day.
It’s agonizing. Utterly agonizing.
I’m not a proponent of the cry-it-out method and this feels very much like exactly that. Maybe I’m oversensitive. Maybe I’m too old for this. But whatever the reason, 10 years of parenting experience with its highs, lows, and everything in between (including subsequent bouts of separation anxiety at the start of KG and grade 1 and virtually every bedtime) hasn’t made THIS experience any easier.
The mom guilt is still there, and it’s rife.
Having to hand your baby over to an essential stranger, knowing they could never love her the way you do. Knowing they won’t understand her little quirks and wants and ways of asking. Knowing they’ll witness milestones before you. Knowing that one day they’ll turn toward their key worker without tears, arms outstretched and suddenly you’re sharing their affection with someone you only see for a few moments every day.
Yep, that day will come. I know it will. And I don’t know what tugs at my heart more… knowing that right now she is probably sobbing her eyes out waiting for mama to come to her rescue, or knowing that one day she won’t be.
You see, the guilt is always going to be there. Whether it’s over child care arrangements, going back to work, not working, breastfeeding, bottle feeding, screen time, activities, bedtime battles, letting them eat cookies for breakfast… you are ALWAYS going to feel like you’re screwing up. Like you’re doing wrong by them.
But in my 10 years as a mom I’ve learned this one thing for certain: It’s in that fear of screwing up that you know you’re actually doing a good job.
If you didn’t worry, you wouldn’t care.
I know that sounds ridiculous.
But the bottom line is that you will always wonder if you could have done better. You will always wonder if you loved them enough. You will always wonder if you made the right choices. And every day you’ll look at them as they fall asleep in your arms, or sit on the couch across from you watching their iPad, or as they run off smiling with their friends…and you’ll wonder if you could have done more. Should have done more. Should have made different choices. Could have done better.
And I’m here to tell you … no.
You made the only choices that you could have made in the moment you had to make them. You made the choices that worked for you based on the place you were in life at that time. Otherwise you would have made a different choice.
And whatever choice you made, you did the best you could with it. You do the best you can with it.
And as long as you tell them every day that you love them…
And as long as they always have you at the end of each day to stroke their hair and give them a hug…
And as long as you forgive yourself again and again and again…
You will always do right by them. Trust me.