Going Back to Work: Alex’s Story

My Position: Graphic Artist for a design and manufacturing company
Length of Time Off:
12 weeks (California “disability”)
Position Status:
 Full-time

Even before I was married, I knew I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. When I got pregnant, it was something that my husband and I talked about, but living in southern California with it’s high cost of living… it wasn’t going to happen. And it wasn’t easy for either of us.

My husband knew it was my dream to be a SAHM and I understood exactly why we couldn’t do it. There wasn’t really anything to debate on the subject.

After my son was born, I soaked up each and every minute with him that I could during my 12 week maternity leave. During my very last week, I got in as much snuggle time as I could and tried my best not to wallow— easier said than done.

My first few weeks back at work were a lot easier than I expected. It was nice to have some adult interaction again and I was happy to see many of my co-workers. I was very lucky that my body responded well to pumping breast milk at work and my office was very accommodating to my pumping needs and schedule.

Even though my small company only had two restrooms, I had no issue with using one of them to pump multiple times each day. I knew the law in California stated that my employer had to provide me with a private space that wasn’t a restroom, but I preferred it. There was a sink right there and we kept our restrooms very clean. I pumped three times each day during the 10 or so hours I was away from home. After about a month, I was able to cut back to twice a day because my freezer was overflowing.

My mother-in-law graciously volunteered to watch our son while my husband and I were working.

For my husband, this was a perfect arrangement. We didn’t have to worry about finding a day care provider, we didn’t have to worry about TJ getting sick more often from being around other kids, it saved us a ton of money and he was with someone who loved him immensely.

For me, it was both fantastic and difficult. On the positive side, see the paragraph above. I, too, was very grateful to have a family member watching our son rather than a stranger. I knew if we had to, we would have been able to find a day care provider who would be amazing, but not having to worry about that was a relief.

All of those positives aside, it was still very hard for me. For one, my mother-in-law had to move in with us for this to work— her home was 400 miles away. We had an 1100 square foot house, and we added a bed to our office for her. There wasn’t a lot of room to add another adult.

Compared to many mamas I know and the troubled and toxic relationships they have with their in-laws, my mother-in-law is awesome, but it was still difficult to have an extra “mother” living with us, no matter how wonderful she was. She had never breastfed my husband, so she had to learn the ins and outs of bottle-feeding a breastfed baby, which was a big struggle at times. At one point, she was over-feeding him and by the time I was able to get her to understand how breast milk was different than formula in this regard, my freezer stash was completely wiped out and I was pumping milk he would be drinking the very next day.

Ultimately, I felt like I was being replaced. I felt like a dairy cow that just brought home money and food for the baby and the mother I had become during my 12-week leave was disappearing.

My job was in graphic design. I designed apparel and accessories for the customers of my company, including some major theme parks and movie studios. When I worked, I usually had my ear buds in and would go hours without interacting with people. It made perfect sense to me that I would be able to talk to my boss about working from home one or two days a week after my maternity leave ended.

When I brought it up after I had been back for about two months, my boss turned it down without hesitation. He felt like he would have no control over how many hours I spent on a project, regardless of whether it was completed on-time. He also never had any children, so there was no way for him to ever have an inkling of understanding. I cried the whole way home that evening.

After that conversation with my boss, my feelings toward a job that I really loved changed. I felt like I was being forced to choose between my career and motherhood. Because I needed to get home to nurse my son in the evenings, I didn’t have the freedom to stay late at the office on short notice like I did before. The other members of my department weren’t mamas and I felt like I was looked down upon because I had a new priority in my life that came before my job.

I no longer wanted to be there anymore and going to work every day became a chore.

Emotionally, things were difficult in waves. I’d have a few weeks where everything was hunky-dory and I was chugging along. My mother-in-law spending every other weekend back at her house helped a lot. I felt like we could reset as a family.

Then I’d have a few days of misery and self-loathing. Some days I would spend my entire one-hour commute home in tears; angry at my boss for not letting me work from home, angry at the economy for “forcing” me to work, angry at my husband because there wasn’t anything he could do, angry at myself for being so upset and not being able to just accept that this was how things were going to be. Why couldn’t I just “get over it?”

My work performance suffered and I had a less-than-stellar performance review when my son was about eight months old. I honestly didn’t care. I knew we’d have trouble if I lost my job, but a little part of me wondered if I’d get my wish of being a SAHM if I got fired.

One evening when my son was about nine months old, he bumped his head. Rather than come to me for comfort, he went to my mother-in-law. It was such a crushing feeling, my chest literally hurt.

But by the time my son’s first birthday rolled around, I was getting to a point where I was able to accept that I was going to be a working mama. I had fewer and fewer days in tears as I drove home from work. As my son was growing, his amazing personality was developing; I knew it was bad for him to see his mama in a near-constant state of anger or self-loathing. He must have sensed this in me because I didn’t miss any of his firsts… I was there to see his first time rolling over, crawling and walking.

I was finally able to make peace with our situation.

Image by Cari Hollis Photography

When TJ was about 18 months old, we were given an opportunity to move to Utah thanks to a promotion and job change for my husband. I felt completely selfish in asking, but I had to: was I going to have to find a new job? Or could I be a stay-at-home-mom? I knew it was going to be next to impossible to find a job in my field in Utah that paid even half of what I was making in California.

When my husband said that we would be able to make it work for me to be a SAHM, it took a while before it actually sunk in. I left my job about a month before we moved and I had many mornings where I woke up and started getting ready for work… only to be greeted by my happy toddler ready for a walk to the park instead.

I have been a SAHM for about a year and a half now. It’s not easier or harder than my life as a working mama was, but it’s right for me and it’s made me a much happier mama.

 

Check out more Going Back to Work stories: Corey’s Story, Debbie’s Story, Christy’s Story and Mary Ellen’s story.

 

4 Responses to Going Back to Work: Alex’s Story

  1. Pingback: Going Back to Work: Christy’s Story | Mama Say What?!

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  3. Pingback: Going Back to Work: Debbie's Story | Mama Say What?!

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