With my change in jobs between Audra and Ellie, I also changed how my maternity leave worked. With my last job, working for local government, I had access to twelve weeks unpaid FMLA. From the second I went into the hospital to have Audra until the day I went back 10ish weeks later (due to a surgery recovery the year before slightly overlapping in time), I had no paycheck.
The same FMLA qualifications were true in my newest job, but with one incredible, amazing shift — my boss offered me six weeks of that leave time paid.
Paid maternity leave in the United States.
I can't tell you what a difference it made in how I looked at things right then and there — especially when I went into labor three weeks early and delivered Ellie before literally any aspect of our lives was 100% ready for her.
I love my job.
I love my coworkers and I love the work I do. I have literally the best boss I have ever worked for. The idea of being away from work for twelve whole weeks simply wasn't something I even wanted to do.
But I also wasn't ready to put my tiny itty bitty newborn six week old in daycare. I knew I wanted my baby to be at least three months old before she ever had to spend whole days without us.
So... I went back to work from home.
I've been in the office a couple of days a week, on those days that Jason is home with Ellie, but otherwise I'm scrambling to work a full-time job while performing the duties of a whole different full-time job... keeping Ellie alive.
I have this whole new level of respect for stay at home moms (who are, after all, working their own full-time jobs and not getting any kind of compensation for it)... but my respect is quadrupled for women who work from home while managing children, because let me tell you — I cannot do that.
I can work. I can take care of Ellie. I can take care of the house. I sure as hell can't do all three of those things.
I pick two.
Well, let's be honest.
I pick Ellie and work and I let my house fall to pieces in the interim.
Once a week I go on an insane hour-long cleaning spree to get things back to decent. Sometimes I stretch it out to two hours and my house looks almost presentable for the afternoon, until our Audra The Destructor gets home and ten seconds later the whole house looks like this photo of her room:
I just am not built for a Work From Home life, and that's become increasingly obvious.
Let me reassure you as well that if I'm not built for working from home, I am double-so not built for staying home. I go crazy during maternity leave.
I invent ridiculous reasons to leave the house. I go to Wendy's because I just have to have a baked potato. I go to Starbucks and then just sort of drive for a while, with Ellie napping in the backseat. I watch a lot of Frasier and I watch a lot of Cheers.
I watch Ellie nap. I watch Indy nap. Then, of course, my maternity leave ends and I go back to work, but those three days a week I'm here in the house I...
watch Ellie nap.
I watch Indy nap.
I go to Wendy's for a baked potato and also for chili, just to switch things up.
I leave the house every weekend, sometimes with Jason and sometimes with friends, and I just go be places that aren't my house.
Ellie goes into daycare next week when her spot opens up. She'll be three and a half months old, about a month younger than Audra was when she went into full-time outside-the-home daycare. I'm nervous, I won't lie — but I'm not as nervous as I was before. I know these women now, and they know me. I know how they loved Audra and nurtured her. I know how she was excited to see them in the mornings. I know how she still is ready to run out the door for school and know that Ellie will get the same care and love.
Will I cry when I drop her off for the first time?
She's still so little.
But I have always been a woman built for life outside my house, and I have to tell you all honestly that I cannot wait to go back to the office full time and have the two places — work and home — be separated again.
I feel a lot of guilt around that, sure. I know that it's supposed to be my utter desire to be home with my babies all the time forever, but... it's just not, and it never has been. I've said before that having children was always in my life plan, right from early childhood, and that's true... but staying home with them really wasn't. After all, my mom worked full time my whole life.
A working mom was the first version of a mom I knew and I built my plans around that.
I thought about quitting to stay home while I was pregnant with Audra, I really did. If we could have afforded it, I might have given it a try.
And I would probably have gone utterly insane from cabin fever by now.
I do feel guilty that I don't want to stay home all day. I love the weekends, and I love holidays where we're together all day... but I also love working. I love my job. I'm terrible at doing crafts and I end up staying shy at home rather than taking the girls out to places where I might have to befriend strangers.
That's the truth of motherhood, though, isn't it?
Everything you do, every choice you make, is just another way to feel guilt for whatever it is you aren't doing. Especially as we increasingly insist that mothers' entire identities should revolve around their children, this gets rough.
Audra and Ellie and Jason are my whole heart, it's true.
But I am my whole heart, too.