real life

'Today, I am brave. Today, I'm taking my baby to the office to discuss returning to work.'

Today, I am brave.

Today, I’m taking my baby in to meet with my manager to discuss my imminent return to work.

As I stand in the elevator, my heart pounding and my stomach churning, I reflect upon life’s seemingly trivial moments: beginnings and endings, old and new, firsts and lasts…

Last time I stood in this elevator I had a belly so large I could hardly see my feet. I was elated in anticipation of meeting my second child, struggling to carry my good luck balloon to the car along with the few office items I was taking on my hiatus. (Little did I know that was nothing compared to the juggling I would be doing over the next 10 months with a baby and a toilet training two-year-old who had a rather impressive way of scaling up my legs.)

I’m quickly interrupted as people pile into the elevator, rapidly discussing the day’s meetings. I am jolted into focus, struck with the realisation that while I have changed so much during maternity leave, life here… hasn’t.

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The elevator opens again and they burst out. My nostalgic recollections dissipate and I’m left in the elevator. Me and my baby, back against the wall and thoughts of the new firsts filling my head.

My daughter’s first day at daycare… with a stranger… with germs… not being nursed to sleep.

Back to ‘old me’, ‘new me’, who even is this ‘ME’ anymore? I feel I haven’t spoken to her in a long time. My self-doubt raises steadily as the elevator passes each floor.

In my situation, I have to go back to work as the primary earner. Though, this was a close call with the cost of having two children in care. I shimmy out of the elevator, pretending this is my floor so I can do a few more power poses in the bathroom. I watch my wide-eyed daughter stare up at me from the baby carrier. She copies my deep breathing – ahh, the power of mirror neurons.

In my anxious state this triggers my memory of the recent comments from other mum friends, empathising with my ‘need’ to go back to work.

“Oh, it’s so hard to put her in day care…. she’s just so little”.

I question my decision again. Should I take their suggestion of working nights; working from home? Could I become Insta famous? No, my fierce and dishevelled two-year-old won’t wear shoes. Hardly Insta-worthy.

Facebook posts on the benefits of attachment parenting that appear in my feed circle my mind. I shake it off and bundle us back in, talking to my babe – my attempt to soothe myself.

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My daughter and I. Image: Supplied

The past few weeks, my return to work was a hot topic amongst my social circles - unbeknownst to me at the time, I was seeking approval. I was looking for anyone to give me permission or reassurance.

The common thread of feeling, that you can’t win, was blaringly apparent.

My parent’s generation comment: “There was no such thing as maternity leave back then."

"When are you going to go back and start paying taxes?" a family member jokingly prodded.

Some have not had the luxury of paid maternity leave and have been back at work since there babies were tiny. And I spare a thought for the superhero stay-at-home parents. Was it their choice? Are they just as torn? Do they feel the societal expectation to be financially contributing? Or do they doubt their contribution to the household as much as I have without the clearly defined ‘boundaries’ of the formal workplace?

Do they feel valued?

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The elevator chimes as I reach my destination. I’ve fumbled my way through my first test and satisfied the ID requirements to get back in. But will my brain work the same way as it used to? How long can I use baby brain as an excuse? Should I even use it as an excuse?

My manager greets me with a warm smile and offers me a cup of tea. I start to feel like I could do this. Or maybe... I want to do this. Is that worse?

In the elevator down, a different group of professionals hurry in as the doors are closing. One smiles kindly and offers a gentle comment about how fast they grow. I feel the divide between ‘us’ and ‘them’ dissolve, right there in that elevator, a tardis between the old and the new.

Today, I feel as though I don’t have to know how I will juggle it all. But I have to try.

Today I was brave.

Can you relate? Tell us in the comments.

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