There are a few things I remember saying “Before Baby” (or BB for short).
“I’m definitely going to breastfeed for at least a year.”
“No junk food until she’s at least two.”
“If I go back to work, it will be three days a week at the most.”
Famous last words.
I stopped breastfeeding five months in and Arianna had her first taste of ice cream before she turned one.
I’m fortunate to live in a country with a generous maternity leave policy, so when I got pregnant I submitted my notice for a year off. It didn’t cross my mind to take any less time off. But after Arianna was born, I really struggled at home. I was isolated and no longer financially independent. Although I knew my responsibility lay with raising a happy and healthy daughter and we weren’t scraping the bottom of the financial barrel, I hated the loneliness, the guilt when spending money on anything (even an occasional coffee!) and feeling like I wasn’t achieving anything useful. I couldn’t even look forward to a planned family holiday because I wasn’t earning my own money to spend.
I started writing for Makchic and The Star about four months later, which helped boost my confidence a bit. But even though Arianna was growing into a strong, confident and happy child, I still felt unfulfilled. It saddens me to say this, but I was also growing resentful of my daughter and what she had ‘cost’ me, even though none of it was her fault. So when my employer contacted me 10 months later with a job opportunity, I jumped at the offer.
All of a sudden I found myself back in familiar mental territory and I loved it. My days no longer solely consisted of feeding, making silly faces and cleaning poop! I could wear something other than sweatpants and not have dribble on my top throughout the day. I could actually have adult conversations instead of reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar or Where’s Spot for the umpteenth time, or treat myself to a latte and not worry about how much it was going to cost! I could go out for lunch with my colleagues every now and then, instead of standing by the counter eating anything that could be held in one hand and took less than two minutes to prepare.
But most importantly, I started looking forward to being with my daughter. The time we spent together was now whittled down to half an hour before I had to leave for work and another hour and a half in the evenings before she went to bed, and I treasured every minute of it. Now, it didn’t matter if she grabbed 10 books from her shelf and brought them to me, because I’d get to enjoy her snuggling into my lap to read each one.
For the first time in my life, I started missing her when she wasn’t around. I had a great time at work, but as soon as my day ended I couldn’t wait to go home and see what zany new habit she’d picked up from childcare. And on my one day off, we’d set off on a new adventure together, whether it was a picnic at the park, a trip to the local aquatics centre, or the science museum.
Four months in, I have no guilt about returning to the workforce. Arianna is thriving in childcare – word on the street is that she has a boyfriend in the nursery and they are inseparable when they’re there together – and seeing her face light up once she sees me at the end of her day isn’t really something that can be topped. I know that won’t last long (God help me when the teenage years roll around!) so it seems all the more precious now. And I can honestly say that I’ve become a better mother as a result of going back to work.
Sharon Chai is fumbling through life as a new mum to Arianna. Between writing, diaper changes and off-key singing for her daughter’s entertainment, she’s just started working in the world of parenting events in Melbourne, Australia.