Musings on Working Motherhood

Feb 28, 2020 – by Meg

Mornings Pre-Baby

Alarm goes off, shower leisurely, drink coffee leisurely, watch the morning news while I check email leisurely, get dressed, kiss husband goodbye, in office by 7 am.

Mornings POST-BABY

Who needs an alarm?, dry shampoo, diaper change (her), brush teeth (me), make breakfast (me) and eat said breakfast (her), make coffee and forget said coffee (me), change clothes because spit up and oatmeal (her), change clothes because spit up and oatmeal (me), diaper change (her), coat/hat (a blanket counts, right?), drop off at grandma’s (thank god for grandma), in office by 9 am*
*9:03 am

Meg Sleeping with Baby EmmyLou
Messily Feeding Emmy Spinach

Everyone says having a kid changes your life. I have a stepson and I had an unconventional childhood after my own mom died and, damn it, I thought I understood. I truly thought I fully comprehended the phrase, “a kid changes your life.”

Then I had Emerson. My Emerson Louise—my fiery little EmmyLou—and what I thought I knew completely changed. I thought I knew how much I valued sleep and then I had a kid with colic. I thought I was confident in my body and then I had to learn what it meant to navigate the world in a new one. I thought I loved babies and then I had my own. I valued my opinion, I valued my thoughts and then I had EmmyLou and there were days when stringing together a full sentence was a lift.

Swaddling 1-Month-Old Emmy Lou
Photo taken by Caili Helsper

“I thought I was confident in my body and then I had to learn what it meant to navigate the world in a new one.”

THE FIRST DAY

I went back to work before she turned three months and I was excited. I got a new outfit and even got my eyebrows threaded. While I missed using my brain, I missed getting out of the house and talking to adults even more. That first day I hurried off to work with no tears, feeling victorious (I put on makeup, god damn it). I got home that night like a kid who just came back from their first day of school. My husband, bless him, listened intently while I told him all about the GREATFIRSTDAY I had.

But then, I had just a short 45 minutes with my fiery little EmmyLou—45 minutes trying to keep her awake and happy before the inevitable bath/bed meltdown.

So after that first day, when she was finally asleep, I got in the shower and wept. I cried because… what the hell was I thinking, having a kid and also working? I was so uncertain about this whole new life that I thought I so desperately wanted. I wanted a kid! I wanted a job! I didn’t know what the hell I wanted!

The Pumping

I may not have known what I wanted, but I knew what I didn’t want: the pumping. When I was on maternity leave, pumping meant freedom—if I could pump that meant more time out in the world by myself while someone else could feed her a bottle. When working, pumping was constraining. It was a cognitive burden on an already fragile swiss-cheese-feeling-brain. Did I bring my pump? Did I remember the wipes? Did I bring the icepack? Did I remember to pack the milk? DEAR GOD DO NOT FORGET THE FUCKING MILK AT WORK.

The Milk Pump

We work in a cool open space where the walls don’t go all the way up to the ceilings. While it’s a neat space to work, it’s less neat to pump in. So I got to pump in a room (that my sweet colleagues cleaned out and dubbed the #pumpitup room) with walls that didn’t go all the way up to the ceiling. At first, I was worried about the noise— a pump is quite loud when an open studio is dead silent. A few months in though, I stopped caring (another fun side effect of motherhood). I would participate in meetings by yelling over the walls, I would apologize for the inevitable *pfffttt* of the pump flange and I would Slack to the team— “Ok, I feel like I owe everyone an explanation who works here given that we have no fully-extended walls. When you hear a farting noise when I'm pumping, it's NOT a fart... just the sweet, sweet sound of me resenting Emerson a little more everyday.”

We had a two-week break over December and I decided to take that time to wean her. I couldn’t pump 4–5 times a day and keep my sanity. I was either hooked up to a machine or to my kid— it didn’t help me navigate the world in my new body any better because my body wasn’t my own. So I made the decision to quit pumping, as all good decisions are made, on the way to Target. I wept then, too.

Meg and Emmy Lou at Christmas

THE WORKING

I went back to work because that is very much a part of who I am. I like working, truly. I also understand why parents don’t go back to work. These kids are a lot. They test the very core of who you think you are. They make you doubt yourself. You question everything you thought you knew.

I’m not the first, and certainly not the last person, to have a baby. Laura June writes about the strangeness of motherhood. How “each mother is, in some way, some intangible, horrifically personal way, the first person to have a baby.” The question I keep coming back to is who am I to be talking about motherhood when I am still learning to care for and love the kid in me?

Meg Exhausted with Emerson at Night

“...each mother is, in some way, some intangible, horrifically personal way, the first person to have a baby.”

— Laura June
EmmyLou Looks at the Camera

I recognize I’m incredibly lucky. My mother-in-law watches my daughter, I have a supportive and loving partner, I have a stepson who is obsessed with his sister—and yet—there are days where I still struggle to make sure I have a clean shirt on when I leave the house and have moments of utter despair because it’s hard for me to leave the office at 5:00 pm.** Not because I can’t but because I don’t want to. I like working and I love my job. I like getting glimpses of my old self through the eyes of my colleagues. Working motherhood forces you to reckon with your own priorities and assumptions. What matters most—getting that email out the door or making sure you’re home for dinner and bathtime? My husband errs on the side of bathtime, I lean towards the email.
**5:03 pm

Emerson Looking at the Camera

I’m 9 months into this whole baby thing and I truly feel like I should have more of a handle on it than I do. You know what’s been hardest for me? The total cacophony of emotions (in motherhood, emotions have sound and those sounds are LOUD). The guilt, the guilt for NOT feeling guilty, the resentment, the isolation, the love—oh god, the heart-stopping, life-altering love—the annoyance, the uncertainty, the wonderment, the pride.

At Firebelly we talk a lot about productive tension—and parenthood is the epitome of that balance between reality and the dream. I’m surrounded by people in the studio who are mothers and I’m grateful there is priority placed on life outside of work, regardless if you have a kid or not. I’m still, admittedly, trying to find what this new identity looks like for me and how, if at all, to face and accept my life’s new productive tension.

“...the guilt, the guilt for NOT feeling guilty, the resentment, the isolation, the love—oh god, the heart-stopping, life-altering love—the annoyance, the uncertainty, the wonderment, the pride.”