“We thought you had abandoned him,” said the voice behind me. I was one block from my office as I headed into my first day after maternity leave.
Clearly, I thought she was talking about me. Clearly, I thought she was referring to my son.
Clearly she was not. She was talking on her cell phone to a friend (I assume) and I didn’t even know her.
This brief encounter pretty much sums up the day. I felt self-conscious, thought about Baby O at every turn, and all the while the world was just continuing to do it’s thing. By the time I met up with the wife and the kid at my new, early departure from the office time, I didn’t really know what had hit me. I definitely had deleted a ton of old emails from the NY Times and the Washington Post and I definitely had pumped milk. But I neither closed out of my email, my computer or any file at the end of the day, nor managed to wash my pump parts before leaving – or said good evening to anyone.
Still – day 1 gave way to the rest of the week and I managed to get a couple things done.
By the end of the week, I had gone from 5,103 unread emails to 232; pumped about 70 oz of milk; shlepped 20 bottles of milk to and from the office; got topless in my office 10 times; left the office on time twice; arrived at the office on time once; done an important phone call; attended numerous internal meetings; reviewed the full updates of my department’s activities while I was gone; and successfully put to use a new organizational system*.
Here are a handful of observations about returning to work:
- Coming back from leave is a very self-absorbed activity – I assumed everyone was interested in what I was doing when probably no one was.
- I didn’t cry but it was nonetheless pretty hard.
- Baby O did cry a fair amount along with other reactions (more on that in another post).
- It was also easy in ways I didn’t totally expect. Work was easier to adapt back to – fewer things had changed than I expected and while being at home with my kid full time is amazing, being a free adult at work has some advantages.
- Pumping at the office compounds the difficulty of pumping at home with the difficulty of staying on task = it’s hard!
- Being a professional with clear boundaries on my working hours is a real challenge and not how our jobs are really designed these days – yet may possibly be a real benefit to my job
- Related to above… Very often work takes me longer to do because I think too hard about it – but with less time, I think less and the work product is maybe mostly just as good.
- Parenthood changes your brain (like, whoa). Taking care of a baby is an instinctive reflex – all day I had a feeling of a quick, barely perceptible panic for where Baby O was until my brain could settle on the fact that he was at home.
There is much more to say about this first week of working parenthood (I refuse to say “working mom,” btw, for another post) and what will come, I’m sure. For now, my impressions are just that – a series of impressions that don’t entirely go together, like a collage painting. At times it felt unnveringly doable (like, it shouldn’t be so easy to be away from my kid), at times it felt very hard or confusing, and at still other times – mostly in the evenings and the mornings, it was heart-wrenching and a bummer to tear myself away from my little man.
* For an update soon.
PHOTO: My new super-sized work bag, complete with pump parts, burp rag, and milk bottles.