This Thursday, my maternity leave comes to an end. I'm starting out small, working a few days a week in the office at first, with the hope that it will help acclimate both me and the little dude to our new schedules before I go back full time.
I'm having a really hard time.
I think I've cried every single day for the past two weeks, and I'm crying right now, as I write this. The early days with my son were incredibly difficult. 4 weeks in, I couldn't wait to get back to work and retrieve a piece of my old life. I needed something, anything familiar. But now, at 16 weeks out, I cannot fathom letting go and trusting him to someone else's care. Despite our rough start, I got good at being a mother. I grew to love it, and pull a greater comfort and satisfaction from motherhood than I ever thought possible. And now, just when I've settled into this skin a bit more, change comes a-knockin' at my door.
Today the air is mild and fresh and wet and we went on our afternoon walk, something that I will perhaps miss most of all about our time together. Buckled into the baby carrier, he rests heavy on my chest and bounces softly with my footsteps, gravel crunching, the dog snuffling in the weeds. Everything is green. Now, instead of instantly falling asleep the moment his face hits the cool air, he stares up at the sky and the tall cedars reflect in his eyes. We stop in the little park down the street from our house. It's a lovely park filled with Jurassic-looking ferns, massive trees, and moss-covered boulders. I want to jump down into the ravine where the creek flows and dig a cave into the side of the hill, a place for us to hide.
They will drop him.
They don't know how he likes to be held, with his feet snugged up in your left arm and your right arm wrapped tight around his body, like a swaddle made of mama arms.
What if there's an earthquake, and I can't get to him.
They don't know how to smooth their fingers back across his forehead just so, bringing instant calm.
What if he refuses to eat.
He will feel like I abandoned him.
He will be angry.
He will be sad.
The clutter in my head won't hush.
We walk a little further, and when I get to the bridge that crosses the creek I begin to hum. It's usually a concoction of oldies and classical sonatinas and folk songs. Today I'm channeling this song, for whatever reason, from one of my all-time favorite movies from my childhood:
And in two minutes, he is out cold. I love this. I love that I can put him to sleep with just the vibration of my voice, no doubt a comforting reminder of nine cramped months in the womb. I keep humming. Repeating the same few bars, over and over again. Really, I think I'm trying to comfort myself more than anything. I want to wrap my arms around myself and rock, rock, rock and tell myself it would all be okay, and believe it.
If the past year has taught me anything, it is that I tend to panic right before something big happens. I freak out, the buildup grows and hovers over my head for weeks, and then the Big Thing happens and is over and everything is OK and I wonder what I ever got so worked up about. I'm back in that spot again. I keep telling myself that I'll go back to work, that daycare will be enriching and wonderful, and everything will be fine. I'll still be a mother. We'll still go for our walks, now that the daylight is stretching into the evenings a bit longer. Summer is coming. Sunshine. Weekends.
But this time feels different. It's bigger. My son is the biggest Big Thing of all and I can't help but feel an uneasiness in my gut that feels like nothing I've ever felt before. People cheerfully tell me, "It gets better!" I want to punch them and scream. I cannot believe I will be paying people to spend time with and care for my baby. I cannot believe I will be leaving him.
I feel like I'm fighting every maternal instinct in my body.
This too, shall pass.
I want my cave.
Edited to add: Of course, we have brainstormed and scratched our heads and tried to concoct ways around the current arrangement, so that I could stay home. But sadly, for the time being, this is the best solution we can come up with. Sigh.