I've been through every iteration of "working mom." First, I was the full-time working mom, with a job outside of the house. Then I was the stay-at-home mom. And now I'm the work-from-home mom.
While each is challenging, coming with its own set of positives and negatives, there is one truth when I reflect back on my experience as a whole: I truly believe that being a full-time working mom saved my life.
When I was dealing with postpartum anxiety, it was the comforting schedule of work–of being obligated to turn up at a place outside of my home, and do work entirely unrelated to my child–that ended up partly saving my sanity.
The repetition that I loathed as a single woman--the same day-in, day-out work of the job--was gone. For someone who was racked with anxiety, falling back into the familiar rhythms of my job soothed my worries. It relaxed my obsessive mind. It forced me, for the first time since having a baby, to find meaning outside the beautiful--but small and sometimes-suffocating--world of early motherhood.
It was actually a conversation with a friend that sparked this revelation. She had asked, What was hardest transition for you? Was it the transition from 0 to 1 kids; 1 to 2; or 2 to 3?
And that's when it hit me: Having that first child threw a wrecking ball into my otherwise-organized, perfectly-predictable life. And that's exactly why it was the hardest transition, and exactly why work helped to save me.
I gave it some more thought, and here's why I firmly believe that after my maternity leave, my job saved my life.
First, it kept me on a schedule--my own schedule.
In the world of long nights, furious diaper changes and all sorts of mood swings, I had forgotten, the baby’s schedule isn’t the only one that matters. I found that having something to do at a designated time–like, something I had to do or else I wouldn’t make money–was, well, money. It was awesome.
As it turns out, part of the cure for my postpartum anxiety was to get back into the “regularly scheduled programming” of my life. And I will always be immensely grateful that I had a job I loved so much where I could do just that.
Secondly, my job kept me interacting with other adults.
There is only so much Baby Joy Joy one can take. Even if those mind-numbing videos are perfect to distract your little one so you can pee alone, a woman still needs some real-deal interaction with real-deal adults. You know, adults whose lives do not revolve around the answers to probing questions such as, What color was the baby’s poop today? And, When will my butt not feel like it’s on fire again?
Going to work was my only chance to interact with adults whose main task wasn’t wiping a butt or cajoling a small person to sleep.
We even did grown-up stuff like sit at desks! And write emails! And get coffee in the lunch room! Huzzah!
Before my first child, these were all small, otherwise-unnoticed elements of my regular workday. After I returned from maternity leave, they were my Moments of Glory.
And finally, it reminded me that there is indeed life outside these four walls.
Raise your hand if, after your first baby, you officially forgot the smell of fresh air and the color of the sky.
The isolation of new motherhood was no joke for me. I literally forgot that I could leave the house with the baby. Or rather, I didn’t forget; I just was so terrified to leave the safe cocoon of our house that I turned our home into a jail and locked myself in for almost 12 weeks.
I’m certain there were some hormonal things at work (have I mentioned yet how much I hate fluctuating hormones?), but looking back, I’m so grateful that work consistently reminded me that there were other things going on in the world outside of my little bubble.
Even though I made the decision to walk away from my career, I’m immensely grateful that I had a job I loved to return to.
For me, there's nothing like a baby to fill your heart, but I'd contend that a job you love, filled with work you truly believe in, can come pretty close.