During my maternity leave, I went to campus on numerous occasions to wrap up projects I had worked on at home, to submit my annual review portfolio, and to prep for a condensed summer course. But each trip was short and some even involved bringing Emilia. This week I found myself back in the classroom for the first time postpartum. It was exhilarating, if not a little nerve-wracking. Although I'd been writing, researching, and handling service responsibilities from home, I officially felt like I was a working mom. After a (very generous and lovely) maternity leave, I was back in a venue where I was confident and professional, where I could receive immediate nonverbal and verbal feedback on my work, where I know what I am doing, and where I converse with adults.
As soon as I arrived, I hulked a mini-fridge from my car into my office (which is a private spot with a door that locks) to use for storing pumped milk. I set up a little station so that I could pump as efficiently as possible while working during the break in my class. After feeling settled, I put on my game face so that I could meet the students. I found a rhythm quickly.
Because the class is condensed into four weeks with two meetings per week, each session runs for 4.5 hours. That's too long for me to go without pumping. Although I didn't tell the class why I am otherwise unavailable during our breaks, they seem to be fine with it. I assured them of my availability before and after our meetings. The break allows them to regroup which is necessary for such lengthy sessions. I wore my pump and nurse tank from Rumina underneath a dress I could easily pull on and off. The process of pumping during my break was a bit harried, but I'm sure that will get easier with practice. I breathed many sighs of relief during my commute home.
Although I left Emilia with a heavy heart, this return to work reminded me of how fortunate I am to have my job. I spent many days of early motherhood feeling uncertain, anxious, and humbled. No matter how many parenting books you read, there is so much to learn with no certain or universal answers. At my job, there are plenty of gray areas too, but after ten years of experience I have my footing. I am good at it. I don't yet feel the same ease about my performance as "mom." Hopefully it will come with time.
Leaving Emilia for that many hours, for the first time ever was (of course) harder than I imagined. I was still pregnant when I made these return-to-work plans alongside supervisors and colleagues. Although it is only four weeks (and then I am home again until fall), I view it as an important trial run. It is easier to do this now while I have family help. My mom and sister are schoolteachers, both off for the summer and eager to spend time with the baby. They came over to watch her and had a blast. My mom worked my whole life and it means so much to have her (as well as my sister's) support!
When I pictured motherhood, I always pictured working out of the home too. My mom's example inspires me to this day. She gave me great advice and hugged me tightly as I left with a few tears in my eyes. When I came home she was finishing up a dinner that she cooked for me and Chris (who was snuggling Emilia as he had just arrived home too!). I felt doubly lucky!
This is just the beginning. I have a lot more to learn about work-life balance. And Emilia has a lot more growing and changing ahead of her. I'm sure things won't always be easy especially if separation anxiety sets in...especially if I experience the "mom penalty" at work... especially once I begin to miss exciting "firsts." But I am optimistic that we can all adjust, as needed. My work outside of the home is not only important to me, it is also a significant component of my family's financial stability. I know there will be plenty of compromises and hardships but I wouldn't and we couldn't have it any other way.