I’ve been a little bit quiet in the last few weeks, as I’ve been trying to do some ‘real’ work; to write less erratically and shake off the thick-tongued slowness that comes with cramming my brain with nappies, pureed vegetables and winding the sodding bobbin up. It’s made me realise that juggling it all is going to be challenge. I’d even started writing another blog about the joys of being able to ditch your baby (more on that another time), but with my, however feeble, attempt at rejoining the working world and the sudden realisation that it’s now December and my maternity leave is drawing to an end, it didn’t really feel right.
I’d always planned to go back to work in January. “You’ll be so ready to get back to the real world by then!” people trilled. I’ve been asked over and over again how I feel about it; so much so, that I can feel myself wheeling out the same old tired phrases: “I want my daughter to know that Mummy’s job is just as important and valid as Daddy’s.” “I don’t want her to think that my life stopped because I had her.” “I’m a feminist. We’ve been taught we can have it all.” “I’m not ready to give up my career yet.” Yada yada yada. And I believe it, I really do, but the deliciously snug safety blanket of time protected me from the emotional complexities of any of those words. I’ve not really had to process my decision yet – until now. Now it is December. Which means I’ll be back at work in less than a month and my teeny tiny (though she isn’t, not anymore) baby will be at nursery full time. I want to hide behind a joke and say I’ve not felt this conflicted since the 1998 Spice Girls Christmas song (I wanted to like it, I really did, but the talking bits are just screw-your-face-up-and-hide cringe – and of all the Christmas songs you could have chosen…) but the reality is I’ve never felt this conflicted about anything. Ever. And it was only when my skin broke out like a sulky teenager and I got my third, wincingly sore mouth ulcer in the space of a few days, that I realised my body was yelling at me to stop hiding behind empty platitudes and to acknowledge what was happening.
Deep down, I know why Edie will be okay at nursery. Better yet, why she’ll be great. I know that plenty of mothers go back to work, far earlier than I have, and their children turn out just fine. I know that even though it’s the right choice for lots and lots of women out there, if I was a stay-at-mum now I would get bored and complacent. But this new chapter is like a great, yawning precipice. I can’t see the bottom, but I just have to believe that everything will be okay. And believing – really putting your faith in something that doesn’t offer certainty up front, is much harder. For anyone who’s seen the brilliantly funny Motherland, you’ll know the bit in the pilot when the frighteningly perfect and well put together mother (i.e. the heinous bitch) gawps at the main character and pretends to marvel at her ability to “switch off” her kids, and that she’d just die if she had to leave hers. Yeah, she’s a fictional character in a comedy show, but it’s funny because we’ve all met those people; the ones who reel with horror at the selfishness of getting someone else to raise your children while you continue to work. When I watched that scene I could feel my heart twisting into hard little knots. Is that me? Am I a shitty mum? Because the reality is there’s loads of things I’m looking forward to when January rolls around. I’ve missed my bracing walk from the station, jostling for pavement rights with the rest of London as I marched past Borough market, breathing in great lungfuls of flaky pastry, fresh bread and fatty bacon. I’ve missed the Friday flat white I’d treat myself to with rounded up friends, dashing out mid morning and dawdling back slowly as I licked the foamy underside of the lid. I’ve missed gazing in at the shop windows across the road from work, spending imaginary money on floaty shirts or marble drinks coasters I don’t need. I’ve missed that first charge head-on to a new brief, trawling through ideas while curled up on bean bags or feet perched on tables, searching for that warm, tummy glow you get when you’ve landed on something brilliant. I’ve missed the bustle of the lunchtime stampede in the office kitchen, securing my spot in the microwave queue and then lolling at the table swapping weekend plans and moaning about clients. And perhaps most of all, I’ve missed feeling genuinely useful outside of the context of a mother.
I want to go back to work, but I don’t want to leave Edie. And there’s my conundrum; the little bastard. I’ve loved my maternity leave, I really have. I’ve been lucky to live in an incredibly family-friendly area, with loads of activities and things to do, within a five minute radius of two, now incredibly close friends of mine with babies the same age as Edie. I’ve felt lots of things over the last six months, many of which are documented in shouty rants on here, but I’ve never felt bored and I’ve never felt lonely. We’re in a little routine now, me and her, cosy in a bubble of unspoiled mummy and daughter time, where I get to greedily hold her close and keep her all to myself. But going back to work changes all of that. Going back to work means I have to hand her over to someone else (a someone who is, admittedly, absolutely lovely) and know that she’ll be the one comforting Edie when she gets fed up, or cross, or tired and teary – not me. I have to learn to divide myself; to be a responsible, loving parent at home and a diligent, professional creative at the office. Working doesn’t change the fact that I’m her mother. I know that. I’ll always be who she calls for and looks to, and my role will continue to change and develop for years to come, but it’s the beginning of her being a little less dependant on me and that much more dependant on herself. However great that is on paper, the reality makes me feel a bit queasy.
We all have to balance the multiple selves we neatly store inside us. Being a mother is amazing and I love my daughter wholly and unabashedly, but it’s also just one part of me. Seeing Edie grow into a capable, confident, sociable little child will be all the confirmation I need, but until I feel a little braver about it all, I reserve the right to gaze at hour-old baby photos of her and cry into my tea a bit.