By Lauren Kosa
Have a baby. Meet her and wonder who she is. Worry she is so small you might break her. Regain your confidence. Find a group of mom friends. Go out for margaritas with them and talk about your plans. Think about how soon your maternity leave ends. Resolve to do anything it takes to lean in.
Notice that some of your friends go back part-time, and some don’t go back at all. Go back to work full-time. Find a good daycare. Drop your baby off. Notice she’s so small she can barely hold up her head. Feel sad, but also a little glad to go back to work. Don’t feel guilty when your colleagues ask if you cried and you didn’t.
Think about your daughter all day while you are at work. Check the webcam. Cut out of work early so you can play with her in the evenings. Let her stay up later than she should because she is laughing so hard.
Become hyper-sensitive about how you’re treated at work. Ask yourself how people acted toward you before the baby. Analyze how they look at you when you leave at 5, and then replay it in your mind. Judge them when they go out to lunch, while you work through it. Compare yourself to everyone. Make sure you work harder. Then enjoy leaving at 5. Think about how early 5 feels compared to how late you used to work.
Get overlooked for an important assignment. Ask yourself if you wouldn’t have gotten it before you had the baby. Decide that it might have nothing to do with her. You’re being sensitive. Wonder if you’re talking about your daughter too much at work. Stop talking about her quite so much, just in case. Ask your husband if he can pitch in more. Start staying later. Argue sometimes about who has to leave at 5.
Smile when the daycare tells you she said her first words, when you hear her call her teacher mom. Tell yourself babies can’t tell the difference anyway. Get in touch with your friends who went part-time. Ask them how they’re doing.
Think a lot about leaning in and leaning out. Spend a lot of time on the Internet. Research how much earnings decline after a period away from work. Stay up late thinking about your life when you should be packing lunches. Google whether to stay or leave. Realize there are some things the Internet can’t answer.
Have a good day at work. Feel proud of yourself and fortunate for your job. Remember that you are an expert in something besides parenting. Send your friends articles about work-life balance. Feel validated when they agree with you.
Have a bad day at work. Tell yourself it doesn’t matter, because you might change careers. Wonder where that came from.
Change your mind a hundred times a day. Tell yourself again you will never leave your job. Go home. Watch your daughter grab your keys and a bag, and say “bye bye.” Count how many times she says it.
Simultaneously research how to advance in your career or leave it altogether. Envy your friends who went part-time or who take care of their kids full-time. Envy your friends who leaned in at work and got promotions. Envy everyone able to make up their mind. Become distracted. Become disconnected. Miss your friends. Decline happy hours. Feel strangely guilty about the happy hours. Learn that guilt can take ever-new forms.
Wonder if you’re going to get passed up for another assignment. Wonder if you should quit. Ask your friends, your mom, your husband. Get different answers from everyone. Realize their answers are mostly about their own decisions. Be thankful for the ones who refused to answer.
Let your mind wander to home when you are at work, and work when you are at home. Feel like you are one person, cloven in half. Become obsessed with how to make your life work. Wonder if it is narcissism or survival. Try to stop making everything a referendum on your decision. Try not to be grandiose, because your problems are small. You are lucky. Become comfortable with mildly disappointing everyone.
Break some rules. Let your daughter eat dinner in the living room because you want to hold her while she eats. Chase her around the house making her shriek with delight, until she is so tired her legs give out. Respond to an email on your blackberry. Kiss her and carry her to bed. Decide to bathe her tomorrow. Let her sleep in tomorrow’s clothes. Wonder if you are cutting too many corners. Resolve that you will work harder, do more, be more, tomorrow. Wonder again about your friends and the decisions they have made. Judge no one. Remember what it felt like a year ago, that time you felt so certain.
Lauren Kosa is a freelance writer who writes about international affairs, politics, and parenting. She has worked in international affairs for over a decade and is currently taking a year off to finish her first novel. She has an M.A. in International Relations and lives with her husband and daughter in the DC area.