when i first toyed with the idea of being a stay-at-home mom, i had just started my third job in journalism. after nearly a decade of being a reporter, i still loved it. i loved writing. i loved drinking endless cups of coffee and devouring all types of media, from news websites to every magazine i could get my hands on (seriously, i tend to judge doctors by the reading materials available in their waiting rooms.) anways, back to the working version of me, by my third job, i had finally got to the point where I could read a really nasty email from a reader and laugh. i could finally write a 900-word news feature and not kill myself over finding the perfect prose. i could do a lot of things that would have made my 25-year-old self crawl into the fetal position.
but the prospect of having a family, of furthering my own story, that was just too tempting to pass up, and i saw my opening. after talking it out, charlie and i put all our energy toward building our savings while also making some permanent changes that would allow us to live comfortably on my husband’s income (these changes now seem so small and i hope to write more about how we budget in the future). and then, with one month left in my pregnancy, i put in my notice, filed my final story and told my editor to “call me if you have any questions. oh, wait. don’t.” and then i went back to surfing mommy blogs and ordering cute clothes jameson would wear for about two weeks.
that was about the time the nervousness crept into the pit of my stomach, right about where baby jameson had jammed her head into my pelvic region. one by one, all the other women around me who were pregnant announced they were looking into daycares for when they would go back to work. it made me feel (correction: i allowed all of this to make me feel) well, completely awful and panicky. what were we thinking? NO body lives on one income these days. NO body stays home anymore. given the choice between talking to adults and a crying baby, NO body would choose the latter.
then, jameson unhinged her feet from my ribs and decided to come home with us (even after we asked the nurse one night in the hospital if we could both leave to run some errands and she basically accused of trying to abandon our baby). after a few months at home, around the time most moms would have gone back to work, i was ecstatic with our choice. i had a rough transition into parenthood and looking back, i think i was under the impression the baby would be more like an accessory and not, oh i don’t know, a TINY HUMAN BEING WHO NEEDS YOU FOR ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING. i’m glad i was home alone during some of those moments. as time went on, i started to feel not backwards, but lucky. most women don’t get the choice to stay home, and i heard that over and over again “you’re so lucky.”
jameson will turn one soon and i do feel lucky, incredibly so. it helps that she is a really happy baby and a great sleeper. every time i go into her room to retrieve her after a nap, she is there waiting with a huge smile on her face. she makes it kind of easy (most days, don’t talk to me on the sick days). she determines a lot of our schedule, but still, we get to do what we want most of the time and thanks to charlie’s non-traditional schedule (he’s a photojournalist) we get to do a lot of these things together. when jameson had her first swim class a few weeks ago, it was charlie who took her into the pool as i stood nearby taking pictures. “you stay at home?” the instructor asked. i told her i did. “you’re really lucky, and that your husband can be here too…” she said, eyeing us both suspiciously like we were either trust fund babies or homeless people who were utilizing the ymca as a shelter (which, i would love to point out to some of the more snooty people i’ve run into while working out there, is how the ymca initially got started, as a haven for young men living on the streets.)
BUT, and the “but” is why we are here today, the but is that, as great as this new life is, i do worry about leaving my “old” self behind. that person who knew the day’s news before most people even got to their office. that really ambitious go-getter who loved being good at her job. i miss that person sometimes. i’m still me, i still consume news like a junkie, i still devour magazines (even though i now notice most of the articles are geared towards working women). i still try my hardest every day. but when I see friends and former colleagues who not only had babies but also went on to amazing things in their careers, there is a definite stab of jealousy. how, in this world where moms are being all things to all people and not only that, the idea of “having it all” has pretty much been denounced so they don’t even have to be thriving to be a rock star, how could i choose to just do this one thing?
we didn’t set out thinking this would be permanent, it was an experiment, with the idea that once i was ready to go back to work we’d probably switch roles. i was determined to keep up my resume and started freelancing for a publishing company almost immediately after we came home from the hospital. earlier this month, i dipped my toe even further back into the work waters and applied for a temporary job at my previous company. this move was soon followed by a nice rejection letter from hr and jameson getting hit by a nasty cold that turned my life upside down. i felt so discouraged. not only did i start to doubt my viability in the workplace, but i also thought back to my previous life and how many times i got annoyed at my co-workers when they left for the day because their kids were sick. i now know how completely awful it is when your kid is sick. if I had a job, i would have had to call out every day this week and it would have made a stressful situation worse.
in thinking about all this, i realized i just don’t feel that great about how stay-at-home moms are portrayed sometimes. there’s the mommy bloggers-slash-entrepreneurs who make me wonder if i too should be photographing my child’s every smile and then turning those photos into a “collaboration” with the new kate spade line at gap kids. then, there’s the depiction of the angry mom (think lois in malcom in the middle or debra in everybody loves raymond) who just can’t wait to chime in every time gwyneth paltrow opens her mouth so they can set the world straight about how hard their job really is.
i’m new at this, and really not sure where i fall given these two extremes. i love photographing my baby and occasionally share images but i also worry a lot about privacy and find some of the comments on popular mommy blogs insanely creepy (don’t these women find it weird that hundreds of strangers know their kids names and what kind of ice cream they like?) but i also reject the angry label. i don’t hate the world because people don’t understand how hard i have it. i love my new role. being a mom has made me more understanding. i’m more patient. i’m not up all night because of stress (i’m now up at night for other reasons). i no longer see a therapist.
i decided i would stay home with my child because i could, because after dedicating a decade to my work, i felt good enough about what i had accomplished to switch gears and give jameson my complete focus. do i struggle with that choice and what it means for me? i’m not perfect and selfless, so, yes. it can be isolating, and if you tend to over think things already, being alone can take you down some weird paths, ones where your self-image gets pretty distorted – hence the short-lived identity crisis that took place earlier this week.
with so much focus on working moms and what they sacrifice, i just hope that we can also give the same sort of understanding to those who parent from home. they are also making hard choices. they are also doing their best.