At our baby shower, my husband and I received over forty children’s books. To prepare for the baby’s arrival, I relegated my own volumes to the lower shelves of our cabinet, and carefully arranged his new ones alphabetically by author on the higher, more accessible shelves. This was my first act of putting the baby before myself. And I thought, This is the beginning.
As parents, we instinctively put our children’s needs before our own. We feed them before ourselves, unless we are about to faint. When they are upset, we cast aside any discomfort we may be feeling to focus on making them feel better. We keep them entertained during their awake windows and postpone all else—chores, hobbies, bonding time as a couple, our own rest—until they are asleep.
On weekdays, I leave the office at 5:00 pm, but don’t get to unwind until three to four hours later—after I’ve commuted home, whipped up and scarfed down dinner, played with the baby, fed him, bathed him, administered remedies for his eczema, read him a couple stories, bid him good night, turned off the light in his room, thrown in a load of laundry, eaten dinner, and washed the dishes. Generally in that order, although it isn’t uncommon for my dinner to wait until after lights-out. My calendar indicates I lose an hour a day to pumping, but let’s be realistic: it’s more than that. Minutes seep through the cracks of context switching, and pre- and post-meeting intervals when there isn’t enough time to dive into a more complex effort. I often wind up working one to three additional hours in the evenings to make up the time. It’s also because I don’t want anyone, least of all myself, thinking people become less dedicated to work once they become mothers.
That leaves me with maybe one hour, on average, to relax with my husband before we have to go to sleep and do it all again.
It helps to work from home twice a week. I save two hours from my commute and get some time alone. But it is still so damn hard. As much as I find everything about my baby the cutest and the best—as much as I love watching him eat, giggle at our interactions, splash in the bath, and discover the world around him—the weekdays really wear me down. I have to keep reminding myself that it is only temporary. Only five nights in a week, and then we get two whole days to go out and play. In a few more weeks, the baby will feed himself better (hopefully). In a few more months, I will stop pumping, and work will be easier (also hopefully). In a few years, the kid’s bedtime will be later, and we will be able to do more together in the evenings.
The last real fun I had was in mid-September, when I went on a work trip to California. I didn’t have part of my brain constantly counting the minutes I had to make it to the station for a train that would get me home by a certain time. Instead of hurrying home after work for the bedtime routine, I could socialize with fellow adults. Best of all, when I went to bed, I didn’t worry that the baby might wake up and cry in the middle of the night. The last night of the trip, we had dinner, S’mores, and an open bar out on the beach. The party then continued in the hotel hot tub and at the bar. It reminded me of earlier, carefree, spontaneous days. Maybe it’s sad that it happened on a work trip, but I felt warmer and fuzzier than I had in a long time. Without a baby to hold or watch, or a babysitter to relieve, I could almost fully enjoy myself.
I think it’s telling, though, that I haven’t for a moment regretted such a lifestyle upheaval. I do have periods of uncertainty, stress, and feeling overwhelmed. But other than that, I only find myself looking forward to when my baby will be just a little older, so he can enjoy things like S’mores on the beach with us. It is so rewarding to see how much he’s developed and learned in only nine months, and exciting to imagine all the years he has ahead.
These tough parts are only temporary.