In April, we asked the question:
“Before children, what fantasies did you construct about childbirth and parenting? How did you come to terms with the disparity between your dreams and reality?”
This month, we had two exquisite submissions. The following is the second submission we selected.
Alyssa Westring wrote:
In theory, I’m an expert at work-family balance. My Ph.D. and several academic articles all attest to the fact that this subject matter is one I’m well-versed in. So, when I became pregnant (and before that, to be honest), I had the best laid plans of the working-mom I would be. In theory, I would take all of the theories, research, and data and apply them expertly and judiciously. At work, I’d be a prolific researcher while proudly taking breast-feeding breaks every so often. At home, I’d be playful and purposeful, putting away the I-should-be-working feelings. Oh, and of course, I wouldn’t forget myself in all this. I’d lose the baby weight, wear chic clothes, and take time for my beloved mani/pedis. I wouldn’t be the frazzled working-mom getting by on caffeine and adrenaline. In theory, I had this whole working-mom thing in the bag.
And then “in theory” became “in reality.” In reality, the birth of my son was followed closely by the end of my mom’s battle against brain cancer. In reality, the only balancing I did in those early days of motherhood was balancing my son on my mom’s lap in the hospital. In those days, it was hard enough to be a daughter and mother. The notion of having anything left to give to my students, my post-partum body, or my toenails seemed like a fairy tale that I vaguely remembered from my innocent youth. I returned from maternity leave a week after my mom died with a four-month-old who only wanted to sleep with my breast in his mouth. Exhausted and grief-filled, my focus was solely on getting through the “must do’s” of each day.
Now, three months later, my life has a pleasant routine, my baby sleeps, and my grief is manageable. I have a spouse who (through a well-timed layoff from his job) now stays home with our son full-time. I have the financial resources to support my family by working in a job that I love. I have the time and energy to waiver over whether I’m motivated to hit the gym after work. But, now I am much better able to see the daily choices that I make for what they are: a luxury. I won’t forget the days when such choices seemed ridiculous. I feel genuine humility as I imagine the struggles of other moms who work inflexible, low-wage jobs, care for sick children, or have little family support. My theories about what it means to be a “good” working-mom have changed. In reality, for many of us, “good enough” is sometimes as good as it gets. And, when I catch myself complaining about the challenges of striving for anything better than “good enough,” I remind myself of a quote by Natalie Kertes Weaver (in Mama, Ph.D.) that I now think of as the prayer of the working mom: “Blessed are we, truly blessed, who are
free and able to choose to live so fully.” Amen.
Alyssa Westring can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.