This post has been brewing for a long time, and yet I’m hesitant to write it. Because I feel extremely lucky to be in this situation at all, and I know many of you would give anything to be dealing with issues like maternity leave or finding childcare.
It feels like a roadblock, having spent so much time thinking about this and yet nothing written. I want and need to get it out of the way. This isn’t made easier by the fact that things are constantly changing, even now that I’ve been back at work for over a month. Apologies if the story seems inconsistent, that’s probably because it is.
In part, my feelings here are complicated because going back to work after the twins were born was so very different from anything I had hoped. It was awful. Nobody asked about them. (Maybe that’s not entirely true, but extremely few people.) A few did say “welcome back”, but as I had only been away for two weeks, some didn’t even seem to register it. I was hoping work would distract me, keep me busy, but the not-feeling-recognized aspect balanced any positive effects. And then, of course, there was this entire black hole of “nothing matters”, which doesn’t pair well with work. I generally like my job, though over the last year some discontent had crept in. I’m still trying to disentangle how much of this has to do with the twins. It is safe to say that academia has problems regardless of one’s reproductive history though.
In part, it is a culture shock. That I knew about in theory, yet in practice it remains stunning. My brother’s girlfriend has been off work since two months before their baby arrived and can now stay home for a full year, for a decent fraction of her regular paycheck. My brother gets two months off (couples can split 14 months between the them, most do this 12+2 setup). Here, I got 5 weeks. H got nothing. I’m not asking for a full year, but… 5 weeks is not enough. Nothing is not enough for partners. If we had adopted we’d get no paid leave either, which is infuriating.
Somewhere between PTO and sick leave I actually took 11 weeks, and I’m glad for every minute of them. I just wish I didn’t have to defend it so often – for being too long, for being too short, depending on who I’m talking to.
After having no say in how much time I spent with A&C, it felt almost absurd to go back to work, especially so early. Financially it wasn’t possible for one of us to stay home much longer though. We also both love spending time with SB, and I wouldn’t want to put the burden of earning income on just one of us.
So, loaded with these complicated feelings, back I went. And I was surprised how much I enjoyed it.
The less-than-thrilling aspects resurfaced soon. It probably didn’t help that my boss told me in my first week back that, if I wanted a career in academia, I’d have to put in all my free time into this for the next couple of years. Realistically she’s probably right, it’s just not something a new mom wants to hear. At least this new mom. So I’ll have some difficult decisions to make. I had always expected to be a working mom someday (when I was young and naive enough to just expect such things). Infertility came along, and I was determined not to let that affect my career plans. Now I’m thinking about a change in direction, and I’m still wondering how much losing A&C has to do with this. Seeing how much I enjoy working outside the home I do want a job (and financially it’s necessary, too) but what exactly I want to do may take some soul-searching. For the sake of privacy I’m not going to include details here – if anyone is willing to share how infertility and loss have changed their perspective on work I’d love to hear about it.
The childcare situation has greatly improved over the initial chaos. We found a great family to nanny-share with who have quickly become friends and who have been very sweet and understanding about A&C, admiring their tiny hats in our living room. (I never quite know what to say when someone comments how cute the hats are. I mean, yes, thank you. But also heartbreaking.) The nanny is sweet and SB seems happy (though often exhausted, but then, so an I after a long day) when I pick her up. Then we go for a walk and head home for a good long nursing session. It’s my favorite part of the day, next to waking up with a happily cooing baby. The latter is hit or miss, but if it’s a hit we try to stay in bed for a little to play and soak up this wonderful moment.