Almost three months to the day I gave birth, I was right back at work. I remember walking into the building and my colleagues tossing me inquisitive stares. A few were even bold enough to ask questions, “Oh my gosh, Pamela are you back already?” “Naw I’m just a figment of your imagination,” is what the inner me was thinking, but rather than going with her response, I just politely smiled and nodded. “Wooow, Pamela, I can’t believe you’re back so soon.” More smiles and nods. “Pamela, where’s the baby?” The good ole smile and nod couldn’t cover this one, “Oh, you didn’t know? I was really a surrogate,” after allowing several moments of awkward silence to pass I’d finally tell the truth. “She’s with family.” I mean, I really didn’t think I had to explain why an infant wasn’t present during normal business hours, but I guess you gotta break it down for some folks. Now, in all fairness, I’ll provide a little more context, under federal law employers with 50 or more employees are required to provide new moms up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for themselves and their infants. This is what we call The Family and Medical Leave Act or FMLA which not only provides new moms up to 12 workweeks of leave without threat of job loss, but it also allows for eligible moms to maintain their health benefits just as if they were working. Now, I live in the liberal state of California, where some of us get additional benefits, such as an employee being entitled to a pregnancy and child bonding leave of up to six months. My company was extremely generous and guaranteed new moms their positions for up to a year. Many people took them up on that offer, but I, on the other hand, was on the first thing smokin’ back to my ergo chair.
The first week back at work was hell! Mommi brain is real…well at least it was my real excuse for the mistakes I was making and the things I couldn’t recall. I mean I couldn’t remember a password, login or security code to save my life. So of course, every time I would ask a colleague for assistance I would, in turn, be bombarded with questions about my vagina, well the delivery of the baby, which involved my vagina, so technically they’re one in the same. I absolutely hated talking about it; as soon as someone would mention it my entire body would tense up and I’d be forced to relive one of the most traumatizing experiences of my life. “It went great, she’s a beautiful healthy baby,” is the response I assumed everyone wanted to hear and so I stuck with it. “So the delivery was easy?” This question always caught me off guard. For starters, I had nothing to compare it to and secondly a whole human being weighing the same as a bowling ball was literally ripped out of my vagina, but hey if that’s what we define as easy, then sure. And I get it, “our bodies were made for this” and “women have been blessed with the gift of childbirth since the beginning of time,” but that doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s a painful, bloody, nerve-wrecking memory that some mothers may not be ready to openly discuss, especially while at work. Nevertheless, what felt like clusters of women (sprinkled with a few men) would make their way over to my area. I knew exactly what they were coming for so I would prepare my lines about how majestic the delivery was and I’d rattle off the desired stats about the baby (which I eventually wrote down because I got tired of googling, “average height and weight of babies born in the US). I mean I couldn’t very well confess that I didn’t remember the inches, centimeters, pounds and ounces of my newborn child. I thought I was winning by having on matching socks for the day, no one warned me that I needed to come prepared with a full on Prezi with facts about the baby. The depositions about the delivery process as well as the interrogations as to why I didn’t have enough baby pictures situated on my meticulously organized desk was driving me insane. My only reprieve was seeking asylum in the group of us who all got knocked up around the same time. We would toss one another empathetic glances or compete in the eye-rolling contest, which was my favorite. Whoever was asked the most outlandish question soliciting the most eye-rolls from our group was the winner. As a new mom, it’s so important to find an in-group that shares in your experiences and won’t judge or criticize your way of thinking. Our time, trading war stories about how we tore from the rooter to the tooter or how some of us were dissected like frogs used during 8th-grade science projects, was epic. We would laugh hysterically about how our first time ever getting high was off an opiate given by the medical staff at the hospital. I honestly don’t think I would have made it without this pseudo mommi support group we organically formed. Don’t get me wrong, my husband was a great listener as well, but he didn’t have the same experience as a working parent. People didn’t question why he was at work. His coworkers didn’t ask invasive questions about the details of the delivery. The most that was said to him was “Congrats.”
While waiting for a very important meeting to begin, someone taps me on the shoulder and says, “You know the lactation room is on the first floor next to the lobby.” I’m guessing she caught my puzzlement because she continued on to say, “A few of us have noticed how you always go to your car during lunch and breaks. You should really try the lactation room, I hear they’re really nice, plus it’s the law.” Inner me creeps up again and says “no shit, as if I didn’t catch that the first 50 times HR told me about the room and escorted me to it” but of course, polite Pam says, “thank you so much for that.” Unbeknownst to me, I had onlookers taking note of my every move. Apparently, they caught everything except how I’d eagerly jump into the passenger side, recline the seat all the way back and then crash during my coveted nap time. On another occasion, while waiting for a training to begin, someone whispered loud enough for the entire room to hear, “Don’t your boobs hurt? I heard new moms’ boobs hurt when they’re engorged or when they miss their baby because the body can detect when the baby is crying.” Well by this time, I had long thrown in the towel on nursing, which is an extremely sensitive subject because by the time this liquid gold that everyone speaks off finally arrived, my daughter was already hooked on the bottle. Well, why didn’t you pump and supplement? I’m glad you asked, well pump number one was too technologically advanced and I couldn’t figure the damn contraption out, manual pump number two was a sure lead to carpal tunnel syndrome so back to pump one I went. When I finally figured out that you just plug it in and let it work its magic for 15 minutes per side, it occurred to me that based on the amount of milk that I was producing, or the lack thereof, I’d be on lockdown all day just to get half a bottle. By the time all of the special teas, supplements, etc. were delivered via Amazon Prime, I’d already given up. To this day, it saddens me to my core when moms shame other moms for not breastfeeding. Trust me, it wasn’t for a lack of trying. My ask is, how about we stop assuming? You never know why a mom is not breastfeeding and conversely, you never know why a mother is still breastfeeding a child that appears to be beyond weaning age. Or better yet, how about we all just worry about our own breasts.
Once my colleagues started seeing me regularly in the office, the excitement surrounding the new baby tapered off. I no longer felt pressured to prep my mornings with updates regarding the baby, who, might I add, wasn’t doing much of anything except sleeping, eating and pooping. I was now able to go to work and focus on my reason for returning so soon in the first place, which was to take a much-needed break! Now although, my husband was extremely supportive and hands-on; his career called for him to be out of town quite often when our daughter was a baby, which landed the majority of the load on me. So, when I say I was ready to get back to the office, that’s an understatement. Once I finally got back into the swing of things, that’s when everything started to change… My daily updates on Aniyah went from pictures of her sleeping to videos of her babbling, getting her first tooth, doing baby sign language and doing all sorts of things that real babies do. I was enamored by her and hated being away. My FOMO was spiking full blown anxiety attacks. Would she know I was her mother? What if her first word wasn’t Mama? Would she develop a complex for not having the love and warmth of her mother around? Did someone else secretly nurse her while I was away at work like in the movie “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle?” all of these outrageous thoughts went through my head while I was attempting to get work done. When I wasn’t perseverating on these things, I would stop anyone who walked by and show them pictures of her sitting up, rolling on the floor, pushing off the floor, holding her bottle, eating solids and literally any and everything Miss Aniyah-Chrisette was doing, I showed them. People were so kind of pretending to be engaged. Eventually, the videos and pictures weren’t cutting it and I was yearning to hold, snuggle, kiss and play with my daughter; and that’s when jealousy crept in…I finally decoded Beyonce’s dilemma about what’s worse looking jealous or crazy? It wasn’t about her man like we all assumed, it was about her being a working mother away from Blue Ivy while other people were witnessing the child’s momentous milestones. I, like Beyonce, was so jealous that I couldn’t be there that it made me crazy. So what’s worse? Working or being at home? I hope you enjoyed this reading which was intended to bring humor to some very serious topics surrounding boundaries in the workplace and the shift new moms experience while trying to balance work and home life. Please check out Part II where I discuss finally gaining confidence in my role as a mother while attempting to climb the career ladder.
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