“You are never just working. You are a mother, always… Your spirit, your core, and your energy will always be giving and providing, from the instant you bring life into the world…”
Balancing the demands of a full-time career and being a breastfeeding/pumping mom is something I can’t say I was well-prepared for when my son was born. In my mind, I figured that if I simply “managed my time well” (whatever that means), I could get through each day in a regimented and scheduled fashion.
Regimented and scheduled. Right. Because that was a realistic expectation for me to have of my life just months after giving birth to another human being.
Sure, a routine helps you get by. It helps you remain mindful of the fact that you have 17 minutes to wash the spit-up out of your hair and prep your breastmilk bottles for baby, and – where is my other shoe? Are these socks even the same color? Spoiler alert, they probably are not. The need for mothers to go back to work after no more than 12 weeks in the United States is a harsh reality that perhaps we should not be dealing with (which is a conversation for another time), but one we have to deal with as we face it.
The days a working mom has off from work are a precious commodity. Even if at the end of a work day, a mother can come home to her child every day, even if she has been able to pump, or even if she’s no longer breastfeeding at all, the end of a work day is not (and realistically can not be) her shining moment of being present and attentive. While yes, fathers and other family members work, the toll pregnancy and new motherhood takes on a woman after she goes back to work is unique – the role change and the sudden need to be everything all at once is a challenge that a mother can own and be proud of overcoming. Still, no matter how well a mother seems to balance her time outwardly, this outward appearance of doing it all and having it all together is what is the most exhausting – and this is what makes her time off precious, even sacred.
This was a lesson I came upon in possibly the harshest way I could think of at the time.
“Setting reasonable boundaries will anger unreasonable people – but that is all the more reason to set them.”
When my husband’s relatives decided – not asked – one Monday morning about a month and a half after I started back at work that they would be in town later in the week, I realized that as a mother, I would always face challenges in making motherhood sustainable and being the happiest, healthiest, most whole me I could be. His relatives would not hear that this was not a good time, that I was a new mom working full-time and indeed, I needed that time to simply be happy with my son, or to plan activities as I saw fit with my family.
Somewhere amid the tirade of curse words and accusations thrown at me over the course of a single phone call, the words “selfish” and “self-centered” were thrown my way for the mere fact that I set boundaries and expected them to be respected.
For a new mother, especially a working mother, thinking of yourself is not self-centered, and it is not selfish. Taking care of yourself is your duty to yourself as a mother, and to your child. Setting boundaries and holding your time off and with your child as sacred and within your control is central to healthy motherhood, and maintaining a support network who realizes and respects that is non-negotiable. Setting reasonable boundaries will anger unreasonable people – but that is all the more reason to set them.
Being a mother – being a woman at all – is its own struggle in self-care, setting boundaries, and expecting those boundaries to be respected. As empowering as it can be to be a working mother, it also introduces a whole new dimension of needs. You are never just working. You are a mother, always – whether you are holding your baby in your arms, or yearning to do so from your place of work, or sitting and pumping breastmilk in a tiny makeshift closet. Your spirit, your core, and your energy will always be giving and providing, from the instant you bring life into the world, whether you are at home or have returned to work. Your right to recharge is paramount.