Returning to work after maternity leave is learning that more than one person lives inside of me, the mother and the other.
The mother is newer and more uncertain, having only just been born. The other is impatient, ready to regain the life she once lived. The mother knows that other life is long gone.
The mother thinks only about the home, the child, the small chores that need to be done each day. She forgets appointments, ignores emails. The other lays awake at night, thinking about the work waiting for her tomorrow.
Both of them get ready in the morning, taking turns. Feeding and cuddling, grooming and packing. Both of them are afraid of forgetting something. Both of them leave.
The mother mourns the lost time with her baby, thinks of all the diaper changes and naps she is missing. The other dives back into her element, finally feeling competent at something again. It’s seductive for both of them, the lure of being needed. Secretly, both of them are terrified of being needed too much or not enough, at work and at home.
The mother goes throughout her day knowing she has left something essential at home, another limb, another heart. The other says, “See what it’s felt like for me, all of these weeks?” Neither of them feel whole, day or night.
Living like this, we long for what we once held: the sleeping little one breathing on our neck, the pen drooling ink onto our fingertips. We want more out of our days and nights, but wind up feeling less.
We spend so much time wanting, together. Wanting to be elsewhere, wanting to finish one more story, one more email. Together, we must learn to take turns, to want presence in each moment. For now, we only hold hands in the middle and stretch in opposite directions, just to see how thin and flexible we can become.