Last year at this time I was five-months pregnant and working from home. LG’s due date was sneaking up on us so I started to make plans for my maternity leave. Facebook made headlines for its generous four months of paid parental leave, but even as a full-time contractor for the company, I was not eligible for this time (or the money).
I remember emailing our benefits department and feeling like I was really pushing it asking for two months to spend with my baby. I laughed with a woman on the phone and thought that was more than enough time to get into a groove. Someone in my group had only taken two weeks following the birth of her son. If she could do that I could manage two months. I was so confident I could work no problemo with a baby in the house that we didn’t even look into daycare. This was my first rookie mistake.
Then the universe threw a curveball and I was unceremoniously forced into early maternity leave. My team was let go the first week in July (LG was due August 15). I was working from my parents’ home in Rowayton, Conn., when I got an invitation to a group video conference. None of us really suspected anything. We often had meetings to chat about where things were headed. Only this time they were headed down the drain. Facebook scrapped the product we had been working on for over two years. Bye bye, paycheck. Hello, nesting. It was exceedingly uncomfortable working the larger I grew, but being let go still sucked. And this wasn’t my first rodeo. I now have two layoffs under my belt and they sting the ego like lime juice on a paper cut. I let myself cry for a few days before I decided to make the most of my new free time before we became parents. By running around South Carolina buying and painting, planting and eating, reading and decorating as much as I could pre-baby.
My mom told me about a friend she swam with and with whom she often discussed my pregnancy and my plans to go back to work at some point with a baby. This woman asked her one day in the locker room, “Does Monica have any idea how hard it is going to be to go back to work?”
I’m sure I rolled my eyes at this woman’s concerns a year ago. And like so many aspects of being a mom, I was under-prepared for the emotions that would overwhelm me these past couple of weeks. Now I can respond. Nope, I had no idea. And yes, I get it now.
To bring you up to speed, my husband lost his job on a late Friday in February. Needless to say, it’s been a rough couple of months here for our family. MainMan had been with the San Diego Zoo for just over five months. I’m not one to insight violence or protest, but the mama bear in me wanted to set fire to everything we owned from the zoo (all of it has since been dumped in the bins at Goodwill). I also wanted to send MainMan’s supervisor a strongly-worded letter. When you are married and/or have kids and you get let go from a job, it’s no longer just about you. It’s about your whole family. What this guy did to my husband is one thing. But the fact we moved across the freaking country for this role and for him to treat MainMan in this way was/is sickening. I told my parents I felt violated. If you want to boycott the zoo for life with us, be my guest.
I have tried to stay positive for my husband, as he has been so many times for me, but he took this pretty hard. I reminded him we’d been through worse and that we’d rather be poor and have LG than be rich and still fighting infertility. We looked at LG in that moment and cried together. Even though it’s 2017 and there is less pressure on dads to be the main breadwinners than there was in our parents’ generation, I believe it’s still somewhat instinctual for them to want to provide for their families. We’ll find something better. I know it. We’re just trying to get our life back on track one day at a time.
Before this happened, we were doing OK financially so my going back to work didn’t come up. I wanted to continue to be a SAHM (stay-at-home mom) until LG turned 1 at least, but alas, this was not to be. Being new parents and unemployed in San Diego — one of the most expensive places to live in the country — is not a combination for happiness and peace of mind. The real wakeup call came when I saw the $4,000 bill we owed COBRA for two months of health insurance. Writing this check made my blood boil.
We spent the past couple of months alternating “work days” at the business center in our apartment complex. MainMan would look for jobs while I took care of LG. And vice versa. While sneaking a few days of fun in there, of course. On the days I requested to work, I’d focus on writing blog posts, sending queries for my picture book manuscript and looking for jobs. I hope writing will make a living for us someday and there’s nothing like having a family to support to light a fire under my derriere.
I signed up for several job alerts from Mediabistro and Indeed, but I wasn’t seeing much that enticed me. Then a colleague and friend from my ABC News days reached out to see if I was looking for work. It was a temporary gig through the end of the year and it was work-from-home. I couldn’t believe the timing. I ruminated on her email for a couple of days, uncertain of how I felt about not spending countless hours rolling around on the carpet with LG or frolicking around San Diego with him in my pack. After discussing with MainMan, I told her I’d throw my hat in the ring.
I had a couple of interviews and received an offer the Friday before Easter. I knew what I had to do, but my heart still sank multiple times throughout the weekend. I’d hear “Little Boy Blue” on the kid’s CD in my car and lose it. I’d receive an unexpected tug from LG and I’d crumble into tears. Part of me worried I’d regret taking the job, while the other part of me was concerned I’d regret not taking it. I reached out to everyone I knew to discuss the crossroads in front of me: friends, family, working and non-working moms.
A favorite comment was, “Why would the universe give you this opportunity if you weren’t supposed to take it?”
Another friend, who I always turn to in a crisis, told me to get over myself and that I’m setting a great example for my son. She’s super when it comes to much-needed tough love.
Our mommy-and-me instructor was kind enough to share some wisdom, too. She assured me I would have a harder time than LG. “Babies are resilient and flexible and actually like having a group of adults around them for more attention!!”
One of my best friends, who drops her two kiddos off at daycare during the week, made a good point that I probably won’t get a more perfect gig to see if I like working as a mom.
And lastly, another dear friend reminded me, “LG will always need you. In some sort of way, he will need you till the end of time. And you can never be replaced.”
My parents were here for Easter weekend and I was thankful I was able to discuss our decision in person with them: MainMan will stay home with LG for the foreseeable future and I will work from home. My parents know this will be extremely difficult for me, but they also know it is the smart thing to do. I am so grateful for the eight months I have had at home with LG. I know most moms who work post-baby only get 12 weeks off, if that. And if any are reading this they might be shaking their heads thinking what’s the big deal?
My work countdown is on. I begin on Monday, May 1. I took LG on a few adventures last week and am continuing the fun this week. I’ve asked friends for weekday bucket list items so Monday doesn’t get here and I think, “Darn it, why didn’t we do this while we had the chance?” I had a meltdown in the Ralph’s parking lot on Monday thinking this very special chapter in our lives is ending. I know I have a tendency for the melo-sky-is-falling-dramatics, but this has shaken me up a lot. I hope I can handle the work on Monday while I watch enviously as MainMan and LG romp around the room. We don’t have a designated office in our apartment so I’ll be cowering behind a couple of computer screens at the dining room table.
If you’re a mom reading this, what did you decide to do with your pre-baby career, if you had one? Are you a SAHM? A working mom? I’d love to hear your stories.
As one of my favorite picture books “The Little Engine That Could” reminds me, I’ll keep saying “I think I can, I think I can” over the next few weeks/months. And I’ll squeeze LG super tight when I am with him. I hope he knows mama’s not going anywhere, she’s just sharing him a little bit more with dada.