Becoming a parent is life-changing. It comes with a million decisions, a million new feelings, and a million life-altering moments that catch us off guard.
For me, it changed my whole life plan. I thought I knew exactly what my future looked like and exactly what I wanted. But the second I looked in those beautiful baby blue eyes, everything changed.
I never really considered being a stay-at-home mom. For as long as I can remember, I was driven. I was on a career-oriented path. I wanted success, opportunity, and growth. I graduated college in three years, started at my first professional job, and knew I was well on my way to the success I desired.
I met and married my husband soon after, made a career change, and what were once my dreams became our dreams. I worked while my husband finished school, and after a year of marriage we bought our first home-- primarily with the money from my salary. It was exactly the type of milestone I’d always imagined for myself. It solidified in me that I was well on my way to the greatness I had envisioned--or at least I thought it did.
Not long after that, we decided we wanted to start a family. At the time, I was working in a male-dominated environment, and I was terrified to share the news when I found out I was pregnant. I didn’t want to be treated differently. I didn’t want to be passed up on projects, or annoy others when I asked for them to cover me on my leave. I waited to say anything until it was almost obvious. There was some frustration from a few, but overall they were excited for me to be joining the ranks of parenthood.
I’ve been lucky with my pregnancies. I hardly get sick, I don’t have a lot of discomfort, and I've always carried to full term. My first pregnancy was no exception to this. While I was pregnant I prepared not only for our new tiny baby, but also for my maternity leave at work. I got my backups prepared, all my current work documented, and a nanny in place for when I would return to work. When the time came, I wrapped up things for work from my hospital bed as I waited to deliver. My co-workers were some of the very first people to know I was in labor, and they were blowing up my phone begging for the first sneak peak of my precious little girl.
The anxiety of returning to work came unexpectedly and almost immediately, though. Before we even left the hospital, my heart would race at the thought of returning to work. And it only intensified as I fielded work calls for the first few weeks and my co-workers adjusted to my absence. I chalked it up to postpartum hormones. This had been my plan all along. My job was so important to me, and I couldn’t give it up now after working so hard to get there.
But as the weeks of maternity leave went on, the sinking feeling continued to intensify. I couldn’t even check my email anymore--I had such a strong feeling of impending doom. The first day leaving my little baby with a nanny just about killed me. Everyone told me that it would get easier, that it was hardest at the beginning, but that was not my experience.
Everyday was torture. My job became less and less satisfying. Work achievements, promotions, and praise meant nothing to me anymore. I just wanted to find a way out. To make things worse, our adored nanny started teaching again, and we were forced to find another. It felt like I was losing control.
While it may have looked like I was successfully balancing work and motherhood, I was being eaten alive inside--tormented by anxiety, depressed, and constantly worrying. Still, leaving my job felt impossible. By this point, my husband was working full time too, and we had become accustomed to our current income, so the thought of downsizing was terrifying.
For months I grappled with reality. I tried to cope. I tried to make things work and find a happy balance, but I couldn’t force it. I was miserable. I wasn’t enjoying motherhood the way I wanted to, and I was a mess. I made it one year until I finally decided to quit my job. It was one of the toughest decisions my husband and I have ever made. Ultimately, though, no amount of money was worth my happiness. It was within reach to change my circumstances, so we took it. And I haven’t looked back since.
When I think back on that first summer after I quit my job, it fills me with such gratitude. I don’t think about the things we had to cut back on to save money, or the extra things we didn’t buy. It was just me and my little sidekick finding adventures in the simplest of ways. It was the first time I was really able to enjoy motherhood the way I wholeheartedly wanted to.
The plan I had my whole life imploded in my face. I had tried to convince myself I knew what was best, and I had clung to that so hard that I almost lost myself. As a stay-at-home mom, I may cry often, I may get frustrated and lose my cool, I may get burned out by the end of the day, and I have definitely seen Moana and Frozen way too many times for any sane person, but I truly believe I have the best job in the world.
I now have such a better understanding of others who choose the same, and those who choose differently. Being a stay-at-home parent is not for everyone. For many, being a part of the workforce is essential to their mental health--like being a stay-at-home mom was essential to mine.