I was 38 weeks pregnant when I was called in to interview for my dream job. Well, dream job in my career field, at least. I had applied on a whim and at the urging of a relative of my husband’s who called my attention to the job posting. I never thought as a new graduate with less than a year’s work experience I would get the position.
Even though I had an interview, I didn’t think I would get it. But then I had a second interview, with a side of more doubts. Everyone was amiable and professional, even when confronted unexpectedly with my enormous belly poorly hidden under a suit jacket that would not button.
Then I got a letter offering me the job, my first salaried position WITH benefits! At 41 weeks pregnant with my first child, faced with the impending 9-month deployment of my husband overseas the next month. I accepted, of course.
I was working at a public library part-time, just shy of full-time. The workload was smaller, I had been a library assistant/page. I mainly worked circulation and assisted the children’s librarian with programming. But I had few responsibilities where I had to make substantial decisions. That changed drastically when I accepted my new job as a Reference Librarian and Information Literacy Instructor. My new position required commitment beyond your typical 9-5. As part of my job, I had to engage with the community and contribute to my institution beyond the doors of the library. This means my job would follow me home from time to time.
At home, I (eventually…finally!) had a newborn. And a newborn who developed colic around 6 weeks old, just in time to send Daddy off to the Middle East. I began solo parenting the same time I started my new job.
I’m not going to lie.
It was the hardest thing I have ever done.
Parenting still is. Being a mom is incredibly rewarding but utterly exhausting, even with my husband home again to share the responsibility.
But going to work 5 days a week, then coming home to a colicky baby who needed to be breastfed once every hour, then also trying to find time to eat, clean, and sleep presented me with an extreme challenge.
How could I find a way to balance all these things?
How could I be happy when I was overworked, overwrought, and over it?
For a long time during my husband’s deployment, I could not find any kind of balance. I felt rushed, stressed, scared, and alone.
I want to pause here to applaud single parents. Bless you. I have so much RESPECT for you.
All day, every day, 24 hours, 7 days a week, I was wound up. I would go from breastfeeding to making my meals to breastfeeding to changing a diaper to comforting a screaming baby to breastfeeding to changing a diaper to cleaning to working to pumping to working from home to breastfeeding to changing a diaper to grocery shopping, etc. There was no minute in a day for me, for self-care, for my mental health.
I suffer from post-partum depression. Lucky for me, my OB anticipated this as she was aware of my husband’s upcoming departure. I was prescribed Zoloft which I am still taking and probably will need for the rest of my life. But even with the medication and medical support the depression would creep in and pull me under. I had to find some time for myself in the midst of this challenging period of my life.
Keeping a calendar was a life saver. Whether that is your phone, a planner, a desk calendar, keep track of your schedule. Besides your child(ren)’s regular check-ups, keep track of your own appointments, and make sure you carve time into that schedule for some time for yourself.
Hire a babysitter (and try to shake that guilt for spending time away from your kids when you aren’t at work), see a movie, get a haircut, a manicure, or visit a friend. You gave birth, that is not a life-sentence for isolation or imprisonment.
Children are meant to enrich your life not limit it. We make that decision ourselves.
Bullet journaling may help you to keep track of not only your schedule but your self-care. There are tons of fantastic templates out there for bullet journaling things like keeping track of the books you read, the movies you see, personal goals you want to set for yourself like starting a side business, pursuing a hobby, etc. I tried bullet journaling myself for a few months, and it was definitely a fun way of keeping track of everything.
Another way of alleviating the pressure of parenting and balancing your other obligations is to trust other people. My mom is my full-time babysitter, she watches my daughter every day I am at work which is incredibly reassuring. I know my mom, I trust my mom. I don’t have to worry that she is not going to care for my baby the exact same way I would because I learned how to be a mom from her. And she did a damn excellent job as a single working mother herself.
But what about when I needed a babysitter outside of my workday? It seemed excessive to ask my mom when she already watched my child 40 hours a week, and she works nights and weekends besides. (Seriously, my mama is a superhero.)
I had to learn to let other people help me. This included my husband’s family, his sister, and mother who are fantastic people and raised beautiful babies themselves. I had to trust the people who had genuine intentions of helping me out and caring for my daughter as profoundly as I do.
I never considered myself controlling until I became a mother. And I don’t necessarily think that having a controlling impulse as a parent is a bad thing. But there have to be limits to that, for your own sake. Allowing my sister-in-law to take my daughter to a picnic, giving myself a couple of hours of “me” time was just one example of how I needed to unclench and let people help me.
Besides allowing others to babysit your child, you have to be able to accept that you cannot do everything, and then, you cannot do everything well. I hate feeling weak. I hate when I fail at something. I am a perfectionist (see the controlling impulse above). There are going to be days when there are dirty dishes left in the sink, and when you don’t finish that report at work, and when you know your baby needs a bath but you skip it anyway, and when you know you need a bath but you skip it anyway.
It is okay to fall short of your own expectations.
Mama, you are doing your best.
Part of the process of parenting is just persevering through the difficult times. But don’t forget to appreciate those times for the joy and beauty they bring to your life as well. I went on auto-pilot a lot during this period and as a result there are some points I just can’t remember. Take time to pause, study your child’s face, and embrace the chaos for the blessing it is.
I think the most profound lesson from this past year of my life is seeing how much I could endure. I learned I could be independent, I learned I could be strong, emotionally and physically. I learned there is value in me apart from my role as a wife and a mother.
I had never known those things about myself before.
Somewhere in my head cold ramblings I hope you find some comfort, advice, and community. Remember, to fill the cups of others you must first fill your own.