More Than Mother's Guilt
Updated: Feb 9, 2021
My mother once said to me, "There's many a time in a woman's life when she may as well be a cow". Still not exactly sure what she meant, but she'd given birth four times in the 1960s-70s so I can guess.
I had a wonderfully long maternity leave, returning when my daughter was 2.5 and starting pre-school. We had pretty much circumvented the globe while she could still sit on my lap (glad we used up those air miles while we could!). Although she won't remember any of it, my husband and I took in breathtaking views across New Zealand and French Polynesia that will stay with us forever. With a baby in tow, we were far from the South American back-packer hostels we'd hung out in ten years earlier.
On my first attempt, I returned to work part time when she was around nine months old, but I couldn't bear to leave her with "strangers" i.e. the lovely ladies at my local nursery. The day I broke, I had taken a peak through the glass as any protective parent would, to observe for a moment. I saw three babies sitting in a semicircle, including her, being fed with the same spoon from the same bowl, like hungry chicks, the one chirping loudest getting more food. My hormonal brain triggered a physical cramp in my stomach and a heavy pull on my heart. I was blessed with a calm, quiet baby, who was never going to chirp the loudest. She would be my only child and I wanted to be with her every minute of every day. Until I didn't! Now I love my mornings after she's left for school, and I love the moment I pick her up.
My second attempt was about proving to myself that I could still perform as Corporate Me whilst nailing it as a fully hands-on Super Mum. Why couldn't I continue as the spontaneous, yoga-loving, carefree me I like to think I was BC (before child)? The anxiety I experienced whilst pregnant was a one off, wasn't it? An isolated case brought on by a particularly bad manager (the bully I referred to in a previous post) and a significant life event. I didn't need to go back to work, I'd been very careful with my money over the years and dreamed of starting my own business one day. Most importantly, I didn't want to miss a single moment of those precious early years. The days are long but the years are short, as the parents who came before me would say. Yet, I jumped back in with two feet, without the right support, no self care, but full of enthusiasm and a genuine passion to do well. This was the biggest role of my career, at the firm I aspired to be for as long as I care to remember.
Two months into the new job, my mental health appeared to go downhill quite rapidly. I felt deeply unhappy, as I smiled to anyone and everyone I passed in the corridors. Many days I would leave the house before my daughter awoke and return after she'd gone to bed. But this was more than Mothers Guilt*, which is constant and something I've learnt to live with. I worked for a kind man who was supportive of my return-to-work situation, but obviously we weren't working in a biscuit factory. Unlike before, this time the pressure came from within. Yet with the right help I truly believe I wouldn't have spiralled, so deep, so quickly. I worried about the big, the small, the things that hadn't happened, irrelevant things. Worry turned to tiredness, tears and desperation - this happened over a period of weeks. It became clear that I hadn't fully dealt with the trauma experienced some years earlier. Flashbacks triggered by words, in meetings, certain personalities and even physical similarities in people. The mind was playing cruel tricks on me. I thought the workplace had moved on and I'd been left behind. But that wasn't the truth, for the most part the office politics, business challenges and day-to-day events, were the same.
Getting the right help, in the end, pulled me out of this desperate hole. For me that was talking to a professional coach, which I refer to in a previous post, plus some self exploration and discovery. Ultimately, I made a choice to leave the career I'd loved for 22 years. A choice I didn't realise I had (which was part of the problem), but it was always there. I chose a lifestyle that keeps my mind happy and healthy every day, with an acceptable blip here and there. These days, the only thing that keeps me awake at night is my daughter snoring, and that's just fine.
The Corporate Mind by Ann Camargo
*Mother's Guilt doesn't need much explanation - you do your best but it's never enough, you question what's right or wrong, you blame yourself for everything the baby does or doesn't do and at what stage they do or don't do it. I've worked with many Dads who experience their own version of this - they want to be more present to care for the new Mum and their new arrival, but they feel useless, they're exhausted too, the pressure to provide, get that promotion, that much needed pay-rise. The magnitude of becoming a father can hit them hard and shouldn't be underestimated.