In the Center Ring: Motherhood vs. Work

Ugh.  I am three full weeks away from the end of my maternity leave.

You people must know I love my job– I do.  It is one of those job descriptions that feels as if it was written precisely with me in mind.  I’ve been at Ashland for four years now, helping to build a low-res MFA program and manage a poetry press and a journal, and there have been few days where I’ve come home frustrated or upset about work.  I have a strong working relationship with my boss and the editors of the press and the journal, good co-workers, great support from other departments on campus, and perhaps most importantly, I have earned respect and trust, granting an autonomy I value.  For the most part, I am trusted to do my job, and to do it successfully.  Besides a paycheck, I earn the satisfaction of a job well done.  Work might be stressful occasionally, but it is that good kind of stress that doesn’t suck the life out of you.

Okay. So what’s the big deal about maternity leave ending?

I am love, love, LOVING motherhood right now.  In spite of the interrupted sleep and a demanding infant who wants to nurse RIGHT THIS MINUTE OR ELSE, waking up at quarter til eight to a silent house and a cool breeze through the window to sip a cup of tea and wait for Baby Hank to wake up is pretty near to that sacred place I mentioned in my previous post.  The casual summer schedule of showering, oh, whenever, and the impromptu walks, piling into the car to go to the waterpark, listening to the giggle of Elvis and Lydia in the pool, and holding that precious little Henry… all of it, even the squalls and squabbles, makes me wish this time would never end.

It’s an odd place to be, yet again.  Back before Lydia was born, I thought for sure there was no way I would want to work at all ever again no thanks.  And then, she arrived, and three-quarters of my brain died within six weeks.  Please, please, please let me come back to work! I begged, and after eight weeks of maternity leave, I started back at being an adult, connecting neurons and earning back a few brain cells while my little girl slept in a pack ‘n’ play in the closet of the Development Office where I worked.  When school started up and it was no longer possible to keep Lydia quiet or immobile, we found a great stay-at-home mom to watch her for us, and that’s where she hung out for forty hours a week the first year of her life. 

When the opportunity to work at Ashland came, BW and I made a decision that drastically changed our family structure– I would work full time, and he would be the primary caregiver of our two children under two.  Bravely we arrived in Ashland, buying a home in late October and carrying along our faithful redbone Tex, Lydia (18 months) and Elvis (3 months).  Anyone who has stayed at home with toddlers and infants can sympathize with Brandon–I, on the other hand, was blissfully ignorant of how difficult life was.  It was a tough year and tough transition for all of us, but I think it is safe to say it was hardest for Brandon.

Not once since returning to work in 2006 after Lydia’s birth have I felt a significant pull to be at home with my kids, until now.  Sure, I entertained the notion when Brandon started getting more work with ESPN, and at every job posting he emailed, I insisted that I would be happy to be home with the kids if he found something he loved doing that could support us.  Always the thought of giving up my job, the job that fulfilled a deep need for me to be creative, solve problems, and work hard to achieve great results, made my heart ache.  I couldn’t imagine leaving.

Five weeks into my maternity leave, over half-way through, and going back to work seems impossible right now.  Maybe it’s the sleep deprivation and the loose schedule of waking at nine and going to bed at eleven.  Maybe it’s the sunshine.  I think it’s the kids’ fault, mostly.  I didn’t think I would enjoy the mundane daily routine, but I am so content with hanging out and doing lots of nothing… how could anyone expect me to return to work, given this level of contentment with life?

Oh, I’ll go back to work.  In three weeks, I’ll wake up at 6 a.m. to shower, eat, feed Henry, and head out the door on my bike to my office, and I’ll remember how much I love what I do.  We will adjust to working-plus-family-plus-baby and restart the hectic routine we abandoned back on May 10 when Henry arrived.  In the meantime, I am going to keep reminding myself to treasure these minutes because they will expire July 10.  Pout.

Published by Sarah M. Wells

Sarah M. Wells is the author of The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Gospels to Help Kids and Parents Love God and Love Others (2022), American Honey: A Field Guide to Resisting Temptation (2021), Between the Heron and the Moss (2020), The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Bible to Help Kids and Parents Engage and Love Scripture (2018), Pruning Burning Bushes (2012), and a chapbook of poems, Acquiesce, winner of the 2008 Starting Gate Award through Finishing Line Press (2009). Sarah's work has been honored with four Pushcart Prize nominations, and her essays have appeared in the notable essays list in the Best American Essays 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018. Sarah is the recipient of a 2018 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. She resides in Ashland, Ohio with her husband and three children.

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