Today is my first day back at work.
I’ve had a shock of bittersweet emotions coursing through my veins for days. “This is your last week at home” starting ringing in my ears last Monday, mocking me with this desperate insistence to make every moment count.
That can be hard to do when you’re running on four hours of sleep with a baby human screaming in your face . . . but I’ve tried.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say that part of me was looking forward to getting back to “normal” life, even if my definition of normal has changed greatly. For as much as I’ve loved being home with Oliver, I’ve missed my friends and my work. Nothing about my life has felt familiar since April. The first month was spent drifting like zombies through hospitals, worried and exhausted, and the second wandering the house with a whimpering newborn, even more exhausted than before.
But we have adapted. Ollie’s month in the NICU taught me to be resilient, strong and patient — especially with myself. I had to learn to trust in a greater plan than the one I’d so fastidiously been crafting, and to accept that life does not always follow our color-coded spreadsheets.
That was a tough one for me . . . a lesson I’m still learning. One I swallow down every day.
I can’t say I have any regrets, though. With this little guy napping on my chest, how could I?
Like all working parents, I already feel guilt nibbling away at the corners of my consciousness. Though he’s now tipping the scales at more than 9 lbs., Ollie is still a little tike — and his preemie status, especially, has me desperate to take care of him. When he spent those long weeks in the NICU and I was hours away, crying in the darkness, all I wanted was to hold him.
And I have held him constantly over the last month. There are times I thought I was going crazy, alone with him in this house; times I could not watch another second of daytime court shows or make another cup of bitter coffee that would cool before I could drink it. Times I was so desperate for human contact that I would prowl Facebook with one hand while soothing Ollie with the other, and afternoons I sat near the door waiting for my husband to come home.
But there were so many beautiful moments, too. Times Oliver and I rocked in the nursery and I swallowed back a tidal wave of tears reading On The Night You Were Born, which I can’t even type without getting weepy. Mornings we did nothing but cuddle over the morning news, then took photos in the cloudy light to document the growth of my sweet babe.
He’s gained about 4 lbs. since he came home in early May — doubling his birth weight and then some. When Ollie arrived early, so vulnerable and small, I didn’t know how I’d ever feel confident holding and feeding and soothing him. Everything was overwhelming. I plunged forward because I had to — because I am his mother — but I was scared, so scared, each time we walked into the NICU.
The past few weeks at home — these final weeks of my maternity leave — have really helped me find my mama footing. Though I am dead exhausted (and I’m sure that’s about to get worse), we’re so in love with this tiny baby . . . and that love carries us through another (nearly) sleepless night.
I’m sad to be going back to work. I’m happy to be going back to work. I’m not exactly sure how life will look yet, now that I’m returning to the office and Oliver is headed for daytime care, but I’m trusting that we will form new routines and make it work.
I don’t have a road map . . . but I don’t need one.
We’ll draw it ourselves. And it’ll be okay.