Bringing Home AND Frying the Bacon
one woman's perspective on becoming a working mom
by Laura Sutherland
In the summer of 2013, the universe decided it was time for my life to change. Here’s how it happened. In June, I got a new job. In July, I got engaged. In August, I turned 40. One week later, I started that new job. Two weeks later, I got pregnant.
It wasn’t a total surprise. My now-husband and I were definitely trying. But because of my “advanced” maternal age — and the fact that I had, despite being ridiculously careless, never in my life been pregnant — I figured it would take a while. Nope. After one month of trying, there I was, staring at two pink lines.
I had no idea how to feel.
I thought the sky would open up and I’d hear angels and I’d start crying tears of joy and I’d instantly transform into some version of that Beyonce picture with the flowers and the sheer green veil. Instead I was like, “Oh, shit.” In that happy, overwhelmed, my-life-is-going-to-change-irrevocably way.
Because here’s the thing: I had been pretty much all about myself for forty whole years. My career was in full swing. I had freedom. I felt like I was finally at peace with my body. I knew who I was, and for the most part, I liked me. So obviously, I was in a good place to become a mother, right?
Here’s what no one tells you: the transition to motherhood is a total MINDFUCK. You’re a mom now. There’s no going back. And your old self is gone. And then, it’s not like you’re sitting around at your baby shower talking about how postpartum is basically the epic second coming of puberty with the wildly vacillating emotions and the back-to-square-one body image issues and stretch marks and these brand new totally unmanageable basketball boobs. People only tell you to sleep while you can, which is just ridiculous. Mostly because there’s no possible way to really prepare or understand what being a new parent is like until you’re in it. But also, it’s the worst advice ever, because you cannot save sleep in some sort of bank. I know. I’ve tried.
So there I was, wildly in love with and at the same time slightly scared of this floppy newborn that just seemed pissed off most of the time. I was overwhelmed by how incredibly precious she was to me, and petrified of my crushing vulnerability. Christ, I had barely cared about anything as much as I cared about her. And she needed me, more than anyone had ever needed me before. And I didn’t really know what the hell I was doing. Yep. I had a decidedly rough postpartum landing.
Funny story: the one place where I did know what the hell I was doing was at work. Since I’m the breadwinner, I only took six weeks’ maternity leave, which sucked on multiple levels (and let’s talk about how maternity leave is considered a disability by insurance. How rude.). But honestly? Work saved my sanity. Having a place to go where I had a grasp on expectations, a clear list of to-dos that I could easily set up and knock down, and a daily structure was key. At work, I had a small semblance of control, which, in my anxiety-ridden brain, really, really helped.
In my daughter’s first year, I worked my fucking ass off. Sorry for swearing, but it’s true: I launched a company blog. I learned how to art direct. I brought my baby to photo shoots. I got a 10% raise and a promotion. I got married to the best, most supportive and loving baby daddy ever. I made it 8 whole months of exclusive breastfeeding, pumping and nursing and leaking through tops like a champ (The first time, did I stand up in the middle of my work floor and scream “Oh my god my boobs” and run to the bathroom? Yes. Yes I did. The sensation of leaking breast milk is so weird). Was it a bit of an escape from the beautiful insanity of new motherhood? Absolutely. But also, I think I was trying to prove myself worthy of being a mother to this magical new being.
I’m cool with being a working mom. Because it’s all for her, and for our little lovebomb of a family. And yet, I experience pangs of regret all the time. We were all raised to believe, as modern women, that we could do it all, right? It’s an impossible standard, but motherhood should be a natural part of the American workforce experience. Like Salt and Pepa taught me, I want to bring home the bacon AND fry it in a pan.
Anyway. My game plan: get in as much mommy-daughter time as possible. We start every day with a snuggle. There’s lots of hugs and kisses and wiping of tears and giggles, too. Also, I’m getting really good at coloring, identifying dinosaurs, and talking through pre-school drama. Which is definitely going on my resume.