When we fell pregnant with Baker, the plan was that I would take maternity leave but not actually return to work until we’d finished having kids, most likely in quick succession. I was raised like that, with my mother staying home from the time my brother was born in 1978 and not returning to the work force until I started prep in 1990. Both of my sisters have remained stay at home Mums since they welcomed their smalls into the world, with my older sister forging a career path after kids as a photographer, meaning she usually works weekends but is always there for school drop off and pick up. Being a full time stay at home Mum was all I was used to having around me so it felt quite natural. Even as I approached the end of my pregnancy I would see women strolling through the streets, baby in pram and was just filled with elation that soon, that too would be me. I was as ready as I could be to welcome my new role with open arms.
Once Baker was born, I just loved being with him. All day, every day. Being at home felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I didn’t miss adult interaction, like id heard other Mothers tell me was a struggle for them, and I certainly didn’t miss work or the 2 hour daily commute. He was filling me up with everything I needed. I did have a few girlfriends have babies around the same time as me so we would have mid-week catch ups and my eldest sister Tahnee was in Melbourne too so her door was always open for visits. I’d also fly to the Gold Coast every 8 weeks or so to spend a week or two with my parents and other sister, Bree. We clocked up 12 flights in 12 months, including 2 international. I loved the freedom being a stay at home Mum gave me. Of course there were hard days where sleep deprivation had me all bent out of shape but mostly, I thrived in my new role.
Before I was pregnant, I had fairly firm views on motherhood. I never understood why Mothers would return to work within the first year of their babies lives and if they didn’t need to, at all. I just thought family life ranked above career and work. Black and white, not a hint of grey in sight. Working in fashion, I crossed paths with some serious career women. Women who were in the office from 7 in the morning until 9pm at night, their work ethic was best described as relentless. I pride myself on being a strong worker. I’m dedicated to my role and what is required of me. I dislike the feeling I get when I haven’t given my all. But one firm belief I have always had is that there is a distinct difference between giving your all in what you are hired to do, and committing yourself as a slave to your employer’s unrealistic expectations of what they hired you to do. If you can’t complete your job 90% of the time in the hours you were hired to work, they are taking without giving. That is unless you’re earning $300k a year and then it’s just expected your blackberry will be stuffed in your pillowcase when you sleep. I don’t know what other industries are like but fashion, they are pretty keen on the relentless type of employee and it made me question ever returning to work in that industry post kid wrangling.
We had a plan. What our plain didn’t account for was unexpected hurdles. And by hurdle I mean meteor size gaping hole in our life, the kind that brings you to your knees, instantaneously. It changed everything about the life we had planned to live. The way I intended to parent. Since having Baker, hubby and I had spoken about making the move to the Gold Coast. Start a new journey together in a new place. Moving is something that has never phased me. I’m good at it, really good. I’ve moved homes 17 times and this is the third state I’ve lived in. Like I said, I’m good at it. When the hurdle/meteor hit, we packed up and moved in February last year. Not as a way of running away from our problems but a way of running to our solution. The choice was perfect and it was a complete game changer for us. I remained a stay at home Mum and on and off last year I contemplated returning to work totally for financial reasons. Each time I got online to look for jobs, the core of my being was saying NO, you’re not ready. Each time, I begrudgingly listened. Then early December last year as the light at the end of our very long tunnel began to shine brighter than it had in a long time, chance had me. I was wasting time online and thought id check out the work front. A job for an iconic Australian surf retailer, the only brand I wanted to work for on the coast, had opened up. It was too junior for me but I applied anyway hoping that at least it would put me on their radar. A phone interview concluded I was too senior for the role but they would love to stay in contact if the right role came up. 3 days later they rang and said they wanted to talk to me about a role they wanted to introduce to their business that could be perfect for me. A face to face interview and I was hooked. You know that feeling when you walk into somewhere and you just know it’s where you’re meant to be? It was that all over. And it was unexpected in the sense that I always thought being at home with Baker would be my thing. A few phone calls and another interview with the GM and the job was mine.
The mixture of emotions that ensued was enough to have me making a few extra appointments to talk through this major life change with my psychologist. This wasn’t going to be a slow progression back into the workforce. It was full time hours, five days a week. It was either going to be brilliant or the stupidest idea I’d ever had. Time would tell. I was filled with excitement but also so much anxiety about sending my little guy to day-care, something I never thought I would do. We looked at a handful of centres but one took our fancy immediately. Baker fell in love with it too and again, as the universe would have it, they had availability on the two days he would be going. We were doing what would work for our family, me taking the lead as the working parent whilst hubby alternated between study and daddy duty. My Mum would have Baker one day a week. The one thing that settled my nerves was that Baker would still be home more than in care to begin with. It would be an incremental thing. As everything fell into place and we did orientation week at the centre, all the emotions I’d managed to keep at bay crept up on me like a food coma after a yum cha venture. I was dead in my tracks. Crippled with what I now know as the universal mind fuck that is mother’s guilt.
I cried more in that week before I started than I had in a long time. Was I doing the right thing? Was the timing ideal? Was this the best thing for Baker? Was this what I needed? Unlike when Google is a bad thing if you’re trying to self diagnose, it’s a wonderful thing for bringing mothers together in a forum to share how they managed that first day dropping off the little one and all that would follow. My expectation from reading was that it would be, at best, terrible. He’d cry, not want me to leave and I’d spend my first car ride on the way to my new job sobbing and rock into the office looking like I’d had an allergic reaction to shell fish. Thankfully, the reality was much different. Like the independent social butterfly that he is, he waved me goodbye without so much as an ounce of concern that I was leaving him there. Bewildered, I cruised out of the centre and drove to work, singing to every song and even fist pumping for the giant win I just had. Turns out, the fist pumping was short lived and by week two, he never wanted to go to day-care again. It made for a pretty shitty week of sleepless night where he would wake beside himself begging me not to go to work and Daddy not to go to school. Dagger to my heart. Thankfully my new bosses are brilliant. They are also both men. And they could not be more supportive of me being a working mother if they tried. Work half days from home, leave early, do whatever you need to help Baker transition. It’s only short term, we want you here for the long hall so whatever it takes, we support you. I’d hit the jackpot. By the end of week three, he’s somewhat bounced back and I’m feeling really good about the choices we have made, exhausted, but good.
It wasn’t until right before Baker started day-care that it all made sense. I was on the phone to one of my best friends who has worked in day-care for over a decade. I was in tears this particular night, just filled with such a mixture of emotions about sending Baker into care while I tackled my new job. She was asking me about going back to work and what I was looking forward to. The truth was I was excited to make new friends, to challenge myself as a person, not as a mother or wife. Just as Courtney. The last few years I had given every inch of my soul to my son and my husband, this new chapter, this was for me, a new opportunity that I deserved. She said to me, “All those things you are talking about for yourself, that’s what you’re giving Baker by sending him to day-care. You’re giving him opportunities to make friends, to be challenged, to find his feet as an individual without you or Carl by his side.” It was the truth. And it was all I needed to regret all the judgemental thoughts I’d ever had about other mothers going back to work when they had young children. I’d been schooled and I was more than happy to admit my preconceived notions were far from on point.
It’s taken me three weeks to write this post but I’m learning it will take a while to get the full time hours, day-care routine and sleepless nights into somewhat of a routine but I’m sure when that happens, life will throw me my next challenge and I guarantee you, I won’t be ready.