I was in denial for a solid month before Ayla started daycare. I just chose not to think about it. It seemed easier than dealing with how difficult it was going to be. But, inevitably, Ayla’s transition plan showed up in my inbox one day and I had to face reality: my maternity leave was over and it was time to hand my child over to someone else’s care. This entire period seems a little unfair: going back to work, sending your child to daycare for the first time and celebrating a first birthday--a glaring reminder that their infancy is somehow over. It’s a lot to process. You may not be surprised to learn that I cried every day for a week leading up to my return to work. It wasn’t the work part I was upset about; it was worrying about Ayla. Would she learn to sleep at daycare? Would they be able to meet her needs? Would she be happy? Did we make the right decision? Was she ready? Should I have extended my maternity leave and kept her at home for longer? Would she feel abandoned? All of these questions played on repeat in my head. But, inevitably, time marched forward, and before I knew it, I was dusting off my work clothes and putting my professional hat on after a year of messy buns and stretchy pants.
At first, being at work just felt a little weird. I had spent every moment of every day for the past 12 months being a mom. And suddenly, overnight, I was a teacher again. It’s a massive, but instantaneous role change that’s a bit of a shock to the system. But I think the part that surprised me the most was that… I kind of liked it. It felt good to flex different muscles again and be reminded that there’s more to me than just motherhood. So, although I didn’t go all that willingly, getting back to work was a bit of an awakening.
You see, before being all but forced to leave Ayla so that I could help to financially support my family (and also because, deep down, I knew I needed to work again), I couldn’t imagine being separated from her. The idea felt completely unnatural, like a piece of my insides being ripped out. This is a little dramatic, maybe, but it really did cause physical pain. For all of the reasons listed above, I was plagued with worry, as well as nostalgia. I couldn’t believe my most life changing year was over. I delivered a child, became a mom, travelled with my family around Europe and watched my first-born grow from a helpless newborn to a walking, chatting/babbling toddler. Like… how?
However, after about four weeks of our new routine, I started to become comfortable with the idea of spending time apart from Ayla. We had all started to become used to our new weekly rhythm, and although the first month was TOUGH (i.e. first teeth, sickness, sleep regressions, etc.), we survived to tell the tale. And once that comfort level kicked in and I was able to separate myself from Ayla without the constant anxiety, it gave me the mental and physical space to do other things with my time. I started giving myself permission to do things for myself. And once I got over the initial guilt of this (mom guilt is the worst), I decided I didn’t want to go back. I made the decision to always make room in my life to do things--every week--that are just for me. Because, although it may be my most important role, I am more than just a mother. And I want my daughter to grow up seeing that. I want her to know that she can wear many different hats in life and be happy and successful doing so. Her many roles will allow her to constantly evolve and become a well rounded individual with varied strengths and interests. At the end of the day, when I make this “me” time a priority, I’m a better mother for it. I go about mothering (and wife-ing) with a full cup, and without resentment. It allows me to give more to my family because I actually have stuff to give. I feel happy and fulfilled on all levels.
So, in the end, although it was incredibly difficult to leave Ayla in daycare (as most mothers tell you it is), learning to be ok with this separation gave me the permission I needed to rediscover myself. And I am so thankful for that. And guess what? Ayla is ok. The world didn’t end, as I suspected it might, when she didn’t spend every second of every day with me. She is happy and well cared for and still loves me (another worry). She doesn’t feel abandoned and enjoys going to daycare most days. It’s incredible to watch her practice new words and skills that I didn’t teach her and know that she is getting so much good out of her new routine.
The best part of this rediscovery? Figuring out that being her mom is still my favourite job.