“Don’t stay home just because you think you’ll remember more,” my own mother told me during my first pregnancy. I was talking to her about going back to work after maternity leave vs. staying home.
“Whatever, Mom,” I’m sure I eye-rolled back. I was 30 at the time, of course my mother didn’t remember when I was little. I knew I wanted to stay home and I wasn’t going to miss a thing with this precious baby girl we were expecting.
But if there’s anything being a mother has taught me, it’s that my own was actually, well, most often, right.
In the end, grateful I had a choice and excited to be a new mom, I did quit my job after my daughter was born. It was an easy phone call to make, as I didn’t love where I worked and I was also finishing a graduate degree. At the time, it was the right choice, and I have never regretted that decision. I am the kind of person who is all in when I decide to do something, and there was no way I was going to not be present 100 percent when my baby arrived. And I was. For almost two full years I dutifully did everything right, or at least I thought. My oldest was born right about the time Facebook started to be a thing. I didn’t have a smartphone with a camera, and I had no idea what Instagram was back then. So I took lots of pictures, with my little digital camera, and printed out lots of photos for her baby book. I was present, and probably overly mothering, this living doll baby I was charged with caring for every day. I even created a whole scrapbook of her first year of life.
But if I’m being honest, I don’t remember much now. I remember how tired I was, and how she always cried in the evenings. I remember falling asleep with her in her nursery while I waited for my husband to get home. But the day-to-day, the new mom, special mother-daughter moments we were supposed to share that I was going to treasure forever, I’ve forgotten. When she was about 18 months old, I went back to work. It was a good job with flexibility. And it saved me. While at the time I don’t think I realized it, I do think now I had some form of postpartum depression or anxiety. I was completely lost at home. I loved my daughter, loved being with her, but I missed myself and I did not like staying home. I was unhappy but felt terribly guilty for feeling that way, knowing how fortunate I was to have the choice. I missed who I was as a person before becoming a mom, and I knew my staying home and the person I was becoming was affecting my marriage, too. So I went back to work. I missed her very much, missed being with her especially over the summer while all our playgroup friends were spending time together at the pool, but we all adjusted, and she was soon thriving with her new friends at her new preschool.
Four years later we finally welcomed our second child, and again staying home crossed my mind. This time though, I was pretty sure I didn’t want to. I knew myself. I knew how working made me a better mom, a better person, and I knew how great our preschool experience had been for my daughter. I trusted her caregivers to watch my son also, and I was thankful every day I could drop them off without a worry. So, as much as I had desperately wanted this baby boy we had been gifted with, and how precious every appreciated second with him was after so many years of wanting a second baby, I went back to work. Facebook was more of a thing, so there’s more digital and iPhone snaps of him in my profile. But I have very few hard copy photos of him like I do of my oldest, and his baby book isn’t as fat with printed pictures. And of his early years, I remember just as much as I do of my daughter’s, even though I was home with one and went back to work with the other.
Three years later I was pregnant with twins.
Again I seriously considered staying home. The cost of daycare for the twins and our son was more than our mortgage. Still, it made sense for me to work and I wanted to. When the twins were barely 8 weeks old, I called my mother crying and asked her to come back to Jacksonville again and help me. She flew down that night, and I knew there was no way I could manage baby twins and two older children without the support structure of childcare, the routine of work, the time we could be away from each other and out of the house, and how much they learned from their wonderful teachers. I needed help and a lot of it. Do I remember more of the twins when they were babies? Maybe, but they aren’t even 3 yet. But that first year of them, double sleep-deprived and overwhelmed, I remember very little. I do know now how fast it all goes, and I do try, so hard, to soak in every second of these last babies. Unlike my older kids, the twins mainly exist on Instagram, and the only printed pictures of them I have are the ones I ordered when we had professional photos done for our Christmas card.
I’m sure as time passes, I will remember less and less of the twin’s early years, this season that is passing me by. For all my children, I do remember the important, big things, first steps and first birthdays, when they met their siblings for the first time and the special trips we took with them. But now, with baby three and four, and two older kids, I’ve learned to focus on the present and savoring the moment, because they won’t be 10, 6 and almost 3 forever, and knowing me, it’s absolutely possible I’ll forget most memories of our daily lives anyway, as hard as I try to hold them close.
What I do know is that, after each baby, memories regardless, I made the best choice for our family about working or staying home at the time. That I will always remember.