As a breastfeeding, stay-at-home mom, I’d say my level of attachment to my baby is pretty high. As is hers to me! So far, she does not go to sleep in any other way but nursing, so I am 100% responsible for putting her down at night and for all her naps. In her seven months of life, she’s had a grand total of about ten bottles, and has been babysat for a maximum of a couple hours, on a handful of occasions by a grandparent. So when I put her in childcare today for the first time, it was a big deal for both of us. Or, as it turned out, maybe just for me.
My original plan when I took my little girl to the gym today, was to sit with her in the childcare room for a while and get her used to the place before ever leaving her alone there. It didn’t really cross my mind that I might actually work out at the gym. I arrived and nervously explained to one of the child care workers that I was here for the first time and would like to just sit in and watch my baby’s reaction, and in the midst of filling out the required paperwork, one of the workers scooped my baby out of my arms. To my surprise, she didn’t cry, though she looked pretty confused and a little nervous. I followed the woman into the play area and sat on the floor next to her while she held my daughter in her lap. It felt STRANGE. I wanted to take her back into my lap, but I realized that wasn’t really the point of being there. I tried to show her a few toys, but she was much more interested in looking around the room at all the other children. It became obvious that my presence wasn’t needed, so I awkwardly said my goodbyes and headed out to the gym.
You would think that after seven months of round-the-clock mothering, I’d be elated to finally have some alone time all to myself! Instead, it felt a little like how I imagine a prisoner might feel walking out of jail after a ten year sentence. Lol. I joke, I joke. I don’t feel like a prisoner. But oh my goodness, did I feel weird!!! I hopped onto an elliptical for a few minutes, and immediately rushed back to the childcare room to check on my baby. Then I kind of wandered aimlessly for a bit, and promptly checked on her again. I was shocked to find myself feeling on the verge of tears, and went to the changing room for a quick breather. What was happening to me!?
Well, I was definitely feeling worried about my daughter. I also felt like a fish out of water, exercising for the first time since before giving birth, and realizing that my body was not up to what it used to be capable of doing. More than anything though, I think I was experiencing a mini identity crisis. As a stay-at-home mom, I have done such a 180 in terms of daily routine, overall life goals, my definition of happiness, my sense of self, my expectations and perceptions, you name it. It was pretty surreal to suddenly be in a place I used to enjoy before ever becoming pregnant, with all this personal time and space. I honestly did not know how to cope with that.
I pulled myself together pretty quickly, mainly because I realized if my daughter was having a meltdown, I had told the childcare workers to find me in the weights area and I didn’t want them to not be able to find me if she needed me. Of course my reasons were not for my own well being. *Hits forehead with open palm* But whatever the motivation, I am glad I got out of that changing room and dried my tears, and had the presence of mind to ask myself, “what do I enjoy doing at the gym?” Yes, I had to ask myself this and literally ponder an answer for a few moments. I imagine I am far from alone in being that completely out of touch with myself as a mother.
I remembered how much I love to bike, so I got on a bike and half-heartedly started to pedal. I was so relieved to find myself truly enjoying the ride toward the end of my workout, and decided this was a good place to call it a day; satisfied and eager for more.
I am now really looking forward to returning to the gym. I think it will be great for me to have time with my own thoughts, to get into shape and reconnect with my body, and to have some independence again. I know it will be great for my daughter too, to see other people and children, and to get used to being cared for by someone other than me. I know that for many, putting their child in daycare is routine. On the flip side, there are others who have waited even longer than my seven months before ever leaving their child with a stranger. There is a range, and I imagine there are mixed feelings regardless of when that first time occurs, and likely there are mixed feelings even if it is the thousandth time you drop your child off for the day. There is relief to have your little one with a trusted adult, worry about how their time there will go, guilt that you are not spending that time together, joy at the opportunity to have some much needed silence. I worked with kids for years before becoming a mom, and I never appreciated the weight of a goodbye between mother and child. I feel so very fortunate to know that significance now.
If you are reading this now, I encourage you to ask yourself some version of what I had to ask myself today. “What makes me happy? What do I enjoy doing?” If, like me, the question brings up some unexpected emotions, take it as a sign that this is something worth pursuing. Take it slow and be gentle with yourself. It is so very easy to lose touch with that voice inside, but it is always there. The trick is to listen, the challenge, to respond.