Amy’s Story About Work After Baby
The decision whether to maintain employment after having a baby or resigning from the workplace is a deeply personal one, guided by all manner of individual circumstances. I firmly believe there is no singular right answer for everyone; however, I spent a year after the birth of my son agonizing over what was right for me. My son is likely to be our first and only child and while I have mostly made peace with that, I struggled with a secret desire to leave the workforce and spend some time being “just” a mom to my only baby.
Changes You May Experience After Having a Baby
How you relate to paid labor may change with the addition of a baby, as you consider:
- personal and family values
- sense of identity
New motherhood has a way of shifting your sense of self in both anticipated and unexpected ways. Though I had never once considered resigning from a job and leaving paid labor before my son’s arrival, I was not prepared for the identity crisis that motherhood thrust upon me. It took a year of soul searching, job changes, counseling, and frank conversations with my husband to come to terms with the idea that I wanted to stay home. Because I was struggling with my identity, I feared my support system would also have trouble accepting the new me.
Related: How to find a therapist
Strategies for Clarity Around Resigning Or Continuing to Work After Baby
I’d like to share with you a couple of the strategies I used to achieve some clarity about what I wanted. I hope that they can help you drag your feelings into the light, whether the issue is the conflict you may feel between work and motherhood or some other aspect of your journey that has you feeling stuck. And, I like to think that the takeaways I share below apply to so many facets of new motherhood regardless of your family’s work arrangements.
Holding Space for ALL The Feelings
Because I was feeling completely ambivalent about resigning from my job to stay at home, I felt this gnawing sense of unease and tension loom ever larger as time went on and I still had not made any progress toward a decision.
Firstly, I had to acknowledge the complicated feelings I had about work and my sense of self. Childhood trauma left me with a dogged determination to never be in the position to “depend” on anyone else. Having a career I enjoyed was secondary to my need for financial independence. But after the birth of our son, when I started contemplating opportunities that would give me better work-life balance, I also felt overwhelming guilt and shame.
Would my husband think I pulled a bait and switch?
Would people think less of me?
How would I measure personal growth and success?
Without work, who would I be?
I felt so torn between who I had been before childbirth, who I thought I was supposed to be, and the nagging feeling that I might be wrong about it all.
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No Room for Self-Judgement
Holding space for all the feelings means feeling WITHOUT SELF-JUDGEMENT. In my case there were lingering issues related to an unstable childhood that I needed to work through. I achieved clarity about what was really most important to me, by interrogating these thoughts and feelings that were rooted in trauma and which I had worked really hard to bury for decades. Digging deeper cleared out some of the stuck-ness. Working through those emotional roadblocks led me to deeper healing and peace within myself and with my life circumstances, irrespective of my ultimate decision about work.
Explore Your Foundations
What are your fundamental truths? How have your life experiences molded what you think about motherhood, your sense of who you are, and your work? You may be similarly ambivalent for a number of reasons. Maybe you’re afraid of losing something that gives you a sense of purpose. Maybe you crave the stability that a particular choice provides. Or perhaps you or your spouse have really rigid ideas about your roles in and out of the home. It could be that you just can’t picture what a given scenario will look like. Accepting and exploring all feelings can help uncover self-limiting ideas that no longer serve your purpose, as well as help you affirm those that do.
Related: Marriage and communication after baby
Let go of 100%
I am an analyst by trade and an anxious person by nature, so I like to try to quantify, well, everything, but especially risk and uncertainty. I felt torn completely down the middle, so I came up with a compromise: I’d look for part-time or remote work in search of that elusive balance. At six weeks postpartum, I launched a job search; then at 12 weeks postpartum, I returned to my job from maternity leave; at 19 weeks postpartum, I started a new job; and by 25 weeks postpartum, I still couldn’t kick the feeling that I wanted something else.
So every few weeks, I’d draw up a list of the pros and cons of working versus resigning and staying home and I would always end up with a perfect balance of just as many reasons to stay as to go. At the time, I didn’t think it was fair to ask for what I wanted unless I was absolutely certain; I didn’t want to face what my husband would think of me or let my colleagues down. In short, I didn’t want to fail anyone; but in so doing, I was failing to honor myself.
Resigning or Not: There is No Perfect Answer
With hindsight, I can say that it was absolutely the right decision for us; however, when I finally settled on resigning from my job, I was only about 80% sure that it was the “right” decision. But I had spent so long being afraid of making a mistake that I had spent a lot of time really unhappy about NOT making a decision. And truly, I regret the year I spent sitting on the fence waiting for the clarity-fairy to sprinkle decisive dust on my ass.
Are there any areas in your life where you use certainty to avoid having to make a decision at all? I sometimes think that the requirement for certainty, especially among moms, is emblematic of women trying to minimize impact to their families at expense to ourselves. Letting go of 100% is about giving yourself permission to be wrong. In my case, I thought absolute certainty would prevent me from making a mistake.
But how often do we find ourselves working on an incomplete model or with faulty data? I don’t know about you, but I have been 100% wrong about things that maybe seemed 100% right in a given moment. And I’m not sure what this all or nothing mentality accomplishes except anguish for being human. Demanding 0% uncertainty isn’t a compassionate or realistic thing to expect from anyone, but most of all, ourselves.
Addressing the Underlying Shame
I felt so much shame around failing to prove that motherhood wouldn’t change me, but it did. To acknowledge that motherhood reconfigures your relationships, your work, your identity, and even your brain isn’t a personal or moral failure. In the end, I decided to give notice after six months at my new job and stay home, right when the pandemic blew up in our faces. There are moments where I do worry about what the job market will be like when I go back to work. And, I am incredibly concerned about the mass exodus of largely working mothers who are leaving the workforce in the face of all the competing demands on their time.
I recognize the layers of privilege that made even being able to consider this decision a possibility. In September 2020, four times as many women left the workforce compared to men (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020). This is a lot of women resigning due to pandemic circumstances. I had the ability to make a choice. But, the current reality leaves many women feeling burnt out after months of pandemic life. Women continue to bear the brunt of childrearing and do a disproportionate amount of rearranging their lives to accommodate this role. Until parents in general and mothers specifically have more social support in place, women will continue to make hard decisions for the sake of their families. It doesn’t have to be this way.
About the Guest Author, Amy:
I found the online postpartum community through my struggles with breastfeeding and I stayed for the radical self-love and support I desperately needed during that first year new mama drama. My participation in Postpartum Together has inspired me to speak openly and honestly about motherhood, to pour some of my soul back into the community that was there for me when I had no idea where else to turn.
My background in sociology, where I studied marriage and families, provides context to my lived postpartum experiences. Motherhood brought me to a crossroads, where I chose to put my career on pause, and re-evaluate my professional goals. My time as a stay-at-home mom of one has brought me closer to redefining my life and purpose.
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