Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A Mushed Up Heart and Choices

Sometimes I write about my decision I made to stay home with my babies.  This post is meant to serve as encouragement to mothers who are making that difficult choice, who wonder if it can be done financially, and/or who might have had the same torn feelings as I did about going to work and leaving my little ones.

Eighteen years ago I had decided to look at life through a long lens-I had so much time for myself after the kids were older and not in need of such intensive care, to use my college degree, and if I wanted, to be away from my home.  But I could never ever get those precious years back with my little ones-they'd only be 6 weeks, or 6 months, or 3 once and I didn't want to miss a thing.

When I was handed my firstborn baby, 18 years ago, I had been married 10 months.  It was really not the greatest time for us to be having a baby.  My husband was in school, we both had school loans- and car loans.  We had very very little money saved.  Jeff had a part-time college job with just about the worse health insurance you could have.  I had no job as I had just moved to the city Jeff was attending school in.  This was not the plan of course (see below). On top of that all, I spent the first four months of pregnancy with hyperemesis-debilitating sickness that gave me a hospital stay hardly covered by insurance.  Yes, we were both participants in this little honeymoon surprise, but it was still sort of shocking...we were young and had our life together planned out perfectly :) before us.

The Newlywed Plan: I was going to get a good job, with good insurance, he'd go to school, and have time to study.  We were renting a little duplex in a halfway decent part of town, maybe after he passed his exam we'd move to a fun city, maybe we'd buy a great house...honestly we didn't even talk about the "when" part of having children.  We'd finally have money for things!  We couldn't wait to lead this exciting, newlywed, "the world is our oyster" part of life.  And lo and behold, here I am, with a BABY, 10 months later. NOT in the plan, that's for sure.

But I'll tell you something, when the nurse put that baby in my arms, my choices, my plan, were gone.  It really was maybe a scale of crazy because I did feel slightly inebriated with hormones.  But that option of work/daycare/babysitters-it wasn't even a consideration to me-it made me cry to even think about it.  You couldn't have ripped that baby out of my arms. I could hardly leave the room without him. I heard him crying in my sleep, (and the kid never cried in real life!), I smelled him from the other room, I couldn't take my eyes of him.  He brought me to my knees. See, crazy, I'll admit.  Rational?  No way.  So what was I, freaky baby mama, with no choice in her mind, to do? 

I had found the only job I could get when I was hugely pregnant, months earlier, when the hyperemesis eased up ... working for a mom of a toddler who traveled with her husband once in awhile.  I took the job, because I knew she was okay with me bringing the baby those weekends.  That job barely payed for groceries. We made it work, We hardly bought a thing other than food.

When that job fell apart because the family I was working for was transferred, my husband had finished school.  He had worked too, while going to school full-time.  I took his old college job...working as a merchandiser for a food company.  I remember dreading having to "train" for two full days...I called my sister and begged her to come...I couldn't leave the baby with anyone but family.  She did, I trained, (and pumped milk in a freezing cold car and counted the minutes of every day) and when I was finished and had to work a few hours a week, I took Isaac with me, or Jeff helped out with my work too, above his school and his own "real" job.

By that time, we had bought a house...the ugliest house for sale in a decent neighborhood...the house that sat on the market forever because it was filthy and disgusting and had no AC, ancient gold appliances and a falling down garage.  I cleaned and scrubbed and peeled and painted...all on the tightest budget imaginable.  It took us years. (And we brought home our second baby about a year after moving in.) I still had little or any for extras, we still scraped by, and again, we never considered it an option for me to leave the kids for work...we were just going to live as tight as we could, and figure it out, and trust our gut feelings that home was the best place for me to be, with the kids.

Was it stressful?  At times, for sure.  But we never considered me working away from the kids...we still had that No Option But Home brain thing going.  As the years went by we made it work.  My husband eventually chose a job outside of law that allowed him normal working hours so he could spend time with us, and eventually,  I found it unnecessary for me to be working outside the home. We had learned to live on one income, and to live on less and be very conscious of our spending and those lessons were beneficial for us always.

When I speak with first-time pregnant mom (or her husband) who seems to already taking a hard stance in her decision to go back to work, I want to say,  "Please, don't make that decision with your mind right now, make it with your mushed up heart after you hold that helpless little one!  And please, give your heart a chance to be mushed up!" 

When I hear someone say to me, "You're really lucky you get to stay home!"  I feel like it's not totally fair. That doesn't mean that I'm not so grateful and blessed to be able to stay home, but I KNOW what it took to get me here...choices and decisions that were hard and stressful, not so much luck involved. Blessed for sure, but it wasn't just luck.

I really felt like my mom cemented into my head, "What is best for the child?"  She says it a lot, I heard it a lot.  I know some feminists would disagree with this, but I really felt, after having a child, in every bone of my body, it was all about that baby, anymore.  I was an adult, I had my "all me" life before baby (not as many years as I had planned!), I made my choices!  And now it was all about someone innocent, helpless, fully vulnerable tiny human being who was completely dependent on his parents, whose first few years require intense times of care and love.

When I look back on those really tight years home with my baby (who is now 18!) I don't regret one moment of it.  In fact, sometimes I laugh at how much we worried instead of just trusted in ourselves and our decision and our ability to make it work.  I know it strengthened our relationship, and in a way, set us on a trajectory that blessed us in many ways.  We learned to live on very little and recognize each other's priorities quickly, we learned how to communicate about money (lots of trial and error on that one!) and set budgets. I think it helped my husband make good career decisions, knowing he was the sole provider, and it forced us to turn away from the hamster wheel of working to spend, and reject the culture of competitiveness.

I am so so grateful for every day I've been blessed to be home with my children.

Here are more stories from mothers about their decision to be home with their children.