My little lovely is eight months and since she reached the six month mark I’ve been thinking about, among other things, the question of work: returning to full-time work, part-time work, work full stop. There is something about the six month milestone that is as significant for the new mother as it is for the baby; for me at least. Prior to six months I had learned to embrace being a ‘stay at home’ mother (although prior to two or three months I struggled with this admittedly). I enjoyed my hybrid lifestyle – that of a lady of leisure as well as a tired, disorganised mother to a young baby. One moment I could be uttering profanities in the laundry because I had nowhere to dump an armload of clean sheets and baby clothes in order to make room for wet and/or dirty ones. The next moment I could be enjoying a glass of champagne or a coffee with a friend in a favourite eating place. I could watch episodes of Frasier or Buffy while feeding/holding my sleepy baby. Breastfeeding was the perfect excuse to eat all day. Prior to six months, most people told me it was okay to ‘let the house go’ (as though my house was a middle-aged person with little motivation for grooming). Most people told me to nap during the day, spend lots of hours snuggling with my baby, lots of time walking and soaking up the sunshine.
However when the new baby and the new mother turned six months, suddenly the line of questioning shifted to ‘When are you going back to work?’ ‘Will you go back to work soon?’ ‘Is the baby sleeping through?’ ‘Is she eating enough solids?’ And the list goes on. This was of course combined with the fact that my baby was still very much a baby, and therefore not sleeping through the night, still throwing mystery tantrums, still demanding to be held and cuddled and comforted for the most part of 24 hours. So after six months of mothering I was suddenly more exhausted than ever! I am not a paranoid or petty person and most well-meaning remarks and questions slide happily over my head. But learning to embrace the ever-present sense of Motherguilt is one skill I have not quite mastered and I found myself (still do actually) feeling as though there was an expectation that: right-O, now I have to get back to the real world, the babymoon is over and things need to get serious. But I am not ready to return to work. I can afford full or even part-time childcare but I don’t want that, not yet. I haven’t finished watching every Frasier episode ever made. I still hate housework, but then again I always have hurled lazy abuse at the prospect of housework. Now that my baby is experiencing her first Spring, I enjoy taking her to the park, watching her part fascination with, part revulsion of the feeling of grass under knee. We sit in the sunlight, softly filtered through old trees, and as she tries to climb all over me I am happy that at this very moment, sitting in the sun and doing ‘nothing’ with my baby is the most important thing in my life.
I suspect the next big hurdle will be 12 months as by then I really will need to decide what to ‘do’ vocationally – I am aware that too many months or years out of the mainstream workforce makes it hard to return once I am ready to do so, therefore it is worth strategising my own future at least a little. But for now I choose to focus on what is still a very young baby. And still a very new mother.
Did you experience similar pressures/perceptions after six months?
*Image of a painting by William Adolphe Bouguereau, Temptation (1880).