It's the first time I've seen this building in over 2 months. My office building resembles a maximum security prison, cold and gray. The weather is cold and gray, too. Fitting...
The large parking lot is more than half empty since it's the day after Christmas. No one wants to be here, and neither do I. I've been on maternity leave for 12 weeks and 2 days. It feels very surreal making the long walk up to the revolving doors, and yet, at the same time it's all very familiar. Just like riding a bike as they say.
Going back to an old routine is very strange...especially when you don't want to do it. I know every crack in this walkway. I've been staring at this pavement for the past 6 years as I traipse in and out of the building.
I don't mean to overdramatize the act of going back to work. Okay, yes I do...I've thought about this day since before he was born. I thought about it 100 times a day, and each time it made me sick to my stomach. What am I doing? Is this the right decision? Because it sure doesn't FEEL like the right decision. Can't there be another way? Ah, but there isn't...at least not for now. I want to stay with him, but I also want to contribute to our family's success. More specifically, for our future success - savings, college funds, vacations, retirement, etc.
So, I keep walking towards the gloomy building.
Three months with my brand new precious baby felt like a lifetime. The longest 3 months of my life. The days were super long, and more often than not they were super hard. I remember the early days when he was just days old and very tiny and frail...I'd be crying my eyes out because he was crying his eyes out, and I didn't know how to help him. Caring for my little man seemed to get easier with each passing day. But then again, I think it wasn't getting easier...I was more used to it. I learned what to expect and learned how to manage our day.
I learned that the book said the babies would nap for an hour or 2, but he will only nap for 30 minutes. I learned that he enjoys watching me say "La La La" and "Ma Ma Ma" but he does NOT enjoy when I sneeze loudly. I learned that he'll watch anything on TV even if the screen is solid black. He uses his right arm for everything, and left arm is only good for thumb sucking. He doesn't enjoy the morning routine of sucking snot out of his nose. His dad can always get him to give us a giant toothless smile. I memorized his face while I held him and I see it every time I close my eyes.
The elevator smells funny - like biscuits and cigarettes and cologne. As the doors open to the 5th floor I feel like I'm walking into an alternate reality. I pull my gym bag and breast pump behind me as I walk down the hallway, past the giant rolls of bubble wrap and the walls lined with filing cabinets. Hardly a soul is in attendance, and I'm thankful for that. I don't much feel like interacting with anyone.
I sit down at my desk and stare at 2 blank screens. I stay this way for the entire day since I've forgotten all my passwords and no one is here to re-set them. I stare at my plant Kate and the 2 new garden gnomes that someone put here while I was away. One of the gnomes is missing a hand.
I walk around the office a couple of times to stretch my legs and I see a few familiar faces, but most of these folks are strangers. A lot has changed around here since I've been gone, and I'm a bit nervous about my new role and my new boss.
I realize that not many people recognize me, but I walk around with my head held high because I'm an old timer here. I know this place. A few work friends greet me with giant hugs. They ask about the baby. "He's doing really well," I say as I smile and nod my head. I'm mostly just trying to reassure myself. The truth is that I don't really know how he's doing. I made up a song when he was newborn, and it was this: "You're not the best baby in the world, but you're not the worst baby in the world either." I think those lyrics still apply. The baby is a baby. He's sweet most of the time, he poos, he cries, he fights sleep, he wakes up once a night, and I'm tired. There you have it.
But I don't say any of those things because no one really gives a shit.
I go down to the gym during my lunch break and punch the punching bag. Punch, punch, punch...over and over again. I can't seem to hit it hard enough. My biceps burn, but it's not enough. I pick up a set of 5 pound weights and get back to punching.
As the day goes on, I see a glimpse of my former working self...the self that sold more than anyone on my team last year and closed the 2 biggest conversion deals that the company saw in months. (There's only 2 other people on my team, so it's not that big of a deal). I find myself talking about account strategies and using silly acronyms and dropping terms like "app" and "platform" and "sales funnel." Gross. Gag me.
But, apparently I'm good at it. I reckon I have all these people fooled. I'm walking around wearing black slacks and a white blouse with jewelry and heels. I must look like I have it all together - the working mom with the happy baby. But in reality I'm crying silently at my desk and crying while I pump.
Pumping at work is a humiliating feeling. I feel ashamed as I quietly lift my shirt and unhook my giant bra. These utters are disgustingly large. I think for a moment about lifting each one and resting them on the table, but I don't. The mini blinds are closed as tightly as possible (I checked them 3 times), but I still feel exposed. I sit in a small conference room next to our application developer's office. His last name is Lovely, but this is not lovely at all. The conference room is small and plain. Beige carpet and beige walls. No pictures are hanging and nothing is in the room except a round table with 4 chairs. And here I sit, hooked up to a machine like a dairy cow, watching as my milk goes drip, drip, drip. My baby should be here with me. I wonder what he's doing right now? The machine is really loud and I feel like everyone who passes can hear.
I drive home in the rain. The city added 2 new traffic lights to my commute. Great...It shouldn't take me 30 minutes to go 7 miles, but it does. I listen to pop radio for the first time in what feels like forever, and I realize that all the songs are crap. I turn the radio off.
The baby cries when he sees me. Not a good cry either. It was like an "I'm mad at you why did you leave me all day" kind of cry. Listen, bud, I'm not happy about this either. I smile at him and play with him, feed him and get him down for bed. I'm really exhausted. I'm hoping for 6 hours of sleep, but I don't get it. I cry myself to sleep. I guess I'll do it again tomorrow. Remember to bring Kleenex.
This is my new reality. It's not bad, so I can't complain. But it's certainly not what I ever envisioned.