My husband is back at work this week. It feels like the end of a chapter – 3 months in, past the harried days and nights of the newborn stage. For weeks, my husband and I took turns holding the baby days and (some) nights while the other tried to “get things done”. Usually things were a shower, cooking a meal, tidying something up. In the mornings, we tag teamed to get the older kids dressed and set up for virtual school or out-the-door for in-person school. He held the baby in the car when I had an appointment. I held the baby in the car while he went into the store to get groceries. We ate lunch together (and if we got take-out, this was also eaten in the car because of COVID). One of us would stay home while the other drove to pick up the older kids. When we were less sleep-deprived, we checked off some items from our to-do list. We also watched movies, TV shoes and read books. We took walks around the neighborhood. I feel very fortunate that he was able to take 3 months off this time. We talked during the day about our kids – adult conversations, something we can’t do when 4 kids are in the house. This hasn’t been the case after every baby’s birth, and I can tell you that the toughest postpartum period for our marriage was when our third was born. He kept working because the baby arrived 2 weeks early and he had some things to wrap up at work. Then, because we had family help, he decided to save his leave for when I returned to work. But it was hard. As the only person who could help me overnight, he would stay up and then be tired for work. I leaned on him to help around the house as well and this was an added responsibility for him. In sum, I am grateful for this time we had together, and also feel a bit sad that we are closing the chapter on our newborn days. But, as my husband would say, “we’ve done it 4 times. I think that’s plenty!” And he is certainly right about that.
So this week, I am adjusting to our new normal. He’s working from home and I’m in charge of getting the kids ready in the morning, driving them to school, tidying up, planning meals and spending time with our littlest one during the day. I, again, feel incredibly fortunate to have this extra time with my baby. I also have to admit that this is the hardest part of maternity leave for me, because I do think there is an imbalance in our marriage when my husband works and I do not. It is especially exacerbated during COVID since I have no alternative social outlet at the moment. I take great pride in my career. I love working with and helping my patients. I respect the trust they have in me and think about them when I’m not at work. I also have amazing colleagues and feel so indebted to them for keeping me safe during my pregnancy and covering my patients while I am out.
As I start planning for my own return, I am having a hard time deciding what to do. I am worried about going back to work during the winter COVID surge, but also feel that it is my duty to do so since I have “sat out” the past few months. I am concerned about committing to a schedule since the kids’ schedule is so up in the air. There are potential quarantines if any of the children or teachers in the classes test positive, and the kids have also had to stay home for a myriad of “symptoms”. Once, my 4 y/o had a temperature of 99 and “was not acting like himself”. Another time, my 6 y/o thought he might have felt a sore throat but it was gone by the time my husband went to pick him up. He still had to come home and get a COVID test (it was negative). Yet another time we quarantined at home for 14 days because our 2 year old was exposed outdoors to someone who later tested positive for COVID. I very much appreciate how cautious the school is – so far they have had no COVID cases – but it also throws quite a wrench in any plans to work as I so hate having to cancel patient appointments. So, basically, I am now having to deal with COVID reality for working parents. I have had a reprieve during leave and it was immensely helpful during the start of this crazy school year, but now I find myself incapable of being decisive on what 2021 should look like.
For now, I am trying my best to set up some sort of schedule for my remaining days at home while mulling over the return-to-work possibilities in my mind. I am enjoying these last few weeks of snuggles because this is our last baby. Maternity leave seems like a slow uncoupling, in preparation of returning to work. First, there is the full immersion in your newborn – he is held in arms all night, worn in slings or carriers all day, nose to sweet-smelling newborn head. I am there for every minute of his day – obsessing over details like wet diapers, hours of sleep, when he last nursed and on and on. Slowly, there is a move towards (relative) independence. Trying to get him to sleep on his own at night. Working on a morning schedule – now so that he can join me on the car ride to drop off his brothers and later so that I can feed him before heading into work. Soon I will have our nanny hold him for longer stretches so that he can get used to her and her to him. We’ll try a bottle while I pump (we have never followed the “introduce a bottle early” rule with our infants. I know it’s not recommended but so far we have not had issues and it honestly just seems like more work). Maybe I’ll run an errand without him, leaving him home with my husband. And that’s how we’ll transition from spending almost 24 hours joined together to my being away during the day. Again, I am fortunate: I work full-time, but my hours aren’t terribly long. I don’t have to be separated from him at night. I have the option of doing some of my work from home. Despite this, it is clear that this next phase is bringing me closer, day-by-day, to being away from him for longer stretches of time. And even though it is a choice, it is still hard.