Thursday, 25 October 2012

Going Back to Work: Part 2

It is easy to write optimistically about the pluses of going back to work and the perhaps somewhat selfish desire to have some balance back in your life when it is still a fairly distant reality. When I last wrote about going back to work, I knew we had secured a place for my son at a nursery that I felt happy with and whilst I knew it was going to be really hard actually leaving him when it came to it, until this prospect became a reality, like so many things with motherhood, it is impossible to know just how hard it really is leaving your child. Leaving them somewhere where the sole responsibility for the well-being and happiness of your child is with A.N. Other. It is much harder than I could possibly have imagined.

Since I last wrote about going back to work and how keen I was to get my work head back on and restore at least some portion of my life to 'Being Natalie' again, I now feel very differently about it all. Actually, that's not entirely true. I still want to work, I always have and I always will and I still think that, ultimately, an environment for my boy around other children day to day and the opportunity to be able to get used to change and be comfortable not being around Mummy all the time is absolutely the right thing and the best thing for Dalton but, as my return to work date approaches with increasing velocity and is now under three weeks away, I find myself feeling utterly, utterly miserable and guilty about going back to work. There are a few different things which have happened over recent weeks that have led to me feeling this way and below, I'd like to list the main factors.

1) As per my last blog post, my boy has turned in to a truly scrumptious and wonderful being that I just love spending time with. He continues to fascinate me and make me laugh more and more every single day. Cheesed off about missing a single moment of his development and leaving those wonderful moments for someone else to possibly experience first? Yup, just a little.

2) With immaculate timing, the onset of quite severe separation anxiety started around 4 weeks ago for Dalton. I now know that it is very common for this to start somewhere between 8 and 10 months old (another thing I really wish I had know about in advance before I arranged a return to work date slap bang in the middle of it) and Dalton seems to be suffering very badly (sometimes I feel a little hard done by that I have a child who seems to cope so badly with pain, discomfort, not being cuddled enough, not being fed IMMEDIATELYRIGHTNOW when he wants to be etc. but then he has so many other wonderful qualities, it's only fair that he has a few challenging ones too). He is currently at a stage where I literally can't leave the room for even a few seconds without him getting terribly upset and has started waking regularly at night and getting himself in a real pickle about being on his own - I'm talking proper protruding bottom lip upset. Apart from making it very hard to get anything done right now, this is also making for an extremely tired and emotional Mummy and Daddy. Good time to leave him with a stranger? Nope, not so much.

3) Teething is officially go, go, go and the boy is less than happy about this. We very recently had two horrific weeks where we literally barely slept at all as the little man was waking after every sleep cycle (about 30 mins for him) and screaming in pain. It was very clearly teething related (unlike the current rough nights which seem to all be about being left on his own) and nothing seems to help him feel more comfortable through it (trust me - there isn't a teething aid on the market that I don't know about - we have tried everything). He seemed to recover a little after his bottom two teeth had pushed all the way through and we were blessed with about three all night sleep throughs (just enough to pull us back from the brink of sleep deprived-related death!) but the teeth are clearly on the move again and so the rough nights resume. The sleep deprivation we are going through at the moment is something that only another parent who has been through the same thing would understand. We are both literally so tired that we are trembling and I hit rock bottom again and struggle to speak to anyone without crying when we have had a few nights in a row of completely disturbed sleep. I am terrified about how I am going to cope going back to work and "hitting the ground running", as I have been warned I will have to do, when I've had three hours of broken sleep over as many nights and, on top of that, will already be very anxious and pretty emotional about having had my right arm cut off leaving the most precious thing in the whole of the world to me with someone else.

It's strange, before I had a child, I naively just assumed that by the time he was a year old or so, of course he would be sleeping through the night regularly, I mean, why wouldn't he?! I knew there would be nights when he would be ill and sleep would be disrupted but I hadn't realised that the sleepless nights just go on and on and on for one reason or another. The only thing that seems to change is the reason! People just don't talk about this. Until you become a parent and open up to other parents that is, and then many of them will tell you that their three year old has still NEVER slept through the night or that their two year old still sleeps in bed with them as they are too frightened to sleep anywhere else etc etc. Some of them even break down in front of you just talking about how little sleep they are getting. I empathise with these people greatly. I'm starting to wonder how any parents of young children manage to make it through the working day without blubbing actually! Maybe they just run to the toilet and do it privately like I will have to. Maybe, they stay at home 'off sick' or 'WFH' on days after particularly rough nights. Maybe they are just more man than I will ever be and I seriously need to get a grip of myself. I don't know but what I do know is that crying in meetings is something I am genuinely concerned about when I return to work. Professional? No, not really.

4) Nursery settling in went VERY badly. I knew this was going to be tough. I really did but until you actually physically walk out the door (having of course sneaked out when he was looking the other way) and leave your child in the care of people you know absolutely nothing about, nothing can prepare you for how heartbreaking this feels. I'm talking about the kind of heartbreak where it feels like someone is actually stabbing you in the heart repeatedly with a blunt spoon (I always imagine this hurting more than a sharp one).

Anyway, this whole nursery thing has ended up catching me pretty off guard as, whilst I knew I would feel horrible about leaving Dalton with anyone that isn't immediate family, I was reasonably sure we had picked a good nursery for him all those many months ago that we registered him so I wasn't expecting to be completely overwhelmed by feelings of anxiety that this most definitely was NOT a place I could leave my boy - so overwhelmed in fact that I ended up suffering my first ever panic attack (I used to wonder whether people made these up - now I know they don't, they are terrifying). Being a slightly over-protective Mummy, I decided to book in lots more settling in sessions than the nursery normally suggests and we had even booked in and paid for 4 extra half days for Dalton so that by the time I went back to work, he and I would feel completely comfortable about his new 4-day-a-week environment. Sadly, these settling in sessions could not have reassured me less.

I am not going to go in to the details of most of the things I saw that caused me great concern as I don't think it is fair on the nursery for me to do that but the thing that pushed me over the edge was that when Ron and I returned to collect him having only left him for one hour, at a time when the staff knew we would be returning to collect our precious little soldier, the poor little man was sat outside in a stationary pushchair, facing the wall unable to see anything for their 'outside time', crying so hard that I could hear him from the door and so hard that his whole head had gone red and blotchy. Now, Dalton doesn't even like sitting in a stationary pushchair when he is with me and can see what is going on in the world so to see him like that, without anyone trying to console him literally left me feeling like someone had ripped my heart out. I couldn't get to my gorgeous little ball of wonderfulness quickly enough and the only good thing to come from that horrible experience was that I got my first proper, full on squeezy cuddle - with head nuzzling and everything. He was in quite a pickle and it took a while to calm him down. It took much longer to calm me down. Anyway, that night, as he woke inconsolably for about the 6th time, as I stood rocking him from side to side trying to stop him crying and reassure him the world was OK, that was when the panic attack struck. I felt so trapped - I only had three weeks until I went back to work. How could I change our childcare plans and find something else for him now, AND get him comfortable with that thing in time? But everything in my body was telling me I just couldn't leave him there and if that meant leaving my job if that's what it came to and I couldn't find something else, then I would have to do that. I just couldn't live with myself leaving my everything somewhere that he wasn't going to be happy.

And then I got to thinking, actually, this leaving my boy with someone else completely sucks. Yes, I am a perfectionist and suffer from fairly light-hearted OCD so I knew that no one else was going to make sure that the velcro nappy tabs were as perfectly aligned as I made them. I knew that no one else was going to part his hair with exactly 80% of hair follicles pointing to the right and 20% to the left. I knew that no one else was going to make sure the seams in his clothing were always symmetrically lined up and aesthetically pleasing. I knew all of that and I was OK with that but then I thought, who's going to tickle him with the giant tickle hand umpteen times a day (that makes him chuckle)? Who's going to hide below the table and pop their head up shouting "PEEEPOOO" so many times they end up with neck strain (this makes him chuckle too - the peepo bit)? Who's going to blow raspberries on his tummy every time he has his nappy changed (this makes him chuckle too)? Who's going to hold him by the bathroom mirror and let him open and close the door repeatedly over and over again for so long that their wrists actually start to give way and are probably permanently damaged as a result (this makes him chuckle too - again - the door opening bit)? Who's going to love him like nothing else in the world could ever matter and give everything they have within their soul to make that little boy happy? Well, the reality is that no one is and once I realised this, I really understood what my friend meant when she told me to prepare myself for 'Mummy Guilt'.

Anyway, so I realised that no one could make my boy as happy as I believe I can make him BUT I think he is the kind of child who would be happier in a less frantic and more family kind of environment, at least whilst he is so young, and it turns out that a fabulous childminder who I had been recommended more times than I have had hot dinners is by chance now free to take on a full time bubba in January. I snapped up that space immediately. Phew. Relieved. I feel so lucky to have caught her at a time when she has a space for my angel. I met her today and she seemed wonderful and made me feel everything positive that the nursery staff didn't and I could see instantly how happy all of the children she looked after appeared to be and Dalton seemed to take an instant like to her too. So, this is great and I feel so much better about going back to work and I know she is the best option for my boy. The only thing left to do now is to try to convince work to let me go back at the beginning of January instead of in three weeks time! They will not be happy about this but I am crossing everything that they will come round to the idea.

So, first major going back to work hurdle tackled I think, in that I am definitely happy that the person who will be looking after my boy is the next best thing to me or Ron looking after him. The next really big hurdle will be, well, actually going back to work! Come on, Wood, hold it together. You can do this.

I leave you now as I send myself off to 'manning up' classes with a few pictures of my beautiful little boy from his latest shoot (before I cut his hair - maybe these pictures prompted the scissor snipping ...)

Love and hugs to all you other Mummies out there. Especially those of you who have just gone back to work or are just about to. It's tough out there. XXX