I never meant to be a stay-at-home mom.
I went back to work full-time when my first child was 6 months old. She wasn't taking a bottle, and despite all our efforts, would never take a bottle. She starved all day in daycare until I picked her up. She was used to falling asleep in my arms, and wouldn't nap at the daycare center. Almost every day for the first month, the head teacher would complain to me that the Bean had been "fussy." I wanted to smack that woman. I was separated from my child all day, and the last thing I needed to hear was such complaints. And yes, they were complaints--not helpful or even matter-of-fact just-wanted-to-let-you-know-how-she-was-doing statements, but out-and-out whining complaints from this teacher.
I knew before I enrolled her in the daycare center that she was not taking a bottle. But my husband and I enrolled her anyway, and hoped for the best.
I went back to work because I was on a research fellowship that had to be completed. (NIH fellowships have nasty pay-back schemes where you have to either finish out the two years, or pay back all your salary). I went back to work because I had told my boss that I would do so. But most of all . . . I went back to work at that time because I had to do so. I was climbing the walls. I felt slightly insane. It was the dark of winter. I loved my child, but I needed to get away, out of that house; I needed to see other people, to be something more and other than a mother. I needed to return to my work, to go back to my lab and do my science and run those Western blots, damnit!
This time is different.
This time I am different.
I was laid off; we relocated to another city (husband's job); I was pregnant with my second child, and in a city with limited job opportunities for me. And it is a time of limited opportunities for all of us in science--a crisis in federal funding that can only be described by that word, crisis.
I'm not the ambitious go-getter anymore. I'm realistic: I know that the time for all that has passed. It's been six years since I received my Ph.D., and if I were to "make it," I'd have "made it" by now, during my first postdoc.
I've been a full-time-stay-at-home mom for more than half a year.
My second child is now four months old.
When we made the decision to move to this new city, my husband and I placed our unborn daughter's name on the waitlist for his employer's daycare center. We thought that I might eventually want to return to work, and we knew how these waitlists work--it might well be a full year before her name reached the top.
Well, her name has reached the top. They have an opening for her in the new year.
And even if a job in my field were to miraculously open up for me here in this city; even if I could find a great postdoctoral or staff scientist position--a position like that in my old lab, studying science that I am passionate about, with colleagues that are like family--still, I would not be able to take it. Not this time.
And not just because I am now wary about science. Not just because I know there's probably no long-term career there for me. But because I also know now how fleeting the first year of childhood is. I know how fast they grow up. How those dumpling arms and legs stretch out and lose their baby fat. How that dense baby weight, pressed into my arms, will soon be a memory. And a memory, too--the sight of those round baby cheeks, drawing themselves in and out, as she nurses from my body.
I don't regret going back to work with my eldest, the Bean-girl, when I did. Things turned out fine, and I did what was best for me at the time. But things are different now.