A few months after I returned to work from maternity leave, an opposing attorney I hadn’t seen since before I had gone on leave welcomed me “back.” “You’re back in the game now,” she said, and I nodded, acknowledging that I was in fact back to the adult world of daily commutes, phone messages, and carefully worded e-mails to my adversaries.
I agreed with the sentiment that maternity leave was a different world than my previous work life, and different still from life as a working mom. Still, the thought that I had gone somewhere and had now “come back” did not exactly ring true for me.
Like many moms might agree, the person I was before becoming a mom pretty much evaporated the second the labor and delivery nurse called the time of birth. I am unabashedly a different person now than the one who first decided it was a great idea to throw a baby into the mix.
Don’t get me wrong—I’m still me. I still have many of the same goals, dreams, and desires. I still like Diet Pepsi a little too much. I still love getting my daily workout in. I still like to have fun with my husband and laugh at jokes that only we find funny. I still want to be a good attorney and do well for my clients. The difference now is that I have a tiny person who, along with my husband, comes before all else.
In motherhood, we make it work however we have to. Whether we choose to continue our careers after having children or choose to focus solely on parenthood, or some mix of the two, we take what we choose or what we are given, and we find a way to make things work for us and for our children. We work from home. We adjust our schedules so that our time with our children is maximized. We negotiate for time with our partners, ourselves, and our children.
We know that sometimes there are sacrifices we have to make. We take time off from work. We return to work. We give up rock-climbing or parasailing or temporarily disavow sushi and wild-caught Alaskan halibut. Whatever it is, we negotiate these choices because we want what is best for our children. We become inherently different people than who we were before we became “mom”—and that’s OK.
It has been a year since I returned to work following my maternity leave, and in that time, I’ve worked from home a couple days each week to maximize my time with my son. I’ve adjusted my office hours. I’ve stressed. I’ve worried. I’ve known that much of this is temporary. In one year from now, my husband and I will be in a position that will allow me to begin working part-time or stop working altogether, at least for awhile. Whatever I choose will be my choice, and I know I am fortunate to even have the choice.
The choices I make now as a mom may be different from the choices I may have made in my pre-baby life. But just as I wouldn’t defer to my younger self on most important life issues, I’m not going to wonder what my pre-baby self would do. I trust my new mama self to make the right decisions for herself and for her family. In fact, I’m way more badass as a mom than I ever was before having my son.
Before becoming pregnant, I never would have thought I could survive chairing a trial with constant nausea or vomiting, or that I could get through a deposition with a 7-pound bowling ball on my bladder. And that was even before the first labor pain, the final push, the first sleepless night, the hundredth sleepless night, and the million and one other changes that followed after I became a mom.
Returning to work in itself was a feat of emotional strength, as was developing the trust in our caregivers I needed to have following my return. Being a mother is liberating. The love and concern I have for my son and our family easily overshadows any judgment or opinion anyone else may have about our life.
I am more motivated to excel and to make a difference in ways that matter. The time away from my son is a sacrifice, which makes it all the more important that that time be valuable—that it be worth something. I’m more efficient with my time. I do more with less. I cut to the chase. I care about my work, and I work hard.
The difference now is that it is my son who is literally my life’s work. Motherhood is my game now. Everything else is just a part of it.