Work: Between Diapers and Desk

By Sabine Ehgoetz

You wouldn’t believe how different women feel about returning to work after their maternity leave. A friend of mine just told me that she couldn’t wait to get back to her job and see something other than baby poop and spit-up all day. I found this quite an amazing statement, considering the fact that she is a surgeon. While even the messiest diaper explosion doesn’t even make me crinkle my nose anymore, I’m certain I would be sicker than a dog if I ever risked as much as a glance over her shoulder.

Another mother of a one-year old told me she breaks into tears every time she thinks about leaving her baby behind for a day at the office. She started to experience panic attacks at night as the end of her “baby break” drew closer. If you think that’s a little over the top, you should know that separation anxiety is not only a serious issue for babies, but also for mothers, and can even lead to long term depression, as many psychological studies have proved.

While I treasure every moment I spend with my twins as they are about to become toddlers, financial security would be great, and I would actually enjoy being something other than “mommy” once in a while.

Data collected by Statistics Canada shows that in 2005 close to 72 percent of all mothers with children under the age of six were employed (compared to 68 percent in 1999), and it would feel right to be part of this vast majority. Not only that, as a study by the Business and Labour Market Analysis Division has shown, the longer women wait to return to work, the harder it will be for them to find employment at all.

Day-to-day money management is another issue. Although I’m raising not one, but two infants at the same time, the government only grants me the usual 35 weeks of parental benefit payment that all formerly employed mothers can claim. The $100 “universal child care bonus” all Canadian families, regardless of their income, get each month for each child under the age of six, is clearly only a drop in the ocean in the big scheme of providing for a family. As a matter of fact, during the first three months of their lives, my boys shamelessly pooped through about $200 worth of diapers alone.

On the opposite side of a stable income, stands the simply horrifying prospect that not me, but some nurse at the daycare centre may witness their first steps or that they’d learn to say “nanny” before they can clearly pronounce “mom”. It’s common knowledge that there is a time in a baby’s early life when he instantly starts to cry when his mother goes out of his eyesight. Oddly enough, while mine are slowly starting to overcome this phase, I am not. Sure, I’m thankful for any chance to go out and do something for myself, but, really, all I ever do during my manicures or before and after a yoga class is talk about my babies. I’m also certain that they’ll soon start laughing at me when I tell them how much I missed them upon my return from the grocery store. Many full-time working mothers say how sad and guilty they feel when they go from occasionally hopping around the corner to leaving their toddlers or infants in the hands of another person on a daily basis. I’m convinced it would break my heart.

My way of coping with the situation is my usual approach of trying to have it all. I work from home on a freelance basis, which is pretty doable, although it definitely can be challenging.

As I’m typing these words, one of my sons is tugging at my leg and chatting up a storm of completely unrecognizable words while the other tries to steal the computer mouse away from under my hand.

I sometimes wonder how much easier it must have been back in those days when mothers weren’t expected, and in most cases not even allowed, to be anything other than homemakers. It wouldn’t have been an ideal scenario for me either, since I would have been expected to make a better effort with my cooking than I do now and my husband wouldn’t have changed his share of diapers!

Today it seems that women are constantly trying to be everything: caring mothers, attentive wives, tidy housekeepers, tough professionals and reliable income earners. I’m completely fascinated by the so called “mompreneurs” – a fairly recent word that describes mothers who start their own business on top of all those early motherhood duties. Honestly, I’d love to do the same; be my own boss and dedicate my energy to something I’m really passionate about. But I just can’t figure out how I would find enough time for it. The pressure to get it all done in a 24 hour day is huge, and although my little ones finally sleep through the night, I do need a few hours of sleep myself to have the strength to chase after them all day.

An often-underestimated difficulty many of us face when it’s time to start working again, is dealing with our self-image. I know an extremely successful woman, and CEO of a big company, who just told me the other day that she was very nervous about giving an important presentation after her return into the business world.

I can relate. After almost 12 months away from the office, I find it hard to picture myself at a conference table during a meeting. Even worse, I have grown so accustomed to wearing yoga pants and showing off spit-up stains on my shirt all day, that the thought of dressing up in a suit and a pair of heels seems almost ridiculous to me.

As I’m taking a break from finishing this story to play a round of peek-a-boo from behind my home office chair and pretend to be Winnie the Pooh in a silly voice, I realize that I’m no longer the career woman that I once was. I may have to become one of them again in the not-so-distant future, but for now, I’d rather put up with financial insecurity than missing out on this unique time of my children’s lives, when every week seems to be a huge new milestone for them. I consider myself very lucky that I’m not in my husband’s position as the main earner for the family, who only gets to see them for a brief moment at night and on the weekends.

And now, I’m afraid, I must run! Both of them are demanding a hug – and if you ask me, there is no “job responsibility” in the world I’d be happier to fulfill!

CNM