How My Daughter Helped Me Redefine 'Having It All'

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having it all
The decision I made surprised even me.

I'm about to say something that many people never get to say in their lifetimes: I love my job. Well, I did love my job. There was a time I couldn't imagine leaving.

I was a senior editor at a major national magazine, and work never felt like work to me. A case of the Mondays didn't exist. Why would it? I was surrounded by fun, creative people, going to press events at bars and restaurants throughout Manhattan, swimming in swag, laughing all the time, and living my creative passion every day. Brainstorming story ideas, working with writers, editing copy, going to photo shoots: all of this clicked perfectly with my personality. I loved the challenge, and the job was stable. I had hit the career jackpot.

But part of my work bliss had to do with the setting; I thrive in an office. I love the structure, the routine, knowing where I'm going to be every day. And I have a knack for staying under the radar when it comes to office drama. At work, I was the one everyone confided in; people would come into my office, close the door, and give me the latest dirt. The office was my second home, right down to the ample shoe collection that had accumulated under my desk.

Then my husband and I got pregnant.

I didn't know off the bat that I wouldn't return to the office. But perhaps the signs were there. I remember packing up my stuff about a week before maternity leave; I literally boxed up everything. I left no trace of my existence in that office. Maybe it was because I was embarrassed of all the crap I'd accumulated over the years. Maybe I wanted the temp to have a nice clean office to work in. Or maybe, just maybe, deep down I knew I would never be stepping foot in that office again once my baby daughter was born.

The decision to resign didn't come easily. In fact, it was agonizing. Right off the bat, I'll admit the obvious: the fact that I even had this choice made me feel extremely fortunate. But I couldn't fully enjoy my maternity leave because the prospect of returning to work was hanging over my head. I didn't feel ready to go back. But more suprisingly, I didn't miss it. And this made me feel very, very guilty.

There's so much talk these days about "having it all" — raising a child while working full-time at a fulfilling job. But maybe the issue is not so black and white. I certainly wasn't sure what "having it all" meant for me.

When struggling with the decision to go back to work, most moms I had talked with considered what would be best for the baby. But I have to consider what's best for me, too, I thought. I've worked my ass off for years. Having a newborn was a shock to my system. I had gone through my fair share of tears and dark days. But I was feeling every emotion to my core, and that felt strangely satisfying. I wanted more time to savor this experience, to feel it to the fullest. Maybe I needed a break. Maybe I want to dabble in things I never had time to, like writing a children's book or doing voiceover for Disney (a girl can dream, can't she?). I want to be able to stay with my parents for a week without having to use up vacation time. Sometimes I want to lay in bed and watch 48 Hours while she naps, hoping craziness doesn't absorb into her subconscious.

But who gives up a job they adore? My friends who had babies either got laid off beforehand or were ambivalent about their careers. I didn't know one person who decided to not return to a job they loved. I was so torn. I'd wake up in the middle of the night making pro/con charts. I talked to friends, I talked to family. Interrogated people who stayed home and people that went back to work. Meditated. Tried to visualize, imagining myself in each scenario: getting dressed in work clothes, kissing the baby goodbye, heading into the office. Waking up, feeding the baby, giving her a bath, going to a mommy group.

What's a mommy group anyway? My head was spinning.

Some days I'd feel so guilty. I should go back to work, I'd chide myself. This was my thing — the thing I did so well. It was my "normal" and a huge part of my identity. Who would I be if not a magazine editor? How would I feel being "just a mom"?  Keep reading ...

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