I can’t remember the last time I was woken by something other than the sound of my son’s voice.
The brightness on my iPhone is set a little too high for comfort, so I keep one eye closed and adjust the other to the narrowest of squints. A low, whispered moan escapes my throat as I take in the time; it’s 4.35am. I haven’t allowed myself the snoozing option. I’ve got 40 minutes to get ready.
It’s my first day back at work after maternity leave and every minute of my morning is scheduled and accounted for.
It’s a military like operation. (The GHD has landed. Milk encroachment may commence. Uber en route, GO GO GO). I spent hours the evening before packing, just to ensure that a trip I used to make weekly without fuss could actually take place.
Little do I know that in seven minutes time, everything will go to shit. Literally.
My friend and media colleague Sarah Harris
is returning to work today and when I read that news, it brought back a tumble of maternity leave memories.
Having Sarah back on screen is a big win for fans of hers and Studio 10, the TV show she co-hosts every morning at 8.30am with Joe Hildebrand, Ita Buttrose and Jessica Rowe.
Sarah is one of my favourite presenters to watch because she moves effortlessly from the sensible to the silly. Sure, she makes it look easy but that takes serious skill and lots of preparation.
Sarah has been on leave the past four months, looking after her first baby, Paul (who is absolutely scrumptious, you can take a look at him on Sarah’s instagram account here
). She told news.com
this morning that her biggest concern is boob leakage.
“Even being away from him now, just thinking about him, I can feel my milk letting down! I wonder if I’m going to be sitting on the panel debating something with Joe and then all of a sudden …” Sarah said.
“Originally I said I would take 12 weeks [maternity leave] and on the second day I said, ‘no, I need another month’. I wasn’t prepared for how in love with this kid I would be and also I wasn’t prepared for how hard it is on your body, especially those first six weeks”.
I was nodding so vigorously while reading those words that an outsider could have mistaken me for one of those car dashboard bobble-head dolls.
‘Prepared’ is a word that parents-to-be throw around like confetti during pregnancy. It’s a word that never again passes your lips following the birth of your first child – well, not unless the word ‘wasn’t’ precedes it.
I recall feeling ‘prepared’ for my own return to work (which, like Sarah, I also put off an extra month). So prepared, in fact, that I agreed – nay, I OFFERED – to fly interstate to Sydney for my first two days back in the office. I didn’t have any child care sorted, but my sister lives in Sydney and could step in to help, I reasoned. I’ll just take the baby with me.
I’ll say that again so that the parent readers can have another giggle at my expense:
Take. The. Baby. With. Me.
Seven minutes have passed and my 16-week-old son starts howling.
He’s managed one of those mysterious defy-the-laws-of-physics poos that explodes out of the nappy and reaches all the way up his back. He’s uncomfortable. He’s smelly. He wants to be fed. I’m standing in the door of his room.
I’m just out of the shower, still wrapped in a towel with water dripping from the ends of my wet hair and milk spraying out at a weird right angle from my left nipple. It begins to darn on me that this trip may have been a bad idea.
By some sort of miracle, twenty minutes later we are rushing down the stairs to get in the taxi.
I rush past the pram in the foyer of our apartment building and glancing at it, see a note taped to the hood. Why oh why oh why did I pick up that note? What good could have come of picking up that note?
This is a communal area and should be kept clear. Please find an alternative parking space for your pram.
I shove the piece of paper in my pocket and, swallowing down my hurt, clamber into the cab. 40 minutes after that we’re still on the highway, traffic is bumper to bumper, and there is no way I am going to make this plane.
By the time we pull up at the terminal my panic is under control and my breathing has slowed. I’m embracing a “What will be, will be” mantra in my head and hoping I can talk my way onto the next available flight.
What will be, will be. What will be, will be.
“That’s $59.40, love” says the driver.
What will be, will be. What will – I forgot my wallet.
I can see it in my minds eye, on the top right corner of the kitchen table. Bright pink, gold writing, un-missible and yet somehow… missed.
“Fuck”, I mutter.
Some rapid fire phone calls save the day and my colleague Lucy, who is departing from Melbourne on a different flight, rushes to the curb less than ten minutes later.
She pays for my cab before turning promptly and sprinting back to her gate. My distraught-first-time-mother routine (which isn’t so much a routine as it is the truth) works brilliantly on the kind lady at the Virgin terminal.
By 6.18am I am sitting in the lounge with a cup of tea that will never be drunk, a grizzling baby in my arms, waiting for the next flight to Sydney that had an available seat.
And that is when the tears come.
I am crying uncontrollably. I cry because I thought I had this parenting thing mastered. I cry because I forgot my wallet and because my neighbours are mean.
I cry because I haven’t even thought about how to pay for the next taxi. I cry because I’ve tried to do too much. I cry because I’m so exhausted that I feel it in my very bones. I’m cry because I used to be good at this. I cry because work, unlike being a mother, was something I could handle with ease.
I cry because this is so, so, so far from easy and the day has barely begun.
Watch Jamila discuss the trials of returning to work after a baby below (post continues after video).
It’s been half a year since I epically failed at returning to work.
Time and distance mean I can laugh at a 48 hours period that I was sure at the time I would never be able to laugh about. I can see it for what it was; a comedy of errors. An absurd experiment in expectation versus reality.
My baby is 10-months-old now and I’m learning (emphasis on the ing) to accept that parenting makes preparedness essential, at the same time as rendering that preparedness ineffective. You prepare and then you fail. But it’s easier than not preparing because that just makes the failing even more spectacular.
This morning I’m watching Sarah Harris on the television and she lights up the screen.
She looks happy and comfortable and confident and excited and if her nipples are leaking then I haven’t noticed. Watching her move seamlessly between subjects, from the news to entertainment, from the light to the shade, makes it easy to assume that this is easy. It’s not.
The combination of parenting and work is one I am still trying to master. In fact, I’m yet to meet anyone who has it totally down pat. But making it through that very first expectation-laden, hormone-fuelled day back at work is one hell of a first step.
Bravo Sarah and bravo to all of us who triumphed (and failed) before her.