"I'm in the hospital and will be offline for the coming weeks. My water broke this morning (two months early). The doctors are monitoring me and trying to figure out if the baby wants to come out."
It feels like a lifetime ago when I sent this abrupt out-of-office message from the triage room of the hospital. As I look back on the past few months of parental leave, I marvel at how time seemed to have simultaneously crawled forward in seconds and flew by in weeks ("The days are long, but the years are short," goes the common refrain).
Right now, I am feeling the familiar wave of jitters that typically mark a major life milestone, like moving to a new country, graduating from college and law school, taking the bar exam, or starting a new job.
I want to capture this particularly moment in time--the night before I go back to work--so I can look back on it later. Perhaps someone else out there who has similar feelings will be comforted by the fact that they are not alone. Along that vein, I want to dedicate this post to all the lawyer-moms (and dads) out there who are helping me navigate this transition.
So how am I feeling? Trepidation. Worry. Nervous excitement. I am not weeping (for now), so maybe that is a temporary win.
My biggest concern is that I will regret not managing my time better during my parental leave. My husband will be the first to tell you that I do not do well with idle time. Early in my leave, I wrote--and checked off--lengthy to-do lists every day (I'm sorry! I can't help it!). I read books about parenting; researched and bought baby products; tried different activities with Billable Baby; tackled endless chores; and dedicated time to various non-work, non-family commitments). It was important to me to feel productive, even during the unstructured, unpredictable days of new parenthood.
Over time, as we settled into more of a routine, I added one more item to the to-do lists: enjoy my baby. This was an incredibly useful piece of advice my husband and I received. Sometimes, the best use of time as a parent is to just be 100% present with our kids. At the same time, I felt that my entire identity and my whole day did not need to only revolve around my kid (says the person with a blog called "Billable Baby," ha!). During my leave, I found it fairly easy to allocate what I thought was enough time to my family, my personal relationships, my hobbies, and my non-work commitments. But once you add a full-time job into the mix, achieving the optimal allocation necessarily becomes more challenging. I did not want to end my parental leave with the regret that I did not spend enough quality time with Billable Baby. To be clear, I don't regret anything right now, but I think it will be interesting to re-evaluate in a few months' time.
Another dominant emotion at the moment is relief. Specifically, I feel relieved that I got to spend 23 weeks at home with Billable Baby. I cobbled together my six-months of paid leave with sick leave and short-term disability (while I was in the hospital), generous primary-care leave offered by my job, and vacation days. I originally wanted to downplay how long I had been away from work. The thinking was that I could sneak away, have a baby, and slip back into the office rhythm before anyone even noticed I was gone. But I realized it was more important to me to normalize long leaves by talking about it.
I thought I had a long leave until I spoke to friends in other countries. Almost all of my mom friends in Canada are planning to take at least a year of parental leave, most of which will be paid (full or reduced salary). In Europe, I hear it is not unusual to take 6-18 months off. Here in the U.S., I see mothers going back to work after three or four weeks. That is mind-boggling, considering the standard postpartum OB appointment is not even until six weeks after the birth. Come on America, do better!
One more thought on this point, perhaps geared toward dual-corporate-career couples: we should further normalize fathers taking primary caregiver leave. This is already an increasingly common occurrence. I was thrilled to hear that several male colleagues and friends recently took the full primary leave, instead of rushing back to work after two or four short weeks (they mentioned that other parents are particularly supportive of their decision). My husband did not take primary leave, and that has been a source of regret for both us, even though he did manage to take on a significant portion of the childcare responsibilities while working from home. Should we ever have a younger sibling for Billable Baby, we fully plan on having my husband take primary leave, or even stack it on top of my primary leave, if possible.
Speaking of my husband, he wanted to end this post with a guest post (more like a blurb, you blog-luddite). Here it is:
I want to first note how incredibly proud I am of the grit that my wife has displayed through these past six months. This includes the strength with which she dealt with unexpected adversity and also the dedication with which she threw herself into the day-to-day of parenting. This initial phase of parenting has been a wild ride, bringing challenges that neither of us type-A, plan-everything-in-spreadsheets gunners were prepared for, and she has handled them wonderfully.
As we enter a month of significant transitions, I feel excited to see how we will take on new opportunities at work. Coupled with that excitement is anxiety: our new schedules, our new child care arrangement (much more on that in a future post!), but most of all, our ability to strike a balance between career and family. The last half-year has redefined our relationships with our parents, with each other, and with this new member of our nuclear family. I am hopeful that even as we return to full-time (150% allocation) jobs, we will set aside time to nurture the bonds that have been growing.