When I gave birth to my daughter in 2012 I had been working a lot: one full-time job and three part-time gigs. I had no maternity leave, I was a freelancer, but I saved enough to take off eight weeks, and then my little one went straight into full-time daycare. When I was a kid, my parents worked full-time so this was normal to me, plus, Little D slept most of the time. (Yes, we were lucky like that.)
I continued my heavy workload when D turned 2 and transitioned into full-time preschool. From 8 a.m.–6 p.m. she was at school, thriving I must say, and continued to spend (slightly more waking hours in the care of other people than her parents. By 2½ she was more active than ever, sleeping less, and wanting me more. At the same time, I wanted to be there more. (Leading up to this I had two miscarriages, which may explain what came next.) As the year went on, I started to “break up” with my other “kids”/jobs to give me more time to spend with D. Not having my full-time salary was tough, but the extra quality time with my daughter was worth it.
By her 3rd birthday, I thought I had struck the perfect balance. I was able to make it to all her big school functions during the day, befriend a ton of parents at her school, and occasionally take her out of school for mama time. Soon weekends became all about her: dance classes, play dates, birthday parties, etc. At first I thought, this is awesome. But months later something happened. I started having problems breathing, would have days when I couldn’t stop crying…I just couldn’t cope, despite the fact my life seemed less stressful than ever.
I thought I was sick. I got blood work done and my chest X-rayed, and, physically, everything was fine. My diagnosis? Anxiety. The treatment? Medication and/or exercise. When I asked my doctor to try to explain to me what was going on with me, he said something to the effect that sometimes there’s just a “disconnect.” He didn’t push taking anti-anxiety medication, but said I could try it to see if it helped. I was hesitant about taking anything, but I didn’t know what to do.
I quit one part-time job that required an hour commute each way, thinking that would do it, but it didn’t. And more exercise seemed to make me more anxious. I waited several weeks, and many “episodes,” before I did finally call up my doctor to say, “Hey, let me try it.”
A couple months later, I could breathe again.
Why am I sharing all this? Giving up things to be with my daughter, to be that parent who was there for everything made me happy when I was with her, but when she wasn’t around, I felt like a mess. What I haven’t mentioned is that at that point, the longest I’d gone without seeing my daughter since she was born was 24 hours. I was away from her for one single night for an emergency situation. Why not more? Maybe deep down I didn’t want to know what it felt like to be away from her, to not be a parent, to not put family before myself. I’d given up so much to be with her, I should be with her as much as I could, right?
Then, last week, I had reached a breaking point, not just with her, but all the responsibilities that come with running a household: caring and cleaning up after a toddler, a puppy, a cat, a bird, and my (really sweet) husband. So, with my daughter and husband’s approval (I would’ve gone anyway) and rain check with friends for regular date/family nights (I have at least three a week), I left for two nights and three days with my dog (just for exercise) to stay at my parents’ house in suburbia while they were out of town.
My parents’ house isn’t far away, maybe an hour in traffic, but it delivered exactly what this parent needed: silence. It felt weird at first, especially since it’s so loud where we live in L.A. My dog was even confused just how quiet it was in the suburbs. And for the first time in a long time I had real me time. And I liked how it felt.
It’s not like I thought I’d die if I spent more than a night away from my daughter, but the first night it did feel weird. Too quiet, too still. The next night it felt much better, going to sleep and waking up alone. It had been so long, actually since 2008, when I lived by myself.
When I returned home, it was like I had never left, but I learned a lot just in that three-day “momcation.” I survived leaving for a little bit, and so did my family. Not a major revelation for most people, but for me, it was. I have to leave more. I have to let go more. It’s not for everyone, and it’s not possible for everyone, but I’m now going to demand it.
Honestly, I don’t know if it is the medication that has helped me get to this point or not, we will see, as I am planning to get off it in the next month. But I do have a clearer vision of what I want now as I head into my fourth year as a mother. I’m going to prepare to have another baby, not the human kind, but the “baby” I had always wanted before I had my daughter: my own business. So that’s what I’m working on now. I’m loading things back on my plate as my daughter’s own plate is loaded with her own imaginary family (she had four sisters at last count), two dance classes, and a music class. And I’m not just looking to be able to breathe again on my own—I’m looking to soar. Wish me luck with baby #2!