My baby is 12 weeks old today. She is no longer considered a newborn, although no one would ever mistake such a big baby for a newborn. It also means that I’ve been a mother for 12 weeks. When I talk to her, I call myself Mommy. When her grandma tries to pacify her while waiting for me to come home from work, she refers to me, her daughter, as Mommy. When I ride in an Uber and the driver happens to be a woman or a new parent, we suddenly have a lot to talk about, like we have become part of a secret club. My life is about the same, yet so different. My priorities in life have changed.
Mommy was going to be a career woman
Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, it was pretty much assumed that I would go to college and land a job, and work seriously and competitively, unlike the women before me who had to fight for opportunities. After I finished college, I went on to a PhD in biology, and for a long time I considered applying to be a professor the natural career path.
When I was pregnant, I didn’t doubt that I would head back to work after my maternity leave was up, like the thousands of women who have gone before me. I get 16 weeks off, which seemed very reasonable given the lack of maternity leave in the US, and I thought it was reasonable. After the initial 6 weeks, it hit me that 16 weeks of maternity leave is not unreasonable, but it was inadequate – yes, I would have completely recovered by then, but my baby can’t even sit up. My priorities in life have changed: I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom.
My husband has been throwing around the idea of being a stay-at-home dad for a while. I told him it’s because he is a guy that the idea of staying at home with the kids is okay. As a woman, I worry that I will end up like the women I’ve known, struggling to recover themselves and any career ambition after over 10 years of being home. Now that I have stepped into their shoes, I realize that they knowingly gave up their lives and careers for their children, and I would too if it were financially feasible.
I consider myself financially literate, and I have never worried about retirement planning. I was sure I could get a decent job, and save enough along the way to retire without trying too hard. A few years ago, I learned about early retirement, which is retiring well before the age of 60. I’m the kind of person who gets bored on vacation, so I’ve never really considered early retirement seriously. I regret it now. If I had skipped the PhD and worked for money, I could be in early retirement and be a stay-at-home mom. But if you had told me that I would want to do this 10 years ago, I would not have believed you. If I had to give advice to younger women these days, it’s to keep that option open because you’d never know if your priorities will change when you get older, when you become a mom.
With my new Mommy super power comes responsibility
I seem to have acquired new super powers – I am a deep sleeper, and I still am, but when it comes to my baby, I hear her in my sleep. My husband wakes up before I do, and makes at least a bit of noise as he prepares to go to work. I never hear him. On the other hand, I hear my daughter when she barely whimpers in hunger in the middle of the night. My husband went from being a light sleeper to one who is too tired to even wake up.
Are mothers naturally more in tune with their babies? I worry that I am not there to watch my baby now that I work part-time, and it’s going to get worse when I have to get back to full-time again. I’m focused on my work while I’m at work, but when I am going home, I rush. If I stop by the grocery store and take an extra minute to check out something that I want, I feel guilty.
I’m reconsidering my life, and I have no conclusions for now. The one thing I do know is that I want to give my baby everything I can, and more. I am now a mother.