This is my eighth and last week of going to work every day and leaving the baby at home, first in my husband’s hands, and now in my mother’s. The first week or so, I was in abject misery, and then, slowly, I started to become accustomed. At this point, I am pretty much completely used to it.
To be honest, this lifestyle is pretty nice. It is true that my attention is divided between my household and my work, but this is the sort of strain that is just bad enough to complain about but not so bad that it causes true, grinding unhappiness. Moreover, the challenge of the work/home division (and not feeling like there are enough hours in the day for both) is old hat, just recast in a different light by the baby. In exchange for taking on this familiar challenge, I no longer have to deal with the newer, more intense challenges that come from being at home with the baby. I do not have to deal with the sometimes killing tedium; I do not have to look at the clock, thinking the day is almost over, and realize with a sinking heart that my husband won’t be home for hours. I do not have to decide what to do next; I do not have to feel the guilt of wanting to do nothing. I do not have to force myself up and out; I do not have to take responsibility for shaping my days and making them meaningful.
Even when I come home after work now, I feel a certain distance from the baby. I don’t mean that I love the baby less or want to be away from him. It’s just that I feel less attached, less seamlessly joined, simply because I am. It feels normal – as it didn’t before - to hand the baby over, having someone else hold him while I’m cooking or washing my face or typing or reading or sitting around spacing out. It seems normal for someone else to be feeding the baby warmed breast milk in a bottle while I sit nearby pumping more. It seems normal to leave the baby with someone else when I walk the dog or run little errands to Duane Reade or the post office.
So, yes, there is a certain luxury here – the spaciousness brought by any kind of detachment from anything (material goods, your parents, your ex, Project Runway, etc.). But even as I sense – and maybe enjoy – this luxurious distance, it frightens me, because I do not want it. So when I am at home, even if my mother or my husband or a friend is there too, and even when I’m not sure I really have to or want to, I make a point of holding the baby close, keeping him on my hip, taking him with me when I leave the room, nuzzling and tickling him, watching the expressions cross his face, watching his little hands shape the air around us. I do not want to feel detached from my baby; I do not want to feel normal when I am away from him. I want to miss his warm little bulk against my body; I want to miss his smell wafting around me. Not missing him feels unstable and risky, as though I am a boat about to become unmoored and float adrift on wide, dark water.
I am not advocating martyrdom or masochism, and I am not saying that babies must always be with their moms. I mean only to suggest that when a mother and young baby are separated, a certain level of discomfort is perhaps natural, and that the lack of such discomfort mightn’t be a particularly positive development.
It seems to me that the baby also instinctively feels the danger of detachment. Even as he goes happily from arms to arms with a dimply delighted smile during the day, he now nurses long when I get home, settling in at the breast to drink for at least twice as long as he used to, gazing dreamily into my eyes as he hasn’t done since he was a brand new nursling. I can’t help but think that he is lingering to remind himself that for now, despite all the bottle warmers and capable caregivers in the world, I am his mama and he is my baby, and the correct order of things is for us to be together.