Ages ago now, I wrote about leaving my son to take the bar exam. He was almost 2 years old at that point. Prior to that, when he was closer to one year old, I had left him for one night, to visit two of my dearest friends. He is now 8 & those days are long behind us. (Spoiler: He survived.)
Now our youngest family member is a newly-minted one-year-old & I’m gearing up for a work trip. I have to admit, I am nervous. Nervous simply to leave her for more than my normal work day. Nervous to be so far apart. Nervous for the nighttime parenting my partner will have to do without me (& without fully functioning boobs).
Vaguely nervous that she’ll somehow wean due to my short absence. That I will somehow traumatize her & she’ll hate me forever afterward.
I’m definitely nervous that I won’t find time & space to pump at our meeting. Nervous that I’ll get another plugged duct. Nervous that I’ll have to spend unnecessary time away from her due to flight delays, etc.
In reality, I know that she & I will be fine. It is (in the grand scheme of things) a brief separation.
My son didn’t miss a beat when I left him for those limited times when he was still so young. My daughter’s disposition is quite similar & I’m sure she will be fine with her dad and her grandma and her brother (who I’m certain is her most favorite person in the world…).
Still, the fact that I love her so much makes me loathe to leave her. And I know she depends on me in ways that are unique from the other caregivers in her life. That’s just a fact of life & biology (mostly biology).
Plus, the pressure on moms to be ever present is just so persistent! Under normal circumstances, I feel I’m more or less immune to such pressures. At least I like to think I am. But I know that gnawing voice in the back of my head sometimes speaks up, reminding me that I’m not immune to such cultural expectations & stereotypes & pressures that are unique to motherhood. (For example: As a friend reminded me recently, no one asks fathers if they’re returning to work after a baby; that question is reserved for mothers alone. Why? Because moms are expected to stay home during those early years, or at least to want to. Dads? Not so much.)
As an attachment parenting mom, I suppose I’m a bit overexposed to the line of thinking that prioritizes maternal presence over all else. It’s a fallacy that AP dictates an endless physical attachment of mother & child, but that doesn’t stop folks from falling down that rabbit hole. AP or not, I’ve called them out on it before & will do in the future (stay tuned for a review of a new book that makes some pretty silly arguments about maternal-child separation.)
I try to maximize the time I spend in full-on mothering mode, because I know it’s important work. But I also know (like, for a fact know) that some separation is okay, even healthy (particularly if it makes you a happier parent, which will almost always makes you a better parent). (Of course, how much separation is appropriate & when is something only you can figure out. But if you work on honing your baby language skills, you’ll figure it out.)
So, I said “yes” to this trip, which I think will offer important networking & career growth opportunities. Which isn’t to say that I’m particularly looking forward to it. This kind of separation is definitely different from that of our daily routines.
When making the transition back to work after giving birth (whenever that happens to be), I think it’s important to prepare. Practice the hand-off/drop-off routine. Start part-time if possible & increase the length of your work days (& resultant absence) over the course of a couple weeks. In short, make sure dad or grandma or nanny or daycare provider is a part of your baby’s life.
That said, the goal is not to make your baby independent before he’s ready or to toughen her up. The goal is to gently expand his or her universe in a loving & gentle way.
In other words, we shouldn’t be afraid of attachment or separation. They are both normal parts of infancy & life. (Heck, that eight-year-old I wrote about leaving so long ago… He was practically in tears when I left for work this morning… Yeah, this shit is never easy.) So, be attached when you’re together. Be comfortable with appropriate bouts of separation.
As an example, I’ll tell you what I’ve done to prepare baby for my trip: Nothing.
Well, I’ve made a meticulous list of pumping gear I need to pack. I’ve researched space for pumping at airports & at my destination. I’ve reviewed TSA policies.
MFA Dad & I talked about him practicing putting the baby to sleep at night, but there was no follow-through. When I’m away, the routine they figure out will be theirs (hopefully with minimal tears). When she knows I’m there, she wants me & I want to cuddle her for nighttime nursing.
Separation is about more love, not less. It’s not a deprivation. It’s just different. Sometimes we may not like it. They may not like it. But, usually, it’s gonna be okay.