Finding balance

One Friday in August, I conducted two interviews for an article I was working on. I had planned to make one more call on Monday before writing the story. But a few hours later, my water broke – more than a month before my due date – and by Monday morning, I was a mom.

My original plan was to work up to the week before that much-anticipated due date, then take a few days off to finish any last-minute preparations. Meanwhile, during the weeks preceding our baby’s debut, my husband and I would set up the nursery, meet with a doula about a birth plan – to learn those breathing exercises – and maybe even get away for a weekend in Northern Arizona.

Yeah, right.

Now I know that it was one of my first lessons of motherhood – making plans is nice in theory, but it doesn’t guarantee anything.

In one weekend, the focus of my weekdays changed from copyediting and proofreading to breastfeeding and diapering. Instead of the “AP Stylebook,” I consulted “What to Expect the First Year.”

The decision to have a child is one of the most important, life-changing decisions you can ever make. But what makes this different is that it doesn’t only affect your own life but also your husband’s and a little person whose very existence you’re responsible for.

After the pregnancy test results show that plus sign, the decision-making begins: What foods should I eat? Am I getting all the necessary nutrients? Do I eat fish because it’s supposed to help strong brain development or do I avoid it because of mercury content? Do we find out if it’s a boy or a girl beforehand? What should we name the baby?

And after the baby is born, there are countless decisions that you as parents have to make: When should we introduce him to the bottle? Will crying himself to sleep scar him from developing intimate relationships? And the really big one – should one of the parents step out of the workforce to stay at home with the baby?

In my third month of maternity leave, I opted to ease back into the work world by devoting 10 hours a week to work from home. My first interview started off well – the baby was sleeping and I felt focused. A few minutes after the interview began, my son started screaming, and I tried to soothe him with one hand while typing with the other, balancing the phone between my ear and chin. Fortunately the woman on the other end was also a mother with a young child and was very understanding.

During a second interview, not only did the baby wake up, but this time the dogs joined in, barking and romping in the hallway. Not the ideal working environment.

On my maternity leave, one of the books I read – in scattered moments when I had a chance – was “Mommy Wars,” a book of essays by 26 women, edited by Leslie Morgan Steiner. The women, who were successful in their chosen professions, told stories of their own decision to either continue to work outside the home or stay at home with their children.

Some who returned to work felt guilty for leaving their baby each morning, while others felt it contributed to their sanity as a mother and set a good example for their children. Many who stayed at home missed their career but felt that their role at home was more important. Others were able to do a little of both; for example, working at home or shortening their hours to part time.

I’m attempting to find my own balance on this issue. I’m fortunate to have an employer who is extremely accommodating – I’m able to do some work from home and bring my son with me to work the rest of the week. My co-workers have been wonderful, volunteering to hold him while I run to the restroom or being patient when my attention is diverted.

Sometimes the dual role of parent and employee can be challenging, and my husband and I are planning to send our son to daycare twice a week soon, but I’m not ready for any more hours away from him yet.

I’m not sure how this will all work out once the little guy learns to crawl. But for now I treasure being able to continue a job I enjoy while being fortunate enough to get regular doses of smiles and laughter from my son throughout the day as I do so. Sure, there’s a dirty diaper to change every few hours, but it’s all worth it.

This article first appeared in the Feb. 2, 2007 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

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