Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Twins

I am a Gemini, astrologically speaking. My sign is the twins. Zodiac books describe people born under my sign as seeming to have two personalities, changing mood from moment to moment, being both hot and cold at the same time. I've never given astrology more than a passing thought but the twins seem to be more appropriate for me now than they ever seemed in the past.

Last week, I returned to work after a 3 month stint at home with Violet. I've never needed to call up those dual personalities more. About 6 weeks into motherhood, I felt like I was starting to get the hang of it. Not that I had all the answers, but I was comfortable with my role. I love being the mom to a baby and, after those first scary weeks of feeling like I had ruined my life, it seemed like a natural fit. Violet's need for me was matched in intensity by my need for her. Even on those days when I couldn't wait to pass her off to Shawn when he got home from work, I couldn't ever go very far away or be gone for very long. A short walk around the neighborhood and I couldn't wait to get home. I hadn't been away from Violet for more than two and a half hours and that was ok with me. The closer I got to the end of my time off from work, the more panicked I became.

Now let me preface this by saying that I love my job. I work in a field I like and with a group of people I really, really, like and it is rare that those two things come together. I also know that people from work read this blog (I think that a big professional no-no, but we're all friends at work, that's what makes it so enjoyable) and I don't want them to take any of this personally. If I had been slated to return to any other job, I have no doubt that I would have called up the week before my return date and quit.

My friend Jen hit the nail on the head when she called the feeling of leaving your infant in another's care "unnatural." That is it, exactly. For a mother--let me restate--for this mother, handing off my 3 month old girl and heading out for eight long hours felt really unnatural.

I often look at what our ancestors in more "primitive" societies would have done with their children as a cue to what is the most "natural" for humans. For instance the whole sleeping thing--I've gotten lots of comments on that last post, by the way. It seems to me that putting baby in a separate room of her own to sleep is a pretty modern invention. I am not against modernity, don't get me wrong, my A.C. is cranked to 72 and has been humming all day. I wouldn't live without a lot of modern inventions. But, when looking at earlier societies and even other modern day cultures that are not as into individuality as we are in the U.S., you'll see that sharing sleep is absolutely the norm. People don't make this big fuss over SIDS or rolling over on a baby. If the family sleeps in a one room hut together, they don't get out the sticks and mud to add an addition when they have a baby.

In hunter-gatherer societies, while everyone worked together to raise the children, that intense bond between a mother and baby was respected and the mother was given jobs within the group that she can do with her baby. Once baby gets a bit older, Mom might go further away for longer periods, but more than likely, that wouldn't be for a year or more. During those first months, the mother would be given tasks that would benefit the group where her baby would be in constant contact with her. Is it possible that these "primitive" societies valued the mother-infant bond more than we do today? Is the farming out of this crucial piece of the socializing puzzle--full time child rearing--really a step forward? Are countries like France where the standard maternity leave is one year or Canada where it is 6 months less progressive than we are in this country or are we depriving babies and mothers of a very special and very short-lived season of their lives that is meant to be spent together?

My friend Julie's mom blames the problems of today's youth on being over-indulged by guilt-ridden working mothers. This, I get. If there is one part of my personality that carries over into both of my twin personas--the mommy and the career woman--it is guilt. The guilt I feel for leaving work when there are still things to be done lasts with me on the whole drive home until I open the door and see my baby. Then it is replaced by the guilt I feel for leaving this teeny-tiny person without her mommy all day long. And it's not like I'm leaving her with strangers, Violet is with my own mom, definitely a close second to spending her time with me.

What is amazing to me is how well both she and I seem to be adapting. I still enjoy my job. I have to admit, before I came back, I was sure that everyday would be drudgery as I counted down the minutes until I could get back to Violet. That hasn't been the case. While I am always happy to jump in the car and speed home, I am interested in my work and the days go by fairly quickly. I pump twice a day and so far have been able to keep up with the baby's needs. Violet has been doing her part to make sure that things are working, too. The days I work she has been napping extra long--to the tune of 6 hours a day total!!--and spending most of her awake time with her dad and me. She has been waking more frequently to nurse at night, but that's alright with me. Between Shawn's new job, me being back at work, and Violet's new babysitter, there have been a lot of changes for the Pierce clan lately and I think we're all faring pretty well.

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