I never seem to manage to make the time to blog much any more, and that’s a perfect microcosm of how it feels to be a working mother – there’s never enough time for anything. Which is crazy, because I have a million unwritten blog posts swirling in my head. Many of which are about the strange hinterland that is being a working mum (mom!) after years of infertility.
First things first: I am so grateful to be here. I still do a double take every single day when I wake up next to my beautiful boy and I realise that somehow, after all the struggle, I am a mother. How did this happen?, swirls through my mind every day. I thank all those people silently who helped that dream become a reality. And I don’t easily forget all the years where it didn’t seem possible.
Second things second: Being a mother after infertility is a strange thing to be… I feel like it’s almost a different thing from being a “normal” mother. I don’t think we post infertiles ever really forget the deep grief and fear, the joy-pain of pregnancy after loss, the hoping and wishing that something will go right after so many wrongs. My overwhelming emotion most of the time is deep joy and gratitude that I have managed to have this experience of carrying and giving birth to a human being… my first known biological relative.
Which brings me to the third point: Having a child after being adopted [in a closed adoption] is a huge thing. It’s monumental. Having a child after having been transracially, transnationally adopted – if you weren’t, you can’t even begin to comprehend the profundity of it. I couldn’t, before it happened to me, despite that person being me.
To look into my baby’s face and recognise my own – to feel that deep kinship, to feel joined to someone else when it has never happened before in my living memory – it’s the most gut wrenching joy-pain you can imagine. To realise what I lost as a baby. To realise what I’ve gained through having my baby. To realise my birth culture and language is lost to me and I can’t pass it on to him… To realise that matters – even despite the joy. To live in that complexity where joy can coexist with grief and loss.*
Of course – I don’t want to put that on him. He has no responsibility other than being my baby doing babyish things and hopefully drawing as much joy out of life as a baby can inhale. And yet – he is everything.
(*I already knew what I’d gained – prevailing adoption narratives always focus more on gain than loss. I can be happy and adopted and have suffered deep loss all at the same time. That’s adoption complexity for you.)
Fourthly: After so many other “Not like the other” categories, Working Mother has to be the most stark. I genuinely never knew that the battle lines of Motherhood were so entrenched. And none more than Stay At Home Mother vs Working Mother. I never wanted to be caught up in these battles, any more than I wanted to define myself by Crunchy Mom vs Gina Ford Mom, or Breastfeeding Mum vs Fed is Best Mum – and yet, if there’s one thing mothers seem to like doing, it’s defining themselves as a Mum Type. (I’m Haphazard, Intuitive Mum… completely disorganised and completely in love. That’s all really.) I realise in so many spaces I don’t really fit in. And the (relative) loss of my antenatal buddies – who fell by the wayside as soon as I went back to work – felt like a rejection of the old school kind. (And that’s not even to get into the whiteness of motherhood… and how that makes a transracial adoptee feel. A complex subject for another day!)
And yet, I think we’ve settled into our own niche. I’ve found mum friends – some of whom will probably last and some of whom probably won’t. Quite honestly, it’s hard to cultivate friendships when you work full time and other mums seem to have endless pools of time to do Mum things and they use their weekends to catch up with their husbands… My baby is at nursery during the week and so even if I’m working from home, I can’t really meet mum friends, because why would I want to go and spend time with someone else’s baby when mine is in daycare? Like I said, it’s a strange hinterland and we find our own way.
I have made some Mum buddies whose kids go to our nursery – their kids are a bit older, because I had to go back to work so soon. But it’s good because we have more in common. (I’m the terrible one feeding my child Ella’s Kitchen premade pouches instead of developing a varied baby menu and posting pictures of tot cuisine to our whatsapp groups. Our working mums group is a safe space for all of us who’ve ended up rushing across town all sweaty to grab our babies at the last possible minute. No Lingo Tots or prosecco in the play park for us!)
The thing is, I wish I could join those other mums. I’d love to be a stay at home mum, for even a time, and I find myself wondering whether it’s possible to have it all, and I’m pretty sure it isn’t – something has got to give. For working mums, it’s missing out on all the mundane stuff that our SAHM friends take for granted. The idea I might not see my child’s first steps.
Which brings me to: The Dilemma.
I’m doing not too badly in my job. Weirdly… It always makes me a little nervous when things are going well because I’m primed to feel like something is bound to go wrong. But I’ve managed to develop a great working relationship with my boss (the one I wasn’t happy that my old boss – who I love in a work platonic way – put in place). We seem to be quite symbiotic and complementary and work well as a team. And I am lucky that what I’m doing right now means I have the flexibility to work from home a fair amount and to continue breastfeeding/ pumping. (11 months next week. How did that happen?!) It’s important to me that I am able to do that. And coincidentally, I also get paid more than I ever did before, and my working hours are more reasonable. I honestly don’t know how that happened. I like to think it’s my karmic reward for putting up with so much **** in my old job!
Let’s not beat around the bush – I’m the main breadwinner. By a lot. I get paid almost double what T gets paid. We were lucky enough to have an offer accepted on our dream flat this year and it’s my salary that enabled us to get the mortgage (plus a fair bit of help from my parents with the deposit). So I need to work to continue to provide for our family. T is an awesome partner as he’s much more organised than I am and he figures out everything we need to do domestically. I just have one job – to earn the money. (Well, and to feed B!) Doing what I do helps keep us afloat. And getting promoted, earning more and doing well would help us reach our sweet spot (pay off debts and mortgage) sooner.
Our company is having a leadership summit in January, and I received an invitation. It’s a long way away – a transatlantic flight away. It goes on for four days plus travel. And only approved people get invited.
I got an invitation. It’s a big deal.
I asked my big boss if there was a mistake. (Surely not me!) My manager wasn’t sure either… She said our big boss had to approve all names so I must have been invited, but maybe not.
I emailed him to check there hadn’t been an error.
He called me. No error. I’m invited. “As a member of the leadership team.” Of course! (I’m like the most junior person in the team. They’re all one or two grades above me, or in his case, four!)
And when is this conference? Smack bang over my baby’s very first birthday.
He told me, You don’t have to come. Let me know and if you don’t want to, I’ll give your space to Andy. (Andy is another relatively junior member of the team. Hopefully not as well regarded as me.)
All the global leadership will be there… It’ll be a great networking opportunity. All expenses paid.
And… It’s my baby’s first birthday.
T says, He won’t know. We can move it a couple of days and celebrate then. I say, But I’ll know. I’d be on the other side of the world when my baby turns one.
My manager has asked me to work on a big piece of work over that time anyway, so the decision may yet be taken out of my hands, but the summit probably takes priority – if I want to go.
Every few minutes I change my mind about what is an obvious decision. And it comes back to my multiple identities and how the “obvious” answer changes according to which identity I’m cloaking myself in at the time. I am a mother. I am a working mother. I’m an adoptee whose baby is the most important person in the world to me. I am a mother after loss who realises how precious those small mundane things are. I am a transnational, transracial adoptee who finally made a family. I’m someone who was cut off from her roots who invests a huge amount emotionally in birthdays because they are the only link to my past.
I am all those things and I am my baby’s mother and I am a great worker and I want to do well so I can provide for him and make him safe, keep a roof over his head, keep him happy.
But he is not me. B is not me. He is himself, and he’s wonderful and joyous and giggly and amazing and cute. He doesn’t need to be anything for me, but I need to be everything for him.
How do we ever resolve our multiple identities? How do we decide what is best?
I don’t know if we ever can, but I’m going to have to try…