Okay, I want to preface this by saying I'm not trying to complain, merely explain. I want to give a real picture of what life is sometimes like as a stay at home mom, or SAHM. I recognize that not every SAHM feels this way, and I also recognize that a great number of mothers, maybe most, don't have the choice to stay at home or not. I'm not here to debate any of that - only to relate my experience and thoughts. I also want to make clear that I am in no way judging anyone else's choices - being a mother is hard, no matter what your career/life balance is. What works for you isn't what necessarily works for me, and vice versa, and I feel strongly that we all need to support each other, no matter what our choices are.
I always spent my life believing I would be a SAHM, just like my mother before me. This is in spite of the fact that until my first was born, I was the primary breadwinner in the family. I worked as a technical writer/emergency planning and management consultant at a large "Beltway Bandit" scientific company for six years before my first child was born. It was a very fulfilling job, and I was very, very good at it. I was willing to sacrifice for the company, putting in the long hours typical of washington, DC consultants. I had a few health problems and some depression a couple of years before my daughter was born, and my work was an integral part, if not the most important part, of my coping and support. I was happy.
When I unexpectedly became pregnant (I was told I would need medical intervention for that), my DH was unemployed due to a company relocation that granted him a generous severance package, so he was taking his sweet time finding another job. He got one within a month of finding out, but I was still earning more than he was, though not by much. It was clear pretty early that I was going to have to work after our baby was born. So, after much struggle finding a child care arrangement that worked for us, I went back to work part time, and it seemed like the right balance. Enough time that I wasn't going stir crazy at home, enough time that I didn't feel like someone else was raising my child for me. Oddly enough, it became clear to me during my maternity leave that I was really missing my job. I recognize now that I was probably a touch depressed, but we muddled through, in part I think because I did go back. I worked part time until I was 7 months pregnant with TheBoy, when I was put on bedrest, a unique torture and misery all its own.
I managed to make it through bedrest, mostly with the help of friends who came by to visit, mostly from work. They would bring lunch and sit with me; my hairdresser even came once and cut my hair for me. I didn't feel isolated. Then TheBoy was born. He was born 9-12-01, and when he was born, at 39 weeks, his lungs weren't ready and he was very sick. We didn't know if he was going to live or die for at least a week, and he was in the NICU for 15 days. Due to the turmoil around our country at the time, I couldn't escape it; but even though I was overwhelmingly sad, so was everyone else, even if our reasons differed slightly, so again, I had support to get through it. (Incidently, TheBoy is healthy as an ox now, even though he was the sickest, biggest baby in the NICU at the time. I'll post his birth story sometime later. I also mourned more for our country's tragedy on 9/11/02, since by that time I had a healthy boy and could emotionally handle grieving the attacks.) I again went back to work part time.
Then, we had Sunny. She was unexpected, so unexpected that when I took the positive test, I cried to DH on the phone "I'm pregnant, what are we going to do????" and he simply answered, "Uh, hon, you're gonna have another baby." He took it in stride; I panicked. What was I going to do? Well, I did what I did before - went back to work part time. This time was different, though. In order to make it work financially, I couldn't afford to put all 3 kids in paid daycare all the time, so my father in law came twice a week to watch them. He's a great grandfather, but not the greatest babysitter in the world, especially with babies. Certainly with a baby that refused to take a bottle. I would have to run home and nurse her. She never did take a bottle, and nursed nearly two years. Eventually the strain of trying to work part time got to me, and I knew I had to do something, but didn't know what.
I knew, from my maternity leave with RT, what being at home would be like. First, the housework. I HATE housework. I don't care who you are, or how happy you are with the result, but housework, the endless laundry, the cleaning of the constant messes, is absolute drudgery. I've been doing laundry since my mom died when I was 15; I've had enough, but if DH does it, he does it all mixed together in hot water, and I really like my clothes in different colors and in the same size they were when they went in, so I have to do it. Plus, with 3 kids under the age of 5 (at that time), they aren't much help, and are pretty much a mess machine all on their own. The big two would wait until I was nursing and then wreak havoc on the house - they did this when I was home, so I knew it would just get worse.
Second, was the sense of identity that my job gave me. It meant I was someone more than just my kids' mommy. That I was still FishyGirl. I liked the job, and while I didn't like the politics that usually went with it, being part time meant I could usually keep my head down and avoid the worst of the trouble. I liked the sense of accomplishment that making my clients happy gave me, when I knew I'd done a great job on a project. I never got that sense of satisfaction from having a clean house or a perfectly folded pile of laundry.
Most importantly, was the social aspect of being at work, and the overwhelming isolation that SAHM's in Suburbia can experience. My townhouse development is a ghost town during the day, because everone worked. That left me to make friends with nanny's who can't speak english (I"m not knocking that, it is just hard to make friends if you have trouble talking about the weather), and a couple of fundamentalist Christian mothers who homeschooled their kids and really didn't want to have anything to do with anyone who wasn't just like them. Most of my friends were friends from work. I was reasonably certain that our friendship would suffer when I was no longer "easily accessible." It had already broken down since I'd had the kids, and I knew it would get worse.
Finally, there was also the perception of "What do you do all day?" that my DH has never really understood. He complains the kids behave better for him than they do for me, so I must be doing something wrong, and doing nothing all day. I've tried to explain that if he stayed home all day they would behave the same for him, but he doesn't get it. His salary has gone up dramatically, so when Sunny was about a year old, we had the option of me staying home. He told me to do whatever I wanted to do, but it was clear he thought I needed to be at home.
Really, I thought so too. I just didn't know how to do it without losing my mind.
We talked it out, and we figured I could find a way to make it work. So, I quit my job. And took on the hardest one of my life.
And here I am. Largely isolated. My friends, as I suspected, have slowly drifted away. They never call me, and only call me back once I've left several messages for them. The housework sucks. The house looks like a bomb hit it all the time, because I can't keep up. I haven't been able to make friends (where are all the normal people, anyway?) beyond acquaintances. My oldest is the only one in local school; TheBoy goes to preschool a suburb away, so bonding with other moms has been a challenge - you have to drive so far away to do anything. I'm in the minority with the number of kids I have, most have only 1 or 2, and with #4 coming, well, it's just hard to link up with people with similar outlooks.
Don't get me wrong, there are times I am so grateful I get to be here with them. I am blessed to have been able to nurse them for so long, and that was supported by being at home. They are funny, and loving, and so close to one another, and I love being here to watch their relationship with one another blossom. I am very close to them, and I think it is important to make sure the foundation of our relationships are strong now, before the tough teenage times hit. But the constant noise, and fighting, and messes, and the difficulty in going anywhere (why the hell does it take an hour to get out the door to go to the post office, anyway?), and the laundry....well, I could do without it. And I don't get much me time. And I'm lonely.
And I know it is only going to get worse.
So this blog, this is my lifeline. This, and all the mommy blogs I read. I will be adding to my list soon; there are amazing women out there, with lives not unlike mine, who are struggling just like me, and yet write so much more eloquently than I can, who can capture the poignancy of these days, while they are little, so much better than I can. I know it will get better; this one will be my last child (unless the OB botches the fixing), and they will grow up, and I will go back to work. One day I will look back and treasure this time with them, more than I already do, because it will be too soon over. But for now, enmeshed in it, I feel like I'm just treading water.
So I just keep swimming.