Before you have a child, everyone with children tells you that you will never truly grasp your own capacity to love another human being until you become a parent. While I think I understood this in the abstract, looking back, I really did not come anywhere close to comprehending the magnitude and intensity of the love I would feel for a child until I had my daughter Avery.
My sister-in-law once described a parent's love for a child as having your heart walk around outside your body for the rest of your life. This is more accurate than I could have imagined. Loving a child means walking around constantly terrified and simultaneously fearless. The fear of losing your child is so great that you would, without hesitation, face down any obstacle, overcome any phobia, sacrifice limb/life/dignity/sanity, do anything to protect that child. All other terrors become obsolete in the face of just one.
When you become a working parent, you are forced to confront for the first time the only thing as terrifying as losing your child: the fact that, at some point, you really have no control. You do the best you can, you would do anything, but the reality is that this giant chunk of your heart is a separate, autonomous person with whom you cannot spend every waking second for the rest of your natural life. Even if you don't go back to work when your baby is still a baby, some day, she will go off to pre-school or kindergarten. She'll have her first sleepover. She'll have her first boyfriend. She'll go off to college or on travels around the world. She'll get married (or not), and have babies of her own (or not). At some point, all you can do is watch and trust that you've done all you can.
This is why I'm back at work. I won't lie, I cried this morning at 5:30am when I left for the gym and the office, leaving Avery in her father's capable hands. I'm sure there will be lots more tears in the days and weeks to come. There will be moments and firsts and milestones that I miss because I'm at the office, and this breaks my heart. There will be times when I desperately want to be home with my baby girl and not at work. But at the end of the day, my daughter, this giant chunk of my heart, is her own person who will have her own identity and her own life. And for me, that means that I need to preserve something of mine that is separate and distinct from being her mom.
Because while I am now a mom, I'm a lot of other things. I'm Mark's wife. I'm Bonnie and Brian's daughter, and Jenna's sister, and Madelyne and Liam's aunt. I’m a friend to many. I'm a communications manager at a technology company. I'm a food lover. I'm an exercise fiend. I’m a football fan. And I want to show my daughter that she, too, can be so many things, and still be a mom who loves and adores her child. These things don’t have to be mutually exclusive if you don't want them to be.
Maybe Avery will grow up and decide that parenthood is not for her. Maybe she’ll grow up and decide that her life’s calling is to be someone’s mother. Perhaps, like me, she’ll find a way to be a woman who has both a career and a family. Most importantly, I want her to grow up knowing that she can make these choices for herself, because she is her own person, and not just my daughter.
Here's to surviving day one, and learning to enjoy all the days to come.