I feel like my life over the past 14 months has been cosplay. I am a successful, driven woman with 18 years of work experience in a high stress industry, who is very happily married with an awesome emotional support system. So, why have I been so miserable?
Over the past 14 months I have had first-hand insight on the experience of the single working mother. It is a harsh reality, that requires a lot of prayer and an unhealthy level of everything you have got. While my husband was away at work in another state, I was trying to continue my career with an infant.
This is the story of my experience.
I returned to work when my son was just 5 months old. I was committed to breastfeeding until he was 6 months old. From the moment he was born, I pumped like crazy to ensure he would consume only breast milk as long as possible. The action alone caused me to loose an additional hour of sleep. Speaking of sleep, he wasn’t sleeping continuously through the night. So, each night I would wake at least two times and never really achieved that restful sleep. There was no one to pick up that second shift. He slept in his bed most nights and in the morning, he would often wake while I was showering and my morning work preparation was serenaded by the heart-wrenching screams of my still-small baby. I would usually grab some very strong coffee, pack his bag with enough diapers, clothes, milk, and food for the 14 hour day ahead. I forgot diapers once, then milk on another occasion. Then I would leave him with someone I trusted, but still it still didn’t feel quite right. I’ve nearly fallen asleep driving to work many times. Then, sleep deprived, malnourished, and extremely anxious, I would begin my very competitive work schedule. It helped that I loved my work.
It didn’t take long for true depression to set in. I had real panic attacks. I felt like I had weaned him too early. I was tired. I went through 4 babysitters in 1 year. No daycare was open early enough and late enough to accommodate the demanding schedule and the commute time. I walked through one once and cried, a deep painful sob as I left its cold hallways. So I found in-home care, but it didn’t last and I saw their exhaustion on their faces at the end of the day. My separation anxiety became background noise to my crazy life, but I felt like I was actually going out of my mind. It was a war and I was losing on all fronts. I whispered often to myself, “Piece of cake,” like a meditative chant.
I cried often. As the months passed he started to cry as I left him each day. I missed his first words and had no idea what he liked to watch, do, or eat. I feel like I had lost track completely. Then, one night he was very sick. He awoke crying and trembling with a fever of 103. I knew I had detected a low grade temperature recently. Three days ago? Or was it three weeks ago? I was really losing it. This part was important. I felt like a failure.
As someone who feared the SAHM transition for fear of losing my sanity, the opposite certainly proved true. Ultimately, I’ve chosen to a be responsible and intentional parent by staying home during these important formative years. The idea of it makes my heart happy and puts my soul at ease. I feel like this is where I belong in this phase of my life’s journey. But, not all mothers have this option, and certainly not single mothers. I have a new profound respect for the plight of the single working mother who fights seemingly never ending battles all at once.