Six weeks of continuous physical exhaustion, anxiety, and brain chemical depletion led to a vicious cycle of exaggerated emotions that became progressively worse with each turn – where normal concerns turned into exaggerated anxiety that led to panic attacks and insomnia. And it certainly didn’t help when the time came to search for a daycare provider. It was unimaginable to me that someone I didn’t know would ultimately spend more time with my baby than me. After all, I didn’t try so hard to have a baby for so long only to have someone else take care of her. The guilt ate away at me. But at the same time, a part of me felt relief that I would no longer have to spend most of my days alone with the baby, cooped up in my house (it was 3-1/2 months at that point). Nevertheless, the remaining 75% of me felt guilty for feeling that way. The guilt of having to return to work, prospect at having to leave my infant with a stranger, and fear of the unknown from being a first-time mother who never had much exposure to children all contributed to triggering my PPD.
At the 6-week point, I was exactly halfway through my maternity leave and my return to work was still distant enough not to seem real….or so I thought. Well, as the traditional thinkers wonder, why don’t you just work it out like the rest of us and stay home and tend to your child if you’re that bent out of shape about going back to work and finding adequate childcare? Well, first of all, not everyone can afford to live on one salary. Second, not every woman is happy as a full-time mother. What the government and companies should do is work together to extend the maternity leave of absence to 6 months, which would catch us up with a number of countries out there.
I thought I had done a lot of research on daycare providers in the area, but it turns out I hadn’t done ENOUGH research prior to that point. So in a frenzy, I started calling other daycare providers. The closest place right in town provided Internet service to enable parents to see their children during the day. My husband and I hadn’t considered this place before due to some negative things we had heard from multiple parties. But when we called them to see if they had any openings, they said they were completely booked until September.
I got more panicked. I could not bear the thought of leaving my daughter with anyone, not even a live-in nanny working out of our own home. My husband and I didn’t feel comfortable having a stranger in the house alone with our daughter, and we didn’t trust them with our belongings. So nannies – both live-in and live-out ones – were not an option. So that left daycare providers who worked out of their home. I had obtained a list from my company for in-home daycare providers, and I ended up focusing on two. One was only a few blocks from our house and the other was on the other side of town. We made an appointment with the one near our house. She was gracious enough to meet us on a Sunday morning, at short notice. A few things she said sent my alarm bells ringing. She gave us a tour of the house and it seemed drafty to me. Again, I was fearful that my daughter would catch a cold from being in a drafty home. I wanted to keep my options open, so I called the other woman. A few things she said in the course of a few conversations made me think twice about even meeting her. The fact that she seemed to be having a host of medical problems and was always making doctor appointments made me doubt her ability to take care of my daughter full-time. Other people on the list either never picked up the phone or never returned my calls.
As days went by, I felt more and more panicked. My husband and I had agreed to start my daughter at daycare on February 22nd, just so we could get used to the routine and idea of leaving her with someone. I was thinking I’d never be able to find anyone good enough to take care of my daughter. I started calling my neighbors and others in town. Someone recommended a woman close by who only takes in one or two children at a time. When I talked to her, she sounded like the perfect person…..very warm and trustworthy. However, she regretted not being able to help out, even though I practically begged her to take my daughter in.
After I exhausted all options I was aware of at the time, it seemed to me that this one daycare center we were considering (that has a national presence and locations throughout the country) was the best place for my daughter. I ended up calling them with questions everyday of every possible circumstance I could think of. This was from never having gone through any of this before and I wanted to be sure I knew fully what to expect. I was totally convinced they thought I was nuts. I even asked the administrator whether other mothers typically ask a lot of questions and feel nervous about sending their first child to daycare. She indicated that it was normal for first-time mothers to feel a certain amount of anxiety, but “they aren’t as anxious as you are.” I dreaded having to call them but felt compelled to ask my questions to feel absolutely 100% comfortable that this was the right thing for me to do. No matter how many questions I asked and got satisfactory answers for, I was absolutely dreading the idea of having someone else look after my baby.
The week of February 22nd came and went. The last day of February came and went. Finally, I gave in. I decided I had to let go…we had no other feasible options. We went to the facility on March 1st. My husband had to leave by 7:30 and the plan was for me to stay for approximately 1-1/2 hrs or however long it took for me to feel comfortable enough to leave.
I will never ever forget this day…….
There was a rocking chair in the room. I sat down in it, holding onto my daughter. There was already a little girl playing in an Exersaucer. A man came next to drop off his daughter who wasn’t feeling well. Evidently, she was sick. She had a cough and temperature associated with teething, so she was crying pretty much the whole time after her dad left. Immediately, dread was starting to slowly but surely creep all over my body. Then two more boys were dropped off, one of whom was new and suffered from separation anxiety and had a pacifier that kept falling onto the floor. The daycare provider kept picking it up off the floor and sticking it back into the boy’s mouth. My eyes grew bigger out of concern that they were not being as sanitary as they should. At that point, there were 5 kids in the room including my daughter. I was counting my daughter but evidently, the daycare center didn’t count her because they told me that I was there holding her so it didn’t count as of yet. I told them that I had wanted to see them interact with my daughter while I was there. They told me it didn’t look like I wanted to let my daughter go. I thought to myself…..”How convenient that they would want to put it that way and put words in my mouth to suit their needs.” That’s when they asked a new woman at the front desk to come in and be the 2nd adult supervising the 5 kids. A 6th child was brought in….a little girl who had a fever and looked absolutely miserable and was crying non-stop. I felt like I was going to pass out. They told me whenever I was ready to leave, to leave my daughter in her crib, which was one of about 12 cribs in a large rectangle formation at the far end of the room (this was a long, large room). Her crib was in the left corner farthest away from everyone and only one crib away from the back door, which had a cold draft coming through it, which really disturbed me. The fact that I was supposed to abandon my baby in some corner crib in an institutionalized rectangle of baby cribs where she would probably lie crying for some time before anyone realized she was even there and needed attention made me want to fall to pieces. But I had to maintain my composure. I walked out of the room and as soon as I walked through the door, I burst into tears. They reassured me that my daughter will be OK. I ended up picking her up at 1:30 and telling them I had decided this place was not for us. I couldn’t go through with it. It just didn’t feel right to me. I’ll never forget what the administrator of the daycare center told me as I was leaving, indicating they’ve had their doubts that I would go through with it, given the number of questions I had asked and my overall anxiety about daycare in general. She said, while shaking her head: “You’ll never be able to let someone else take care of your daughter.” Never backing down from any challenges I come across, I immediately decided I was going to prove her wrong.
I was desperate. There were only 2 weeks left before I had to go back to work, and we still didn’t have daycare lined up. What were we going to do? With my PPD not improving, I was contemplating staying home longer either via long-term disability or unpaid leave of absence. However, I feared losing my job if I requested additional time away from work to recover from my PPD. My husband, my doctor and my gut were all telling me that, even though it may feel impossible, going back to work may help me. My old routine and mental stimulation, both of which I had been without for 3-1/2 months, would do me some good. I couldn’t see how it would work. I just couldn’t see a light at the end of this totally dark and scary tunnel I found myself stuck in. So, my husband and I decided to enroll our daughter with the in-home provider we’d looked at earlier, the one that lived very close to us. We felt that an in-home setting would work out better than a daycare center with an “institutional” look and feel. It was working out well for 16 months and would’ve kept our daughter there until Kindergarten if it weren’t for the biting that somehow started to occur (and which we are convinced our daughter picked up from the other kid that was biting).
In terms of the biting, this is something we had personally NEVER witnessed ourselves and determined was occurring because our daughter figured it was a way to get attention, which she probably didn’t get enough of because of the provider-to-child ratio. She probably noticed that, whenever she bit another child, she would get picked up and spoken to (and even read to, since there were No Biting books). She was, after all, only about 18 months old at this point. Her biting is the reason from our going from the in-home provider to a daycare center (which let us stay there for all of 3 weeks before they kicked us out on our daughter’s 3rd biting episode without even any attempt to discuss with us…this would be the topic of one of my future blog posts because the experience has angered me to no end, and I’m still angry about it, but it is not really relevant to PPD at this point) to another in-home provider (which worked out well for about 6 mos until the woman’s family had to relocate to Texas) to another daycare center (which worked out well until our current daycare center had a spot open up in Sept 2007).
So, in total, my daughter had 5 childcare providers between March 2005 to September 2007 (Note: My PPD was over by March 2006). Being that my own family relocated constantly (8 times until my freshman year in high school), I’m determined to live in my current location until our daughter is in college. The fact that we had to switch from one childcare provider to another made me feel very guilty and helpless because this is the opposite of what I had intended. I didn’t want my daughter to experience the constant change of environment like I did when I was growing up. In terms of the daycare center that had kicked us out, I did eventually report them to the governing authority in New Jersey for not following their published policies on biting (they are supposed to meet parents in person to discuss) and for the administrator’s lack of professionalism.
I’m grateful to this day that I was able to gather up the strength and courage to drag myself to work on March 16th, just as I had originally planned way before I went on my maternity leave. It was tough, but thank God, I made it through that first day. After that, it got easier and easier each day. In the beginning, it was difficult just getting used to taking public transportation again and talking to/seeing people I know.
I went back to work only to find out that people had been taking bets as to whether I would come back to work or not. That didn’t surprise me. Nevertheless, it still smarted to know that people would stoop to doing something like that. You would think that, being that we are now in the 21st century, there would no longer be this automatic assumption that a woman who just had a baby would not be returning to work. And people wondered why I wanted to keep my pregnancy quiet until I could no longer conceal it (at 6-7 months, believe it or not). I suppose the feeling that I was in a “boys’ club” environment, being only one of two women directly reporting to the senior manager in our department, didn’t help matters.
After I returned to work, days sped up significantly – they were going by too fast, actually, as we were finding that the baby was growing up way too quickly, confirming the truth behind yet another warning given by everyone we knew that had kids. Slowly, I began to recover my pleasure in everyday life. People ask me how it was to return to work, commenting how tough it was to leave my baby with someone else and not spend all day with her like I’m “supposed to.” I tell them that, in actuality, it was the best thing I could’ve done to regain my sanity. Little did they realize how literal I was being. They’d naturally respond with an “Oh, yeah?” with eyebrows arched, probably because I am the only mother who has ever dared to admit feeling this way. So I’d have to go and explain myself as follows: “Of course, I feel bad about leaving my baby with someone else. But am I relieved to go back to the life that I had before my daughter arrived? I’d by lying if I said ‘No.’ I long for the mental stimulation I get from my job.”
When are people going to stop being so judgmental about other people’s decisions/business?
FOR MORE ON THE CHILDCARE TOPIC, PLEASE SEE LAST WEEK’S POST.