AFTER years of working late, putting extra pressure on myself to do better, secretly trying to outdo my colleagues and calculating which moves would help me get ahead – I’ve given it all up. It’s been two weeks since I worked my last shift on the newsdesk, two weeks since I logged in, two weeks since I agonised over what would make the front page, two weeks since I sat around a table at a meeting, and two weeks since I went in to the office.
I’ve not shared stories with workmates about the weekend, I’ve not worn my court shoes, I’ve not joined in any group email banter laughing about some aspect of our job, and I’ve not lowered my voice while making a cup of tea and gossiping with another journo.
Since the Little Mister was four months old, I’ve only been working two days a week. But by resigning, I’ve given up something more than the paychecks.
Of course I agonised over quitting. I don’t quit. After years of manouevring, I was finally moving along the path I had planned, and I was making my way along it nicely. Of course, I thought before he was born, I could have it all.
When he was four months and I went back to the office, it hit us all hard. For two days a week, he went on hunger strike. Every week. He screamed at Tony. A lot. His weight kept dropping until he nearly fell of the chart and Plunket made us keep going back for weigh ins. He started waking every two hours through the night, my hungry baby.
My entire week was consumed by trying to express enough milk to leave for him. We all got more and more tired and stressed. But it never felt like we weren’t coping. We were all, I still believe, getting so much out of it.
Tony was able, twice a week, to look after his four month old son completely on his own. He got him to eat (eventually), he got him to nap, he bathed him, played with him, put him to sleep, sang songs with him, shared precious cuddles, and was the best dad in the world.
He became the Little Mister’s favourite person. Our little boy was so lucky to get this amazing one-on-one time – and they learnt so much about each other while I wasn’t there. I got to keep on moving along that work path I’d been carving out, and I loved it. Even though I was exhausted, I so enjoyed those two days of being among adults in that other world.
Still, on those mornings before work, I had to perform a feat that surpassed winning the Krypton Factor just to make it on time. Planning ahead and taking packed lunch and dinner to the office had never been so hard as in these months when we seemed to have no time to cook, or eat – unless it was takeaway or toast. I would try desperately to feed the Little Mister up before I left incase he decided to go without for the next nine hours. His naps were carefully orchestrated so he’d be due a very long one when Tony took over.
Tony would get home (or meet me at work) at a speed faster than lightning and each week we performed the miracle of getting out of the door by 12.36pm. There was the odd stretch of the truth that ensured he had Friday afternoon off, we called in favours, played sympathy cards, and did whatever it took for me to get to work without us putting the Little Mister in daycare.
I fed him in the work car park, in the health nurse’s room, in the empty office on our floor because I was running out of time to get the newslist done. Tony walked around and around Wellington with him so he would stop crying and sleep through his hunger. I spent the shift planning when I’d get a chance to express, carried sterilised equipment round in my handbag, always made sure the unused fridge was plugged in, and was careful to hold my bag upright in the taxi home. I experienced infections, discomfort, pain that only a working, breastfeeding woman can know.
Finally, logistically, it got too hard. If we didn’t want to do daycare, and if Tony was to keep studying and needing those working hours, we couldn’t keep on. Even when the Little Mister finally realised formula would fill him up in a way his shattered mama was getting less and less able to do, even when he started sleeping a little better, we couldn’t keep on with this life.
I don’t feel like I’ve quit wanting it all. Maybe right now my definition of “it all” has changed. In these two weeks, he’s suddenly gone down to one wake up at night. He’s started crawling. He’s lengthened his naps to two decent stints. We’re in our routine, seven days a week. I’m not checking work emails on my phone while feeding him at night. I’m not glued to the headlines at what also seems to be storytime most nights. Is it making a difference?
I love my new working week, which is spent doing my very best for the Little Mister. I do miss my old working week, but when he’s a little older, I think we will find a way to marry the two. Somehow.
I have given up what I’d worked for. But part of that is because we’ve decided to move to London and be with our family there so they can share these special years with us.
I no longer believe you can have it all, at least not the “all” I once wanted. The “all” has now shifted – and I’m still not quite sure what it is. When I figure that out, maybe then I’ll figure out a way of having something close to it.