Mommy Guilt (aka Baby Withdrawal)

A
friend of mine, who does not have children, asked me to explain “mommy
guilt”. I have to admit this is a difficult subject to discuss without
a common frame of reference. But, on behalf of all the CareerMamas out
there and for the benefit of those who do not have children, soon-to-be
mothers, and men, I will give it my best shot.

 

The
bond you form with your children is unlike any other bond you may form
with another person. It is not stronger than the bond you form with
your spouse or partner; it is just different. It begins well before you
see your baby, which is an amazing experience. When your baby is born,
you realize just how fragile he is and that he is completely dependent
upon you for nourishment, comfort, and protection. When you and your
baby see each other for the first time, when your baby is in what has
been called a state of quiet alertness,
you make a vow then and there to do everything in your power to
support, care, and protect your child. Many of us think this means we
can never let the baby out of our sight. I’ve talked to a number of
moms who, desperate for some rest after delivering their baby,
attempted to sleep in the hospital while trained nurses cared for their
newborn baby. However, they were unable to part with them out of fear
the baby would stop breathing if they were not watching them. I tried
this after I delivered my son. No more than 10 minutes went by before I
was out of bed and wandering around the maternity ward frantically
searching for my baby boy. Three years and another baby later, I am
still kicking myself for not taking advantage of the nurses at my
disposal and getting the rest when I had a chance. So, did I have the
nurses watch my daughter after I delivered her? No, of course not. A
mother has a psychological and physical need to see and hold her baby.
Therefore, the prospect of not seeing and holding her newborn for any
great length of time can really frighten a new mom.

 

For
my career, I have to do a bit of traveling. I waited until my son was 6
months old, however, before going on the road again. Even then, it was
very difficult to leave him. With my daughter, I only waited 4 months
before going on a business trip, which was only a day trip. On the way
back home, my scheduled flight was canceled. I then discovered that
some of the remaining flights were double booked (of course), that
there was an eruption of an Alaskan volcano (causing the grounding of
planes in that state), and that mechanical failure knocked out the
remainder of potentially available planes. So, I was one of many tired
and grumpy people at the airport who now had to attempt to get home by
flying standby on another plane or airline. I was supposed to leave at
5:30pm, which means that I would have been home in time to give my son
a good night kiss and give my daughter her last feeding. But, that
ideal scenario flew out the window when I discovered that not only
would I not be able make the 9pm flight, but I would be lucky to make
the 10pm flight and would probably have to stay the night. What
happened then can only be described as an anxiety attack. I had to do
everything I could not to ball my eyes out at the prospect of not being
with my 4 month old daughter that night.

 

My
situation that night is not unique. I’m sure many CareerMamas have
experienced something similar and understand the pain I went through.
We sit at the airport and try to read or work or do something to take
our minds off of how awful we feel. We admonish ourselves for going on
a business trip this early in our baby’s life and envision our baby
looking around for us and crying inconsolably for his mommy. This
situation is even worse if you are breastfeeding. Just ask any
breastfeeding mom what happens when she thinks about her baby. You feel
as though you are going to explode or you lactate all over the place
(hopefully you remembered your breast pads),
or both. So, not only are you feeling guilty for not being available to
hold and console your child, but your body aches because you
desperately need to breastfeed her or pump. Such is the bond with your
child that it affects you mentally and physically. The baby needs you,
but you need the baby too. This is why I say I am not so fond of the
term “mommy guilt”. Guilt
is defined as the fact of having committed an offense or crime and a
feeling of having done something wrong or failed in an obligation.
Unless she has abused her child in some way, a mother does not deserve
to have the burden of guilt placed on her shoulders. There is a certain
amount of stress and anxiety we feel about not being around 24/7; this
is typically how women experience “guilt”. But this uneasy feeling is
much more than that. Maybe “baby withdrawal” would be a more
appropriate way to describe the feeling you get when you can’t be with
your child much of the day.

 

Then
there’s the other side of the coin. There’s the guilt you feel at work,
when you face the prospect of your co-workers believing that you are
not working as much as you used to when you didn’t have children. If
you have ever rolled your eyes at a co-worker who has to leave early to
take her child to the doctor, you recognize that look the instant
someone else looks at you that way. I can remember female co-workers
making snide comments about women who had to take a day off because
their child was sick, their caregiver was unavailable, or they had to
leave early to pick their child up from school because he had a fever.
Those same co-workers now have children of their own and know exactly
what those women were going through. Even though we, as CareerMamas,
made a conscious choice to have kids and thus should not feel guilty
about caring for them, we still worry that motherhood will affect our
career.

 

Becoming
Superwoman results from the combination of the guilt (or baby
withdrawal) you feel by not being with your baby throughout much of the
day and for not devoting more than eight hours a day to your job. This
is a role that we all seem to adopt, yet one we know we should not
assume.

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