On the 30th July my twins, Embla and Olympia, were born. On Monday I returned to work; they were sixteen days old.
In the months leading up to the girls’ birth, and then especially once they were here, the subject of my short maternity leave has been a frequently-visited topic of conversation both online and off, provoking reactions ranging from the downright unpleasant – ‘I feel sorry for those babies’, ‘Stop being selfish, stay home and feed your babies’ – to the opposite extreme, glorifying my decision, as though my early return to work is indicative of some ability to divide myself fully and then to regenerate, to be able to give myself wholly to both my family and my job.
People have called me ‘superwoman’ and ‘supermum’ and I like to think positively but at heart I’m a realist; I know that I’m neither of those things.
I am just me. A bit tired. A bit lonely. Spread a little too thin.
When I was a young girl I stumbled across Adrienne Rich’s Final Notations and fell in love. It spoke to me at the time. I’ve always been prone to allowing myself to be consumed by my interests. I say ‘allow’, I mean ‘invite’. It’s not so much that I jump head-first into them but that I pour them into me, fill myself with them. I have an older, wiser friend who claims that it’s an ego thing. She is likely right.
I don’t leave much room for me at the best of times. I like it that way, my responsibilities energise me. I like that I never have to try to occupy my own mind. My mind creates trouble for itself when it’s left empty for too long. Better to fill it, better to have a job that I rush out of the door to and a family that I rush home to and a blog and a youtube channel that soak up the spare minutes like a sponge. It’s busy but it’s balanced. It is usually balanced. Mostly I can say that I am a good mother, a good partner, a good employee.
But oh, I don’t feel like any of these things tonight. Tonight I just feel tired. A bit defeated. Like I haven’t quite lived up to any of my own expectations of myself and I need more hours in each day if I’m going to be the Amber that I want to be.
The trouble is that I have surrounded myself with things I love, people whom I admire and want to please. It’s a diamond-shoes-are-too-tight problem. I want to be endless in my capacity for giving. I want to be able to reach in to myself and turn myself inside-out, like those dolls I had as a child, hollow fabric things, where if you pushed the head in and pulled the body over you would have a new doll with a completely different face. And sometimes I can and I do. I can empty myself. But at the moment I’m not wonderful at filling myself up again. Not in time, anyway. Not unless it’s on coffee.
Time seems to be rushing away from me at the moment. I feel like I’m caught in a tide of expressing on the train, changing my face to Office Amber, expressing in the office, trying to be the best employee that I can be, expressing on the train again, feeding my babies, trying to find time to sleep and to eat and to be a good mother and partner and guardian to the dog. I’m not drowning so much as going under occasionally and whilst I always manage to come up for air I’m also very aware that I’m not really swimming at the moment, just being swept along and hoping that there are no surprise rocks under the surface.
It’s early days. It’s only my first week back. It’s only my third week as a mother to four. I’m not settled in to the routine of any of it yet and it will – I think – take time. I don’t regret coming back to work. I still love what I do. I just wish that I had a few more hours in each day in which to do it, and more time to spend with my children as well. I need to remember breakfast, and dinner. I need to weather the newborn bit and remember that they will eventually sleep. I need to eat up my little boys at weekends, to give myself enough of them to last the week. And in the office I need to forget that I’m tired, to forget that my babies are at home without me, and to let myself live for the joy of doing it right again. Because I can do it right. I am good at my job.
Yesterday I came home from work a little early for me – it was about eight o’ clock. I was exhausted. I was sad that the boys had apparently been asking for me, that they remember that last week I was home and now I am not, and I hadn’t seen them awake since Sunday night. It felt like a long time until the weekend. And I picked my little Olympia up and she smiled at me, a proper smile, and she kept on smiling for a good five minutes whilst I spoke to her. It felt like a little gift. It felt wonderful.
Tomorrow my extended family are meeting the girls. The boys will be ecstatic; they love visitors. And assuming that I get myself and the dog to the bakery in the morning, there will be cake. Everything is better with cake.
Deep breaths, one at a time.
If you have tips about balancing babies and a career, I’d love to hear them.