On Tuesday my friend T and I took our babies in to the college we work at. We both worked in the childcare department before we went on maternity leave and had been roped in to bringing Ted and H in for practical sessions.
Tuesday’s practical was feeding, changing and washing. T was really worried that H would scream all the way through as he’s only eight weeks old, and I was nervous that Ted would kick up a bit of a fuss if he couldn’t see me, but we’d both agreed it would be good practice for them either way.
Unfortunately what happened was that Ted went into meltdown. It was really warm in the classroom and there were a lot of people: a teacher, four babies, four parents, and twelve eager students. It was noisy, crowded and a little overwhelming.
As the first student put Ted on the changing mat he let out the high-pitched squeal he perfected when we were still in hospital (I could tell it was Ted crying from the bathroom down the corridor) and which I haven’t heard in a long time. That squeal went on for pretty much the whole hour and a half we were in the classroom. I took over his feed as he just wouldn’t take his bottle from any of the students, and the most the first group managed to do was strip him off to try to cool him down.
One of the girls in the second group managed to change his nappy through his screaming and the rest of the group passed him around whilst singing to him in an attempt to calm him down; and the same happened with the third group. In between each group I was cuddling him, talking to him and rocking him, but although the volume decreased the crying didn’t really let up.
By the time the fourth group were ready to move on to him Ted was so upset that I decided to call it a day for him. I apologised to the students and popped his dummy in while I spoke gently in his ear and rocked him to sleep. Even after he’d dropped off he was still crying.
Once he’d chilled out properly I popped him in to his pram and he had a little snooze until H decided he’d had enough too, but when his cry woke Ted up you’d think he’d been replaced by another baby. He was suddenly back to being my happy, smiley, contented little man. Unfortunately only two students were left in the room to bear witness to the fact that he’s not a total nightmare!
But it was when I said to one of them, “at least it’s good practice for when you’re working in a nursery!” that I realised that he’d be like that when he goes to nursery. Or worse, because he’ll be close to a year then and although he’s starting to notice strangers now he’ll have full-on separation anxiety by then.
I’ve never wanted to work while I have young children and it was my intention to stay at home once I’ve done the minimum required to keep my maternity pay, but unfortunately that’s not looking like an option anymore. Even if things changed and I could give up work there would be a period of thirteen weeks where I’d have to be there and he’d have to go to nursery, so at some point I’m going to have to address this.
So, there I was in the back of this classroom, looking down at my happy boy with his tear-stained cheeks, trying desperately not to cry while one of my colleagues talked me through the things to look for and the questions to ask when I start looking for a nursery for Ted. It took all of my strength to hold it together and take in some of what she was saying.
The thing is, I’m sure me going back to work will be good for me once I’ve got over the initial shock, and I’m sure Ted will settle in to nursery eventually and would probably even enjoy it, but it’s not what I want and I can’t get that out of my head.
I can’t stop thinking about the things I’ll miss, and how having my head full of work will affect my (limited) time with Ted, and whether he’ll get enough attention in a room full of other babies, and how much I’ll miss him. I can’t bear the thought of someone else looking after him and of him forming an attachment to someone who’s not me.
I don’t want to deal with any of those things because I just don’t want them to happen. I fully support every parent’s right to choose the lifestyle that suits them and their families, but if I had a choice it wouldn’t be to stand in front of a bunch of sixteen year olds and talk to them about setting SMART targets when I could be sitting with my baby and counting up to three.
My career will still be there in five years’ time, but my baby won’t be.