In the drizzly gray dawn light, I pull away silently from the curb of my house. I’m wearing peep-toe stilettos, a black pencil skirt and shiny silver earrings — a startling departure from my regular leggings and milk-soaked tank top. My makeup is done and a glance in my rearview mirror confirms that, indeed, I look like any other businesswoman commuting to the office very early on a Thursday morning.
Except that I’m pulling away from my house, my husband, my six-year-old whippersnapper and my almost four-month-old baby. I mainline coffee to take the sting away.
“They’ll be fine,” I repeat between swills. “They are fine.”
Frozen milk is stockpiled. Laundry is mostly done. Dustballs have been studiously swept under the couch.
A slightly undone email has been sent to my mom, Corey and our babysitter with a link to the hotel I’m staying at and a litany of mostly useless information about household items and what they can do if they urgently need me. Friends have assured me that they will help Corey whenever he asks.
I’m going away for three days. I’ve never been away from my baby for more than two hours. I turn up the volume of the radio and think about the fact that my lip gloss will not wipe off on the baby’s bald head today. I think about building relationships, networking, liaising with the clients that keep our lives flowing nicely. I sing along silently to pop songs about clubs I’ll never go to and alternately swing between a feeling of strangeness (being away from my tiny baby) and complete normalcy (I am the driven businesswoman heading to meetings, just like I’ve been for the last 10 years).
My days away from my family start at 6 a.m. and don’t end until late at night. Every three hours I scurry up to my hotel room to pump the life milk out of my body. The amazing amounts that come out stun me and remind me how much my baby needs me. I create a stockpile of baggies next to the mini bottles of gin and white wine in my mini bar. Despite my declaration that I would not check in every 10 minutes, I ping my husband periodically when I’m online.
“Jude’s eating a lot,” Corey writes me. “And Nolan is just back from a movie with your mom — totally jacked up on sugar.” He shows me a picture he’s taken of Jude in a baby carrier, wearing a computer-generated monocle and he tells me how this has been an endless source of amusement for him. I smile. They are doing just fine.
There are moments where I’m totally untethered to my new mama life: During a glass of wine with a visionary client or when I walk down the street to get some ibuprofen and a random sidewalk man whistles at me (I haven’t been whistled at on the street in a long time). In those moments, I am exactly who I was a little over a year ago.
But for most of my time away, I feel a bit like I’ve lost the key to a car I’ve left in a 15-minute parking spot. My soul is perpetually a little ripped at the seams, leaking a little every hour I’m away. I don’t feel really guilty about my six-year-old son: He is pretty happy on the trampoline with friends and only misses me during storytime before bed. Corey is an entirely competent man and I’m not too worried about him, either. But there is a hissing voice in my head that I can’t shake with productive meetings or very high heels: Your baby is too little, it says, you shouldn’t be away from him when he’s this young.
By the morning of my third day away, Corey’s pings are a little less reassuring.
“He was up at 5 a.m. this morning, he’s gone through all his milk.”
I’d stockpiled for weeks, but my baby is drinking an inordinate amount of breastmilk and he doesn’t take formula. I am my baby’s only food source and I’m 400 kilometres away, stuck to a yellow pump. Every part of my body vibrates with need for my baby. I talk to my boss about leaving a bit early: I need to get home. My family needs me. I am needed.
It’s not until I pack my breast pump and my stored milk and my suitcase and my peripherals and zoom home as fast as possible that I realize: I had it kind of wrong — I need them.
Corey has the house clean when I arrive home and I’m itchy to kiss them all. Nolan is wearing two socks and a smile and Corey has discovered that, if formula is heated to a very specific temperature in water, the baby will eat it. My mom talks about how amazing Corey has been and Jude beams at me and buries his sweet head in my neck. I realize as I stand there that I’ve been a little presumptive in my assumption that things might completely fall apart in my absence. My family bands together and there’s a very good reason I married my husband and the only thing that fell apart in the two-and-a-half days of my business trip was me.
The leak in my soul has instantly rectified itself and, though I’m still wearing my business attire, I’m Mama again, and I’m so grateful to be home.