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Exhaustion, Incontinence and the Messy Reality of Returning to Work After a Baby

4 minute read

Eula is four months old and I am going back to work. It’s my own schedule, a few mornings or afternoons a week. Teaching writing workshops and helping individuals find voice is my true vocation. I don’t dread it. I am lucky. The hardware of my transition is in place: breast pump works, two glass bottles purchased, child did not, thank goodness, reject the plastic nipple.

But what am I really prepared for here?

Welcome back to the public. Put some clothes on. I’ve forgotten so many real life details. The medical bills from Eula’s birth have started to arrive. We’ve stacked them in a pile near the sink. They flash at me like strobe lights. At least we’ll meet our high deductible. Maybe we should go see all the doctors we don’t really need to see just to take advantage of this situation: get my moles and freckles checked, go to a podiatrist for that foot pain, ask an eye doctor about that spot in my eye. Really, though, none of those should be extraneous visits. Our insurance company covers so little, never covers much for anyone, especially women, especially the self-employed. Every medical expense we have, with the exception of one yearly doctor check up, is out of pocket for us. No small co-pays. Nothing “free.” We are, sadly, a common situation in our country. Here’s where I check my privilege, again — because I did not grow up poor, because I did go to college, because I am white, because, if I was desperate for $100 to pay a bill, I could borrow it from someone in my support system. We will need to ask the hospital for a payment plan. It’s the only way. But first start by being consistent about doing your pelvic floor exercises. My mind is a foot soldier with me — do them, do them — when all I want to do is lie on the couch. Even though I’ve vowed off surgery. The push and pull. As my grandmother Pat-Pat used to say, you can’t help someone who isn’t trying to help herself.

I am trying, but I get deflated.

I also don’t know what’s happening in the world. Haven’t been able to follow the news. The other day in town, I saw an older woman friend for the first time since Eula’s birth. She asked how I was. I seem normal to everyone because I’m good at appearing normal. With my friendly smile, I told her about incontinence.

“We all pee on ourselves, all us mothers,” she said. “Welcome to the club.”

I think she means she pees a little when she sneezes, not gushes urine when she simply walks downhill. But here is what I wanted to say: I don’t want to be in this club. Why are you okay with this club? Why are so many women okay with this? Why are they quiet about it? What if men were the ones who suffered loss of urine control after pushing the next generation of humans into the world? Would we have federally funded programs to alleviate the problem?

By noon, I need to be functional and presentable for a client. That means I need to brush my hair and tone down the viper. She is stomping around the house. Look at her bat at her husband’s dirty socks. Look at her want to run away. Look at her know she can’t because she would never leave her daughter. Look at her feel trapped. Look at her slam the fridge door. Look at her eat half a quesadilla and then pitch it in disgust. Look at her dog watch her, unsure of what is happening. Look at her pick up her daughter and walk next door to ask her mother to please come over because she needs to shower and doesn’t think she can do it while managing her baby today. Look at her stoop in shame at being dependent. Look at her cry in the shower. Look at the way her face opens and sustains a silent scream.

When I emerge from the shower, the air is fresh. Out the window, yellow leaves flutter on trees. My mother and Eula are reading Runaway Bunny, one of my childhood favorites. They glance up at me and both smile with big kind blue eyes.

Copyright © 2018 by Molly Caro May, from Body Full of Stars: Female Rage and My Passage Into Motherhood. Reprinted by permission of Counterpoint Press.

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