There is a tremendous amount of guilt associated with being a working mother. I try very hard to not allow guilt to creep into my thinking. It's a useless emotion. If one feels guilt, one should change the situation about which one feels guilty. If that's not possible, the guilt must be eradicated, as it is doing no good and quite possibly doing harm.
I love my daughter. She is the sun in my sky. I wake up every morning excited to spend the day with her, excited to see what new sound she'll make, or how she'll look when she's rocking back and forth in an effort to crawl. I take her to the grocery store with me just because I love her company. I think of things to do with her that will make her happy. She's pretty much the best thing that has ever happened to me.
Now, I'll say that I love my job. It's obviously a different sort of love. If I had to choose one or the other, the choice would be absolutely clear to me. That said, I still thrive at work. I'm good at what I do. I care about what I do. I have a great workplace that - while it has minor shortcomings - overall is a fantastic work environment. I do something that matters to people. There are days when I wish I could be a stay-at-home mother, and there are days that I realize just how difficult that job is. Spending all day, every day with a small person who cannot communicate effectively and who cannot hold an adult conversation, and further, who needs a LOT of care and attention, is exhausting. I admire stay-at-home mothers of kids, because it IS a job. And a difficult one to do well.
I work long hours. REALLY long hours. When I am away from my daughter, it is for long stretches of time. My shifts are around 15 hours typically, and I do several in a row. Thus, when I am home between shifts, I am sleeping most of the day. I "care" for my daughter by sleepily nursing her in bed, then turning her over to her father, so that I can rest more.
I am the primary breadwinner. I take a great deal of pride in my productivity - in the fact that I can provide for my family. Oddly enough, despite growing up surrounded by many family members with advanced degrees, I never really saw myself doing much in life. I certainly never envisioned that I would be a doctor. Financial woes were a part of my childhood, and ever since I was old enough to really understand finances, I was convinced that I would struggle with them. It's hard for me to believe even now that I own a house, provide for my daughter, have an IRA and savings, and am not in danger of a financial catastrophe. There are days when I still can't believe that my daughter will grow up with different worries than I did.
There are days when I realize that my being a doctor will be a fantastic model to my daughter should she decide she wants to have a career. If she decides to make her career being a mother and a wife, then I will be just as thrilled.
Those things make me feel good about being a working mother.
What doesn't make me feel good is watching my 8 month old daughter's face fall as I leave for a 15 hour night shift. Or calling to check on her around bedtime and hearing her wailing in the background, wondering where her mommy is to snuggle up against her and offer the breast. My daughter needs me in a very intense emotional way right now, and I am often not there for her. I wonder if this will somehow damage her emotionally, if she'll grow up not feeling safe and secure and loved.
Then I think how ridiculous that must seem to others. I breastfeeed my baby girl. I sleep with her. I wear her when the opportunity presents itself. I take her with me on errands, talk to her while I cook, kiss and hug her and stroke her face at every single chance. I don't take one day for granted with her. I watch her grow and I'm excited for the little girl, teenager, and woman she'll become, and my heart aches for the little girl that she is already leaving behind. How can a child raised with that ever be insecure? Not to mention that her father dotes on her as much as I do. Oh and don't even get me started on her grandparents - who are mad about her - and her aunts and uncles and cousins. And then of course, every single stranger we meet who has to come up and talk to my daughter.
I can't do it all. I can't do it perfectly. I can do it the best I can, and I can hug and kiss her every single time it crosses my mind. And she'll come out ok, I think. She'll know she's loved. She'll know she can do whatever she wants when she grows up - be it have a family and a career, or make her career that of motherhood.
It will all be ok. That's what I tell myself when I hear my daughter crying over the phone.