PHOTO: SUPPLIED/JUDY WALTERS
When I was pregnant with my first daughter, I didn't wonder about whether I would go back to work. I knew I would. It was a no-brainer.
I knew we couldn't survive on one salary and I carried the health insurance. I loved my job as a production editor with a small scholarly book publisher. It was only a 30-minute drive from my house.
I received a luxurious 16-week paid maternity leave and then my employer allowed me to start back two days a week in the office, three at home. This was before the age of the Internet, so I dragged heavy manuscripts back and forth and used the phone to keep in touch with authors, editors and my fellow co-workers.
My mother-in-law watched my infant daughter every Monday, and then a sitter watched her every Wednesday. Everyone at the office was good to me. I would have stayed there forever. Except a year later the company was sold and all the jobs were relocated 200 miles away.
I was only unemployed three weeks when I was offered what I considered my dream job as the managing editor of a small New York publisher.
It came with more money, more responsibility, and they were willing to give me three days in the office, two at home.
I had to find a more permanent sitting situation for my daughter, who was now 1 and running all over the place. I lucked out in that area: I found someone who lived just across the way from me. Her son was the exact same age and she was lovely.
But our arrangement could be challenging. Her son got sick somewhat frequently, which led to 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. phone calls telling us she couldn't sit that day.
My husband and I would argue over who would stay home. Of course, my argument was always that I only went into the office a few days a week so I couldn't skip one, and his was that he couldn't afford to take a day off; his job paid more.
Within a couple of months of starting that new job, I really didn't like it. No one else in the company had children—not the bosses, not my two male manager counterparts, no one, so they didn't understand my life. And a lot of times, people were just plain mean.
The work was okay, but it wasn't challenging. And three days a week commuting two hours each way was exhausting.
After a year, I tried to renegotiate. They couldn't afford to give me a raise, but what I really wanted was to work as a consultant—mostly from home, taking projects at my discretion. The office atmosphere was stifling. One of my male co-workers was openly hostile towards me. I had discovered that I was being paid less than my male counterparts.
The bosses offered to switch me to two days in the office, three days at home. I accepted. The next year was worse. My male coworker was clearly trying to usurp my position and become the "favorite" to the bosses.
Then I got pregnant again.
I was immediately put on three months bed rest and during that time I thought.
I realized how happy I was at home, even though I was limited because of the bed rest. My daughter and I hadn’t been able to do play groups and story time and go to the park because of my crazy work schedule.
But we couldn't afford for me not to work. At the same time, the idea of going back to the grueling two-hour commute made me more nauseous than first trimester morning sickness.
My husband and I discussed and debated. Then we decided to take the plunge—I would stay home through my pregnancy and for one year after the baby was born. That's all we could afford. But it would give me time to regroup. To enjoy my children.
And what I found was that being at home was where I was meant to be. I loved being home. I loved playgroup in the park. I loved taking my older daughter to preschool. I loved not worrying about pumping breastmilk for my newborn; I loved missing not one of her milestones.
When that year was up, I was proud that we had made it financially. I turned it into a second year. I could always go back. Work would always be there.
But the publishing world went on without me quite nicely, and I without it. A second year turned into a third turned into a fifth and a tenth and then suddenly my younger daughter was 18 and no longer needed a stay-at-home mom.
I had done everything from class parent to PTO President. I had begun to write novels and essays. I was making my way back into the work world on my own terms.
When my younger daughter was 3, I came up with an idea I wanted to write about and found myself coming home every time I dropped her at nursery school to write. It gave me a feeling of power that most young mothers with two young children don't feel most of the time. I didn’t know it would be a novel or that it would be the beginning of anything. It just felt like something I had to do.
It was awful. And I didn't think about writing again for a few years. But then I found myself writing another novel, which was also awful. And then another; same thing. But the fourth novel wasn't so bad and I began the process of looking into becoming an author all on my own. Many years later, when my daughters were 17 and 13, I published my first novel.
And since then, I've published four more. And then I found a supportive online women's writing group that helped me realize I could write essays too, about topics I was interested in, and sell them, so now I do that. An accidental career. One that's perfect for me.
I still love being home, even without my daughters here. They are 19, a first-year college student, and 23, a graduate school student. And I am a writer. And a retired stay-at-home mom.
I'm so glad it turned out this way.
This story is part of Spring.St's Back to Work series. You can find more here.