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To Daycare Or Not To Daycare?

From the moment I learned I was pregnant I planned to return to work. Having a successful career and a couple of awesome kids was all part of the plan, my beautiful master plan. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, a funny thing happened on the way to the OB. I was struck by the rather obvious realization that I would soon be leaving my newborn son in the care of a stranger. An actual stranger, as in someone I didn’t know – at all.

And so began a series of wildly dramatic personal breakdowns. What kind of mother leaves her precious newborn to fend for himself in a cold and callous daycare? Not the kind of mother I wanted to be. The reality of this stranger danger thing began to weigh on me about a thousand times more than my baby growing inside. I had a huge decision to make.

Should I stay home? Finances were already tight. Leaving my job would put my family in a really tough position. And I’ll be honest here – I never wanted my family to merely survive, I wanted us to thrive, and we wouldn’t really without two incomes.

Should I keep working? I was in a stable company with opportunity for promotion and growth. I had medical insurance, a 401K and even a coveted pension plan. (Sure, I was only 25, but even I couldn’t ignore the awesomeness of a pension plan.) And yet the very idea of returning to work and providing that stability made me feel like I wasn’t capable of sacrificing enough to be a mother.

You’ve heard the adage, “The worst decision is indecision”? I’ve lived it. You see, when you wait until the last minute to make such a huge personal decision, sooner or later you realize all the time you spent researching wipe warmers should have been spent researching whether or not you’re okay with daycare, and by “researching” I mean having the kind heart-to-heart with your partner that leaves you both a little scared.

Finally, with a heavy heart I decided to return to work – insert knife in heart. I figured I owed it to my career and the security of my family to at least try my hand at working motherhood. And yet, as I sat in the recovery room holding 7 lbs., 5.5 oz. of pure joy, I couldn’t feel it. All I could muster was the haunting feeling that I was on borrowed time; maternity leave countdown was on.

On that fateful November 18th (may it live in infamy), I somehow squeezed my postpartum bod into something resembling business casual and returned to work in tears. No baby. No daycare. No nursing pads. No clue. I worked out a very temporary schedule for care with my family while I emerged from the comfortable depths of denial and started on project daycare. I cried all morning. I am the world’s ugliest crier.

On my lunch break I headed to the nearest daycare. I walked in and immediately started to cry (yes, again). The staff looked at me like I was crazy. Puhleese, can’t a mom cry in a daycare? Well this joint was an obvious no.

I headed to the next daycare and noticed it was located just off a busy street and very vulnerable looking. In a world of baby-stealers and cars that drive through buildings (hey, it happens) I decided this place was a no. I just couldn’t have all that worry in my mind.

I returned to work, cried some more and landed in my boss’ office on account of all the ugly crying. Apparently it was making people uncomfortable. I was given the day to go home and compose myself. I needed more than a day; I needed 24 more months – with pay.

Out of time and nearly out of options, I headed to the last remaining daycare with open space for a newborn. As I greeted the center director the sobbing began, complete with big gaping breaths and a steady flow of snot. She hugged me, snot and all. I told her I was failing as a mother for even being there. She didn’t try to convince me otherwise; she was a mom, too. I was taken to the infant center and introduced to two caregivers with knowing smiles. It was clear they’d seen the likes of ugly criers before. I didn’t know what it was about this space, but I could just tell there was love in this room, lots and lots of it. I looked for a reason, any reason to dislike this place, but I couldn’t find one. Really, not one. Just like that, I enrolled my infant son in daycare before the love spell wore off, and I changed my mind. Once home and all out of tears, I cradled my newborn son. For the first time in nearly a year I felt relieved, even if only on a hunch that I had made the right decision.

I did make the right decision. My son went on to spend 5 years at that childcare facility. The year he left to go off to Kindergarten, I enrolled my second son – as an infant.

While I may never fully forgive myself for every new discovery missed and boo-boo not kissed, daycare allowed me the opportunity to preserve the security of my family. Choosing a daycare that understood all our family needed them to be made all the difference. My sons did more than survive daycare, they thrived in it – we all did. And while putting my boys in childcare might be considered unpopular among the martyr set, I’ve come to realize my decision was born out of sacrifice and love. And yeah, the pension hasn’t hurt either.

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