I felt like I didn’t care…

Mum and baby

My work trip to Chicago didn’t quite go as I imagined. I thought I’d pop over, enjoy meeting my normally virtual colleagues I only see through Skype, attend a conference and enjoy a nice relaxed flight back (any flight without a baby now seems relaxing in comparison!) However, things didn’t quite pan out that way…

As I told my mum friends I was off to Chicago the next week, it sounded quite glamorous, like I had everything together, like popping over to Chicago was no big deal. I have left Leo before, but I’d been a two-hour drive away in the same country, not a 9-hour flight and different continent and time zone, so this was breaking new ground. I have also never been to Chicago before apart from through the airport in transit.

Pre-baby when I’d travelled for work, I had always tried to add on at least a couple of days to take time to see the area a bit. I hate the idea of travelling to somewhere new and only seeing the inside of a meeting room or conference hall. However, for this trip, I was arriving Sunday evening, spending Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday morning at a conference, with an evening meeting Tuesday, and then flying back Wednesday afternoon…

I knew there wasn’t going to be any time to have a look around Chicago and though that went against my normal approach, I felt being away from Leo for 4 full days would be enough and staying an extra day would now feel like a bit of a drag as a combination of mum guilt and missing him kicked in. So I knew I was dealing with 4+ full days of travel and work with little downtime.

I left on Sunday 23rd June at midday - Leo had just gone down for his nap so maybe that was easier than saying goodbye and walking away from him knowing I was leaving the country. The flight was pretty bog standard- I tried to get some rest but ended up just dozing and arriving feeling exhausted at 8pm local time or 2am London time. Although it was nice to have some peace and quiet and control my own environment on the flight rather than trying to keep a crawling 10 month old entertained and contained, I found the novelty value wore off pretty quickly. I met my colleague for an evening meal and cocktail which was nice - for an hour or two just sitting in a restaurant in Chicago as though it’s something I do all the time.

Waking up the next day, I was keen to get going - to meet the rest of my team and go to the conference venue to set up. It was strange getting up when half the day had already passed back home- waking up to photos of Leo swimming and having lunch when I was just going down for breakfast made me feel like I was already missing out as I’d not been awake to respond straight away. It was a 15-minute bus ride to the venue- all went OK there with getting the stand set up. Jet lag started kicking in at around 5pm which was 11pm back home so understandable. When we got back to the hotel I got room service and went straight to bed at the equivalent of 4am London time. I’d thought I wouldn’t try to adapt too much since I’d be flying back in just 3 days anyway.

The next day, the mum-guilt and feeling like I was in the wrong place really kicked in. What was I doing here being so far away from my 10-month-old boy… would I miss something important like the first time he crawled properly, the first time he made a new sound? Was he missing me and wondering why mummy wasn’t there. Did he know I was coming back? Was he OK? I was constantly checking my phone for updates from my husband. I didn’t feel present. I found it hard to concentrate on the tasks at hand, I felt myself caring less about my job than I used to. And I really care about my job. How could I care though when I was potentially causing some long-term psychological damage leading to him fearing the people he loved would always leave or weren’t reliable?

Studying developmental psychology at university and being an over-analyser naturally means my brain goes into overdrive thinking about everything I learnt then and how important the early days and secure attachment with the mother figure is. But then again, it was a good opportunity to bond even more with his dad and also grandparents when they came over to help as well. Is this modern Mumming? Actually, we can’t do everything ourselves and it’s important that you’re actually able to leave and come back without a massive meltdown occurring- Isn’t that creating some balance for the future? Isn’t this just going back to ‘it takes a village’ approach? I’ve come to the conclusion you can’t have it ‘all’ in terms of a traditional full-time job and an involved mum- it’s physically impossible!

I always knew I didn’t want to be a traditional ‘stay-at-home mum’… though that term is out of date since I do work from home so in theory I do stay at home, but I do work. I ‘went back’ to work when Leo was 7 months old which felt early because my other mum friends were mainly planning to either not go back to work or to start back again at around a year. I was actually really glad to have back another part of my old life once I did start work again. To have a bit of ‘me’ back felt good. I’ve stayed in my current job for over 3 years which is a record for me- what keeps me focused and enjoying it is that I get to see that the work I am doing is making a positive impact on students around the world (check out skypeintheclassroom.com).

Getting back to Chicago- I found myself in a conference stand unable to actually speak because I was overcome with the emotion of being separated from my son. I knew it was irrational, that he was fine, that I’d be home soon, but something about motherhood that still takes me by surprise is the depth of emotions that just pop up unbidden, at often random moments. Partly due to hormones I’m sure, and partly due to not having loved anyone the same way you love your children. I’m sure other mothers will relate. I think we need to talk about all these facets of motherhood more. To anyone who saw me that morning, they could have assumed I was a bit of a mess, but now I look back I see I was a working mum doing my best and dealing with life as best as I could.

Getting home later that day, Leo had just gone to bed, however, he woke up 5 minutes after I arrived so I got to have a nice sleepy hug and feel like I was really home. What better feeling?