If I had the choice, I would have stayed home for the first year with Zi. Unfortunately, that’s not a state-ensured right—which of course it should be, especially in an oil-rich republic that could afford it. It’s also a luxury I can’t afford. After my three months of maternity leave, I took two extra months of leave without pay, thinking the whole time of how women often unequally bear the economic costs of reproduction. After five months, I finally went back to the sphere of waged work. I think the year for caring is necessary, not only for the baby, but for a woman who may be breastfeeding throughout day and night, who is likely to be exhausted and who probably has to organise—and possibly pay—someone else to take her place when she is not at home.
Sometimes, I wish things were different for me. Zi is in great hands with my mother, my helper or my husband, but I risk missing first steps or words or gestures while I’m busy earning the money to keep everyone paid and to know that I can look after my child almost regardless of what happens. This risk is not so different from what many working women, of all classes, face as mothers. It’s tough to hold together a full-time job and a family, to budget and think about savings, to drive to work and home in traffic and still take a baby out, to make time for sex and manage time without sleep, to see friends and to make time for self. Yet I’m also glad that I work. Work enables me to fulfil parts of me mothering doesn’t involve. It’s also a sphere of my own, unrelated to Zi or Stone or my family. I work because it’s a necessity, but I am glad for it because it reminds me of my autonomy, enables me not to be overly focused on Zi, keeps me in dialogue with worlds I’m interested in and helps me feel powerful because, through work, I have a wider reach on the world.
So, despite the serious challenges of meeting both mothering and working duties, I’m thankful for the opportunity to keep in touch with the pre-baby workaholic Gab. She was more driven than I am now and probably would have achieved more, but this Gab is figuring out how to get the best of both worlds, and hoping to be a better person because of it. At nights, when I get home, my baby shakes with excitement when she sees me, like a rattle, or like when dogs are so happy that, not just the tail, but the whole body shimmies. It makes me laugh. Zi tries to meet my eyes, crinkles her nose and gives a toothy grin, kicks her legs and bounces her arms around. I’d have to pay my family to give me such a zestful homecoming welcome. In such moments, it’s a joy to just walk through the door, as tired as this lucky mothering worker might be.