It is 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving day 2012, and I’m at work. Secretly 11 weeks pregnant, I steal a sip of coffee, something which—up until now—I’ve managed to avoid. I’ve dreaded this week since early October when, after two years, PREGNANT finally showed up across three tests. The anticipation of Thanksgiving week—always my busiest time at work—felt impossible in my current state: undisclosed pregnancy, sick to my stomach, barely able to keep my eyes open, and petrified of miscarriage.
But, also: I don’t want to give them anything to look back on, knowingly. The worst work scenario I can imagine is my coworkers finding out and saying, “Oh, that’s why she wasn’t pulling her weight.”
Since Saturday, I have forced myself to perform, only stopping at one point when my nausea made it impossible to stand upright and I hid in my office for 45 minutes, readying excuses.
At my mom’s house later that night, my family admits I look tired and congratulate me for getting through, making me promise to spend the next three days resting. I go home after dinner, consider falling asleep in my clothes, and cross my fingers that next week, at my 12-week scan, I see a perfect baby, a strong heartbeat, and nothing that makes me regret the long hours, heavy lifting, and mental stress of staying committed to my job.
It’s my first Thanksgiving as a mom, eight weeks after I’ve returned to work from maternity leave. I sit in my office at 6 a.m., trying to gulp down a very hot cup of coffee and trying harder not to cry. I console myself with the facts: she’s not six months old, she doesn’t know what Thanksgiving is, she probably doesn’t even realize that you’re not there, there will be more Thanksgivings. I remind myself that the year before had been harder. And, then for a moment, even though my entire goal is to get home to my family, I debate: does physical difficulty outweigh emotional difficulty?
Stop, I yell at myself. Why are you comparing? Even worse, why are you comparing you to yourself? They both sucked. Last year: not yet out of the first trimester during little sleep and strenuous activity. This year: missing that baby’s first Thanksgiving. You’ve won. You’ve lost. Either way.
Next year, I promise myself. She will wake up with you there.
It is Thanksgiving day, 6 a.m., the next year. I’m at my desk, drinking a bigger cup of coffee because I’m no longer nursing. I’m not crying, because I gave away all of my tears last night, at home, at 9 p.m., five minutes after I walked in the door, not sure how it was possible I had not seen my daughter since putting her to bed Sunday night. When I had set her inside her crib that evening, I had cautioned: I won’t be here when you wake up, but I’ll see you after school. Then, three days came and went—me leaving before she opened her eyes and putting out too many fires to get home before bedtime.
She’s nearing 18 months old and I’m not entirely sure what she understands, but I know they’re talking about Thanksgiving at school and I have no idea what she’s wearing to Thanksgiving dinner, which makes me feel as if I’ve dropped every parenting ball.
In that moment, that yet-to-be-determined dress is everything I am not.
She’s napping when I come home at 2 p.m. While I’m putting makeup on, away from the monitor, she wakes. My husband changes her and surprises me, walking into the bathroom with her perched on his arm. She’ll probably just give me a wave, I had thought earlier as I drove home. Instead, she dives into my arms and holds me tighter than I knew her little body had in her. I sit on the floor and she jumps onto my lap, hugging me for over 15 minutes—many lifetimes for a 1½-year-old.
Everyone I work with handles this so much better, I think in bed that night. Other parents just go with it. Maybe I am weak. Maybe I am not meant to have a career now that I have children. Maybe I’m a little tired of feeling like the few people who are condescending toward working moms, are a little bit right.
Next year, I promise her as I fall asleep, you will wake up with me here.
It’s Thanksgiving Day, at 6 a.m., and I am definitely drinking coffee. It’s small again, because I am 20 weeks pregnant. This, I tell myself, is why I’m still here. I have been here for almost eight years. I have missed pieces of my life, but I have also been lucky enough to work with good people who work hard, make me laugh, support me in my pregnancy, and will give me the fairest maternity leave New Jersey offers. I am teary because my body aches and my daughter is very aware that I’m not home.
This year, I was able to put her to bed on Monday evening, but I haven’t seen her since. Monday night felt like a small victory though. The next two nights I really tried to leave. I wanted to say to people at work, “Listen, you came in at 2 p.m.; I’ve been here since 5:30 a.m., and want to see my daughter.”
I didn’t, because, you can’t. I wished, though, that I was tough enough to block out the resentment in their eyes when I left at 8 p.m. one night and 8:45 p.m. the next.
Other people are parents. Other people make sacrifices. I am not unique.
I walk into a closet and see a coworker crying. I apologize and start to back out to leave her be, but instead she says, "This is so damn hard. We just have to abandon our kids for our jobs? Our families are supposed to pick up the slack? My kids are too little to get it. I’m not sure I get it."
Maybe I’m not weak after all, I think, driving home. Or, I am and we all are. Maybe we all just accept it—working, sacrificing time with our families, for our families—but there are probably a lot of us crying in closets, at our desks, in our cars.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t remember last year’s ferocious hug, hoping for another. But, this year, when she wakes up from her nap, she runs to me, hugs me only a moment or two longer than usual and says, “Daddy made bread to bring to Grandma’s!”
I feel unfairly resentful—he made cornbread for me, because I asked, because he was home from work for days, staying with our daughter, helping me cook. But, all I am thinking about is how nice it would have been to make the cornbread myself, with my daughter.
In that moment, that cornbread is everything I am not.
After dinner at my mom’s, I adjust my body in bed, grateful for the promise of tomorrow’s quiet day. I watch my daughter sleep in the monitor, feel the beginning flutters of the baby inside of me and I say to them with an odd amount of certainty, Next year, I promise, I will be here when you wake up.
Guest post written by Brooke Herman. Brooke is a freelance writer who, this year, will wake up at a normal time, on Thanksgiving day. She lives in central New Jersey with her husband and two young daughters and runs the food blog, Life as we Cook it: Food, Family and Trying to Maintain our Sanity. You can also find her on Instagram and Facebook.