When I conceived, I was a full-time Physical Education Teacher. I never thought I would be a stay-at-home mom. I never wanted to be. I wanted to work. I wanted to be fully immersed in the full-time workforce. But I couldn’t; I had to stay home.
I had been at a private Catholic school for two and a half years when I found out I was pregnant. I was due in September, right after the start of my third year of teaching. I only taught about 5 weeks of the new school year before I went on maternity leave. I was induced, so I went on leave the day of my induction. I had not met my maternity replacement teacher yet, but I was just trusting in the process, so that when I got back from leave everything would be great. My maternity leave was long, and I was lucky to have the 3 months (90 days) of maximum short-term maternity leave. I needed that time, because I was in the hospital 3 times.
The first time was to deliver my sweet baby Nora. That was a 3 day induction process. We tried more natural methods of induction first, before we used pitocin. Then after she was born, we stayed the maximum allotted time, as Nora was having some jaundice and they wanted to make sure she was OK.
The second time I was dealing with postpartum pre-eclampsia, a rare condition where you have high blood pressure combined with other symptoms (in my case, headaches and fatigue). For that I was in the hospital for about 72 hours, about 2 weeks after Nora’s birth.
The third time was the most influential and traumatizing time in the hospital. This time, I was hospitalized for three weeks, with serious mental health concerns. This was a hard time for me, as Nora was barely a month old, and being away from her for three weeks was excruciating, as they would not let me see her while I was admitted.
You can only imagine what happened when my maternity leave was up, and I was able to go back to work. Things were not left as organized as I was hoping they would have been beforehand. I had no clue what my maternity replacement had done with the kids. There was no documentation. I was still struggling with my mental health. It was hard to be at work.
We had to put Nora in daycare. Even though the daycare was down the street, it was very stressful to take her there at 7:30 in the morning and pick her up again at 4pm. I was worried about her all day, and she kept crying every time I picked her up. She just didn’t seem happy when I picked her up, which made it harder for me to leave her there for the day. It was hard for me to be away from her. I felt guilty, especially because I already missed more than three weeks of her life from being in the hospital, and now I had to drop her off and spend more time away from her while being a full-time working mom.
After doing that for about a month, I talked to my principal and explained to her all that had happened to me. I asked for reasonable accommodations, so that I could pick Nora up earlier and be with her more, and have more things to do during downtime at work, so I wasn’t just simply sitting and being sad about not being with Nora. I felt better after I talked to her, but the accommodations I asked for did not make things any better. Therefore, my husband and I both sat down with my principal and vice-principal and asked for a leave of absence for an undecided time. They were fortunately very understanding and let me start this leave right away.
I was able to spend more time with Nora, while also focusing on my own recovery. I was still taking medications and managing my mental health condition, so working combined with putting my daughter in daycare and managing my health just did not go over well. I wanted to work full-time, but I simply couldn’t. So I stayed home with Nora. This was the best decision for me; a decision we had to make for our family. I had to focus on my own recovery first, and then I could always work again later if the time was right.
A mental health diagnosis is more common than you think. About 1 in 5 adults in America experience a mental illness. I hope this story encourages to make your own decision. Seek help if you feel like you might be suffering from a mental illness. Don’t feel guilty about taking medications, if that is what you need. Find a psychiatrist and a therapist that you trust. Most importantly, don’t feel afraid to ask for help. Choose YOU. Take care of you first before you commit to other things, such as work.