Fresh off leaving my first husband, I dated a man who’d recently been divorced. (I worked with him, too, making that relationship clearly one of my most brilliant decisions ever.) During one particularly awesome fight with his ex-wife, she remarked to him that it wasn’t her fault – she didn’t know HOW to be divorced since she didn’t know anyone who was.
This floored me. Didn’t know a single person who’d been divorced, really? Huh. Different world, this place I’d just taken as my home city.
I was reminded of that woman’s wail — and my, “Oh, wow, this place is different” response — last week when I took a breastfeeding class at the HippieBirthing center where we’ll (hopefully) be delivering our kid. About halfway through the class, the instructor asked who would be returning to work afterward.
But like this: “Are any of you going back to work afterward?” Her phrasing should have been my first clue. Of five pregnant women in the class, two raised our hands. Not five minutes later, my comrade then ‘fessed up that she would probably not go back, but hadn’t decided.
Now, I’ll admit preemptively that this next paragraph could be construed badly but that’s certainly not my intention:
Before that moment, I’d looked at them all like they were my people. Here we all were in the last stages of pregnancy at the HippieBirth Center getting as much information as we could on breastfeeding to be prepared. And then suddenly, I felt alone and awkward. Again.
I think I tend to forget that in a relatively rural city like Knoxville, I’m a little different. I don’t look like a corporate hack, that’s for sure, and I try not to act like one (unless it’s warranted, so beware if you’re trying to sell me a car and your paperwork isn’t in order). Hell, I showed up to this class “dressed up for public” in jeans, a tank top and bright yellow flip flops. “She’s a corporate software engineering manager,” wouldn’t cross your mind.
It’s not until someone in my prenatal class tells us all about how she mills her own wheat into flour to make her own bread (and the others nod as though this is not holy-shit amazing) that I realize one of us is not like the others. And that one is me.
Granted, I was at THE HIPPIEBIRTHING CENTER at a breastfeeding class. Got it. Had I been on a hospital tour, the chances of encountering more back-to-work mamas would have been more likely. But still… 1/5? Wow.
I continue to be thankful I work at Really Big Corporation in a business full of female leaders, all of whom once took maternity leave after having babies and lived to tell the tale. They’ve offered helpful hints, reached out to see how things are going, and (in one particularly mind-boggling exchange with the GM) called to gently reassure me that I’d be missed until my return. The others just go about their busy lives being quiet role models for the rest of us that worry it can’t be done.
Even better? The men with whom I work take calls with crying infants in the background, cancel all calls to stay home with sick children, and regularly take paternity leave when their babies are born – without guilt and with the full support of our business.
Whew. I think this might be okay.