For the past six months, I have struggled with the question of whether or not to pay for childcare.
I was dead set against it at first, not wanting to spend money I felt I didn’t have. For the past seven years, I had worked my ass off to get to a place in my freelance career at which I felt financially stable. I had finally reached that place a month before discovering I was pregnant, and I didn’t want to go back to that time when, heart in my throat, I was living paycheck to paycheck.
After all, as everyone knows, there’s no such thing as affordable childcare.
Also, I felt it would be a sign of weakness to ask for help. I had built a career that allowed me to be home with my child. Wouldn’t it be ridiculous for me to hire someone to watch Em when I was already there? I wanted her to be raised by me, not by someone else.
Finally, I watch too many crime procedurals. What if the babysitter ended up kidnapping my baby? Or selling my baby to an infertile couple and then disappearing? Or killing my baby because of a longstanding vendetta against me I wasn’t even aware of because–surprise!–I had broken her long-lost-stepbrother’s heart 18 years ago and he had turned to drugs and eventually overdosed?
(Or hell, what if harm accidentally came to my baby while in her care? At the beginning, I didn’t even trust myself to know what the hell I was doing, let alone some fly-by-night stranger.)
Over time, though, I’ve begun to worry that I am harming my child more by not hiring someone to care for her as I work.
This worry has crept in only recently.
Months ago, I swallowed my pride and asked my mom and my mom-in-law if they could help out just a few hours a week so I could fully concentrate on my work without having to also tend to Em.
Their help made it possible for me to work, for at least two days a week, at a pace faster than that of a tortoise doing the breast stroke through peanut butter. And that little bit of help seemed to be exactly what I needed to keep myself from drowning.
But then I started feeling extra guilty on the other days.
When Grandma Monday and Grandma Friday were there, Emily was held at least 85 percent of the time. Her and her grandmas worked their way through piles of books. They engaged in (admittedly one-sided) conversations. They played together with all of her toys. Emily’s grandmothers sang to her and read to her and talked to her about numbers and letters and colors and animals.
When Grandma Monday and Grandma Friday were not here, Emily sat in her Rock n’ Play or rolled around on her play mat or bounced in her Jumperoo and stared. She stared at me as I interviewed sexologists. She stared at me as I labored to write research-heavy articles. She stared as I edited. As I blogged. As I managed Twitter for one of my clients. She stared at me as I stared at a screen instead of staring at her.
Sure, I took breaks at the completion of each task so I could read to Em, or roll around on the floor with her, or help her practice sitting and standing.
But I felt bad for Em on those days. She wasn’t experiencing nearly as much human interaction. I knew I had to get the work done, but I also felt she deserved better.
Sometimes, I feel she deserves someone better than me.
Because there is that other thing that fuels my worry. The thing that didn’t completely disappear when I graduated from my postpartum support group. The part of me that, once upon a time, inspired online commenters to tell me I was selfish for even wanting a child. Because obviously I would harm her. Obviously I would damage her. Obviously she would grow up to be just like me.
I felt it slinking its way into my body today as I tried to work, while Emily bounced behind me, making that insistent, repetitive sound she makes when she is demanding food or attention or cuddles. I was doing work that required my full concentration and, as she made that unceasing unnnhhh sound, I felt my skin heat up and begin to tingle, I felt my chest constrict, I felt a pressure behind my eyeballs. It was like a panic attack but, instead of running away, I wanted to lash out. Just as I used to lash out at my husband before I found yoga and became better able to manage my mood swings. I wanted to slam my hands against my desk. I wanted to roar.
So I slammed my hands against my desk. And I roared.
But then I spun my chair around and I pulled Em up out of her Jumperoo and into my arms and we rolled around on the floor and we pretended she was Supergirl and she laughed so damn hard and I gave her Eskimo kisses.
God how I love her.
I think about the childcare issue. I think about it a lot. I think about how it would ease some of the pressure. How it would keep me from tipping back into a sense of overwhelm that might very well slide into a full-on depression.
But at least I know that even if she deserves better than me, even if she deserves something I can’t afford, when it comes down to it, I will always be my best for her.