My sweet daughter, Phoebe, recently turned one and we shortly after, celebrated my second Mother's Day. This also means that it has been over a year since I have been attempting to merge my two titles - mommy and music therapist. It has been a complex, painful and beautiful process full of high highs and low lows. I certainly wouldn't trade it for anything.
As a student, I remember hearing how things dramatically change when you have children of your own. More frighteningly, I heard of many music therapists choosing to leave the field entirely. It was too difficult to see and easier to understand the pain families must be feeling. I carried those worries with me throughout my pregnancy, hoping that my perspective would be different. Would I be able to continue to walk with patients and families undergoing long, medical journeys?
Mom Guilt is Real & Ever Present
I am so grateful that my hospital provided both my husband and I with generous parental leave. Becoming a mom was the biggest change I've ever gone through. After a very long and difficult labor, it took a while for Phoebe and I to find a rhythm. Finally, as we settled into a comfortable routine, it was time to go back to work. Those first few days were incredibly difficult and full of tears. I felt so guilty leaving my daughter to be with other people. I worried about the milestones I might miss and that we may never have the same type of bond.
At the same time, it felt GOOD to be back in a place where I was comfortable. Unlike my new role as mom, I knew what I was doing as a music therapist. There were no sleep regressions, teething or colic issues to navigate through. Somehow this feeling of relief and return to familiarity made me feel even more guilty. Was I being a good mother if I enjoyed time away from my daughter?
I am a worrier on the best days so navigating postpartum anxiety became a true challenge. I worried what she was doing when I wasn't there. I worried that I was spending the time wisely enough when I was with her. I worried I made the wrong decision going back to work. I worried if I quit or reduced my hours, I would resent the decision later. With support, I have learned to work with these worries and feelings of guilt - to notice the feelings but not let them consume me.
Patients Who Impact You Most, May Surprise You
Returning to work, I found myself being mindful around babies on my caseload, particularly those close to Phoebe's age. What would it be like to see those same sized hands donning IVs or hear those familiar cries during a blood draw?
Surprisingly, these little babes felt familiar and comforting. I better appreciated how amazing their growth spurts were. I celebrated new teeth popping through and teetering legs taking their first steps with a vigor that mirrored the excitement I had for my own daughter.
However, months after returning, I had the privilege of meeting a teenage boy and supported him throughout his treatment. While his prognosis was poor, his death was unexpected and left me with a deep ache for his family. It was a surprise that I had not prepared for. I found myself picturing him as a young baby, crying in a crib like the one in our nursery, or bouncing to similar rock hits that we liked to listen to together. I leaned on my interdisciplinary team and reinforced ways to balance the weight I carried home from work when I left for the day.
Your Priorities Will Shift & You May Slow Down
I've always held pride in being able to "do it all" and motherhood has humbled me in ways I had not imagined. Washing and folding (and refolding once Phoebe helps) laundry can take me three times as long. Chasing those quick little legs around the floor left me too tired to work on personal projects at the end of the day.
I considered reducing my hours or quitting the field entirely more than I care to mention. It was incredibly painful to walk out the door as my daughter reached for me. I wanted to spend more time at home, dancing around the living room with her and soaking in cuddles. I needed to reevaluate and redefine my priorities. I left work on time and took time by myself at the end of the day to reset. Processing with loved ones and others in the field has been instrumental to finding more of a balance.
It Is Possible To Wear Both Hats
I still am working and beginning to thrive again as a full-time music therapist. It's not all easy, but we're making it work.
Yesterday, my meals consisted of four different types of bread and two cups of coffee. Sometimes I go three days without showering and pull the same scrubs out of the hamper from the day before. The saying "the days are long but the years are short" is so deeply, painfully true. While merging mommy and music therapist has been demanding, I believe each role ultimately helps enhances the other. I cherish the time I have with my daughter. Each day I reminded how precious it is to see her grow, healthy and happy. Being Phoebe's mommy gives me a better perspective on what it means to care for my patients. Heck, I have trouble getting through routine immunizations, let alone lumbar punctures or dressing changes. My admiration for these families continues to grow exponentially.
Both jobs are arduous and can feel all consuming. What I want you to know is that IS possible. Find your circles of support, be realistic with what you can accomplish, and above all, be kind to yourself. You're doing a great job.