For the past three weeks I have been in Nicaragua for work. Originally my husband and my 22 month old toddler came with me, as we generally always travel as a family whether my husband or I are traveling for work. But this time it didn’t work out so well, so they left just after the first week here.
My eyes are welling up with tears just writing that fact. I’ve now spent almost two weeks without my little girl. Since she was born I never spent a night away from her, except when I had to be in the hospital for a few nights this past January. But even then, my husband at least brought her to be with me during the day and I saw her then. Three weeks ago when we left to Nicaragua I didn’t fathom that I’d be, for the first time, separated from my child.
We’ve traveled the world with Veda, with all of its joys and challenges. But this time it was tough. The nature of my short-term assignment and pressing deadlines left me busy in meetings, interviews, and focus groups every day. That meant at night time I had to come back and do more work- writing focus group guides, documenting meeting notes, reviewing documents I was collecting, scheduling more meetings, and preparing presentations for the next day ahead. That left me with about half an hour maximum each night of free time- and even that amount of time was a small gift.
This resulted in a very quick deterioration of my daughter’s happiness. Her mother was away from her all day, and then when she came back at night she was glued to her computer– mom was there but not really able to be present. My daughter needed more of me than I could give her and I had to make the choice of sacrificing the quality of my work and meeting deadlines over being the mother my child needed and wanted me to be. I saw a side of my daughter I never saw before- she started throwing tantrums and as soon as evening came it was non-stop melt-downs…adding to my guilt.
Added to this was that the time we had to plan this trip was also quite short and we didn’t really think through ideal places to stay. My work has kept me primarily in the capital city, Managua. The preferred hotel of whom I am doing work for is the InterContinental, which is arguably the “nicest” hotel in the city, and central to everything. However, it’s not a hotel for families or small children. The room we had was a regular sized hotel room mostly filled with a large King-sized bed. We should have looked for a different place with at least a kitchen for my husband to cook for my daughter (rather than stuffing some things in a hotel mini-fridge with nothing to cook with), or even at renting an apartment for a few weeks. We even contemplated doing this after the first week but by the time we thought about it we realized that either way the reality was I had no time to give my daughter– on the weekend or at nights.
So we spent a nice weekend away that first weekend at Rancho Santana, and my husband changed his flight to return home to Chicago with my daughter the Tuesday following the Sunday we returned from our little get away. We thought it would be better for them to return to our home in Chicago with comforts and a kitchen in hopes that my daughter would be happier there with more space, and more things to do. Managua is not a walkable city, and quite frankly there’s nothing to do with a toddler here, which resulted in both my daughter and my husband growing bored.
I cried every day from the Friday we made the decision for them to leave until the day they left that following Tuesday. I feared the worst– that my daughter would be hysterical. We planned to talk on Skype frequently every day, but I thought she would lose it if she saw me but couldn’t cuddle, or when she couldn’t nurse. Complicating the separation is that I am still breastfeeding her. A sudden unplanned stop in that relationship was also devastating for me, and I didn’t know how she would take it, either. I am dedicating my next blog to this subject entirely, as that deserves it’s own space.
In the end, however, she adjusted well, and quite frankly she adjusted much better than me. She was happy at home, and knowing that my husband is a fabulous parent helped me not to worry, of course. She’s sleeping through the night without wanting breast milk, and although she sometimes asks on Skype for “mommy’s boobies,” she actually doesn’t seem to be missing it much at all, to my surprise. She interacts on Skype with me, says “Bye, mommy” with a wave and smile when she’s bored of looking at the computer and happily skips away. She’s totally and completely fine- and happy.
So, knowing that my daughter is fine, and seeing how happy she is back at home, I took a breath and let go a bit. I let go, perhaps, of feeling that I’m needed and that I’m everything to her. It’s both at the same time a comforting realization and a completely horrifying and depressing realization that my daughter is just fine without me.
So since they’ve been gone I’ve also focused on my work, literally working 16-18 hour days, 7 days a week, and I finished my deliverable before the deadline. Because I finished it early I asked to come home early a day early, which the lovely company I am working for happily agreed to and promptly changed my flight to go home tomorrow, rather than Saturday as planned (and they even asked if I wanted to get a flight today so I could be with my daughter sooner).
Working non-stop meant that I was completely distracted from my emotions, until now when I have a moment to feel. I also had the opportunity to work with a fantastic woman here who has a 10 year old, 2 year old, and 1 year old, and on the way to meetings and on the road for field trips it was comforting and affirming to share with each other and at least know that there’s another mom struggling with these issues and that it’s okay to struggle, and it’s normal not to be perfect and it’s normal not to know how to balance work with motherhood. I haven’t met a mom yet who has figured out to happily do that- are you out there?
Reflecting back on these two weeks, it wasn’t ideal or perfect. I miss my family. I don’t know if I could leave my daughter again for this length of time. I’ve had a lot of stress about trying to keep my milk supply up as I don’t want to stop breastfeeding. I’ve felt embittered that I’ve had to completely leave my role as a mother in order to continue my work and do a good job- especially considering that my work here in Nicaragua is to conduct a gender analysis focused exactly on the issue of women’s constraints in being economically productive while having household and childcare responsibilities. How ironic? I have thought to myself every time I was discussing this in meetings, or writing recommendations on how to better accommodate working mothers (when I can’t even accommodate myself in my job to come up with those recommendations).
But at the same time, everything’s okay in the end. I just can’t wait to see my daughter tomorrow. Not even two weeks have passed but it feels like a really, really long time since I’ve seen her and kissed her. And so now I am homeward-bound, a little wounded, a little changed, a little tear-soaked, a little sore (in the breast department), a little professionally accomplished, and mostly just incredibly happy to see my husband and daughter.
And on that note, if you happen to be an American Airlines pilot that is flying from Managua to Miami or Miami to Chicago tomorrow, can you please not go on strike and delay my flight home????