I make it a rule not to write about work, but this isn’t about work, it’s about working. It’s about what it feels like to keep going to my office every week.
I’ve been working at the same place for almost six years now. When I started my job, I had no children. Had never been pregnant. Had never tried to get pregnant. A and I weren’t even married.
The place has been good to me. They’ve given me so much flexibility, and it’s interesting work that’s changed enough, over these years, to keep me challenged. I like working, and not just as a form of respite from parenting. It’s fulfilling, what I do. It’s important, and I enjoy it.
Lately, though, I feel so strange during the time I spend at the office, and I think this odd feeling comes, somehow, from my body being (more or less) back to its non-pregnant state again. I used to work full time. Now I’m just in the office two days a week. And those days, although the work I do has changed—gotten more interesting—are weirdly like the days I spent here years and years ago. The architecture of the place, the relationships, the procedures. It feels wrong and somehow false that I keep doing all of it the same way I ever did. I have changed shape so many times in these six years—physically and emotionally. I am different. And yet that is invisible, mostly, to the people I see at the office. Now, unpregnant, no longer on maternity leave of any sort, no longer obviously wretched with sleep deprivation, I look—if you don’t pull up my shirt or look really closely at my facial lines—substantially unchanged from the unmarried twenty-something of as-yet unproven fertility who first walked in the door on an August morning in 2002.
I am slow with these identity shifts; it’s taken me ages to wriggle my way into feeling like a real human being while caring for one child, then two. I’ve thought much less about what that means for who I am elsewhere, without the little people who’ve stretched me out and reshaped me.
I guess I will eventually figure out some new and remarkable way look at this. For now, my work identity feels like an ill-fitting shell. Is it like this for you, working, if you do? A lot of mothers seem to experience their work as a reassuring source of enduring identity during the changes of motherhood, but for me it is starting to feel phony.