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  • I'd always planned to be a stay-at-home mom, so I thought going back to work after maternity leave would be unbelievably hard. At first, it was easy. I'd missed showering every day, putting on pretty clothes, and using my brain. I missed driving. Being alone. Having conversations that didn't involve poop. Not having to worry about how we were going to make rent this month.

    I had the luxury of trusting my daughter's caretaker, my father, completely. And because we'd moved into the house next door, she was close to my parents; she loved spending the day with them. The price for me was an hour-long commute, but I'd done it before; for worry-free day care, I could handle a long drive.

    The novelty of being a working mom faded fast. I missed the smell of her head, her smile, her quirky sense of humor. I started spending my lunch hour shopping for her. Spent longer and longer stretches of time staring at her picture, talking about her to coworkers whether they wanted me to or not. I was away from her for roughly 12 hours each day, and each minute burned.

    She, on the other hand, grew closer to her grandparents and her father. When she needed comfort, she sought them out. When she smiled, she smiled at them. When it was just the two of us, she cried incessantly.

    I'd waited decades to have this child. And she seemed to prefer everyone to me.

    I'm not normally an emotional person, but I became one. I cried all the way to work. All the way home. Occasionally all day. Then all evening. I was exhausted. I was hormonal. I was stretched too thin. And I was hurt, more deeply than I had ever been.

    I was a mother. I thought that meant I would automatically be the center of her world. She relied on me for food, shelter, comfort, love. I didn't think I could be so easily replaced. I felt like a failure.

    One evening, her father left the two of us alone together for a bit. Mother-daughter time, he said. I was out of tears. I couldn't eat, couldn't sleep, could barely move. I sat with her on my lap, and we regarded each other in silence.

    Tentatively, she smiled. This quirky little raised-eyebrow smile. I felt my lips began to curve, the skin on my cheeks tight from drying tears. Relieved, she beamed. Then laughed. She didn't know what was wrong with me, but she'd made me smile -- maybe it wasn't so bad.

    I had not considered how my mood affects hers. She, in turn, had not considered that she -- a four-month-old child -- could influence that mood. It was a revelation for us both.

    She tried again, that same funny smile. This time, I laughed. And when I hugged her, she didn't push me away.
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