Our baby’s first words cost us $50k and it didn’t suck as much as many people thought it would
But was it worth what I thought it would be? When I lost my job back in 2018, life was a bit of a blur. I remember holding my then 7-month-old child. She was still a creature learning how to consume solid food and growing tiny little white bottom fangs. No one prepared me for the overwhelming sense of emotions that took over me as I sat in the hallway — crying with relief and panic at the same time.
Looking back, I probably had PND — Post Natal Depression — induced by a myriad of unnecessary life events, choices, and thoughts in my head. It was complicated. It was dark. It was a confusing time filled with floodgates, emotions, guilt, lack of sleep, nutritional deprivation, and burnout.
On the surface, people often thought I was lucky. I had worked my way up the ranks, gained a good pay package that put me in the top tax bracket. But deep down, I was also unhappy. The job sucked. It was long hours of commute, drama, short-staffed, and work that followed me home. I never really got to see the child when I cut short my maternity leave for the sake of work.
Sure. Call me a complainer. Call me whatever you want. But when you wake up and live life for the wrong reasons, the labels people give you don’t really matter. They’re not the ones living your reality, experiencing your persistent misery, anxiety, and guilt. You are. What they see is only a filtered vision, an outsider peering in.
When I lost my job because the company I pledged loyalty to for 5 long years died, I decided after a few job interviews and potential offers that the normal 9–5, leave the house at 7 am and returning maybe by 7 pm kind of gig wasn’t for me.
I left the local economy and moved my career online. It was a massive pay cut — a $50,000 less kind of pay cut.
What $50,000 less looks like
Anxiety is a beast borne from a mixture of chemical and mental processing complications. It’s a cocktail of fears, caused by uncontrollable and external forces. It’s a fear of the past, present, the future, and people around you.
Your brain ceases to function how you want it to function. Your thoughts run its own scenarios, overwhelming you with a flurry of emotions that bombards your sense of self. People often tell you that these reactions are normal, especially in times of stress. But the severity of what I experienced and certain darknesses produced from it is not. It’s not as bad now, but now and then it pops up again, triggered by something as random as a Facebook post.
When I lost my job, I struggled to get out of bed. I would lay there, with the baby on my chest and listen to her breathe. Those moments were the best — I didn’t have to move, to entertain, to smile, to do or be anything. I could just exist and be a pillow.
As my old team moved on and got new jobs fairly quickly, I remained technically jobless. Instead, I spent the time in between trying to figure myself out. I hustled. I watched YouTube videos. I flipped second-hand clothes and started writing online. Somewhere in between, people started to take notice and offered me jobs within my skill sets. It was a much nicer experience to have someone chase after you than trying to prove your worth to strangers. I started shipping out tickets and projects again — but with limited capacity.
I limited the amount of work I took on. In part, because I started to understand the source of my anxiety. I was time-starved. Throw a child into the mix, the lack of time, and a sense of responsibility, you have a recipe for maternal disaster.
It turns out I’ve been taught the wrong things. I couldn’t do it all. There is no ‘girl power’ or an insane ability to multitask. It’s all a myth and a societal ruse of a role inscribed into me from multiple sources. I thought I could handle it all. It turns out that I was only human after all.
So I dropped all my balls and stuck with the one that really mattered. I dropped the opportunity to earn, dropped the opportunity to work the traditional path and climb more ladders, dropped all the self-imposed obligation, everyone, and everything, including what would have been my paycheck.
I dropped everything except my daughter.
Spoiler alert: she said ‘bubbles’
‘mama’ and ‘dada’ doesn’t really count. Most of the time they’re just a string of babbles that babies do to mimic our incessant attempt to get them to speak. Sometimes they’re just playing with sounds that just happen to sound like words.
It was a sunny morning and I was sitting on the couch. She hadn’t figured out how to walk yet but could stand by herself. She’d cling to whatever structure that offered her support. Then she looked me in the eyes, with a face of great determination and calculations, she uttered the syllables ‘bub-bles’.
The price of parenthood
At 18 months, I called it quits and ended up sending her to daycare, initially for 3 days a week at first. By then, she had figured out how to walk, mostly talk in single words and do weird things. I could have kept her home for longer, but it was a balance between sanity and bringing in an income.
I was there for the first words and the first steps. Daycare had fun stuff like hatching chickens and sand pits.
3 days a week isn’t too bad. I’d hang around with her for longer than I needed to and let her play when I came to pick her up. Sometimes it would be a battle. Sometimes it would be a breeze.
During the course of her first 2 years, I had a string of opinions and thoughts thrown in my direction. Some made me feel guilty, others made me feel inadequate. The PND isn’t as bad now, and it would come in small waves. Every now and then, a tsunami would hit and everything falls apart. Sometimes, these tsunamis would be triggered by the most random and littlest things — a comment, a photo, a story, or a video. It’s not because I’m being overly sensitive. No. Someday, these same things are perfectly fine. Other days, it’s a hurricane that materialized out of nowhere. It’s just the uncontrollable stuff in my head, a battle of neurotransmitters and systems that paralyzes me into a standstill. In these moments, I think back to the $50,000 I lost — the price I paid for bubbles.
I would call it a day, even if it had just struck 8 am. I would drop everything except my child and just be present. The kitchen sink will clean up at some point, the laundry folded, the mess sorted, and the client’s work shipped out before the deadline.
Because life always eventually works itself out and there’s no point trying to win a battle beyond my personal control. Bad days happen. For me, it’s not about getting over them but riding them out. At some point, I’ll reach the shoreline, so I might as well enjoy the journey.