Could We Survive Infant Daycare – Or the comments that come with it?

From the moment I learned I was pregnant I planned to return to work. Having a successful career and a couple of awesome kids was all part of the plan, my beautiful master plan. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, a funny thing happened on the way to the OB. I was struck by the rather obvious realization that I would soon be leaving my newborn son in the care of a stranger. An actual stranger, as in someone I didn’t know — at all.

And so began a series of wildly dramatic personal breakdowns. What kind of mother leaves her precious newborn to fend for himself in a cold and callous daycare? Not the kind of mother I wanted to be. The reality of this stranger danger thing began to weigh on me about a thousand times more than my baby growing inside. I had a huge decision to make.

Should I stay home? Finances were already tight. Leaving my job would put my family in a really tough position. And I’ll be honest here — I never wanted my family to merely survive, I wanted us to thrive, and we wouldn’t really without two incomes.

Should I keep working? I was in a stable company with opportunity for promotion and growth. I had medical insurance, a 401K and even a coveted pension plan. (Sure, I was only 25, but even I couldn’t ignore the awesomeness of a pension plan.) And yet the very idea of returning to work and providing that stability made me feel like I wasn’t capable of sacrificing enough to be a mother.

You’ve heard the adage, “The worst decision is indecision”? I’ve lived it. You see, when you wait until the last minute to make such a huge personal decision, sooner or later you realize all the time you spent researching wipe warmers should have been spent researching whether or not you’re okay with daycare, and by “researching” I mean having the kind heart-to-heart with your partner that leaves you both a little scared.

Finally, with a heavy heart I decided to return to work — insert knife in heart. I figured I owed it to my career and the security of my family to at least try my hand at working motherhood. And yet, as I sat in the recovery room holding 7 lbs., 5.5 oz. of pure joy, I couldn’t feel it. All I could muster was the haunting feeling that I was on borrowed time; maternity leave countdown was on.

On that fateful November 18th (may it live in infamy), I somehow squeezed my postpartum bod into something resembling business casual and returned to work in tears. No baby. No daycare. No nursing pads. No clue. I worked out a very temporary schedule for care with my family while I emerged from the comfortable depths of denial and started on project daycare. I cried all morning. I am the world’s ugliest crier.

On my lunch break I headed to the nearest daycare. I walked in and immediately started to cry (yes, again). The staff looked at me like I was crazy. Puhleese, can’t a mom cry in a daycare? Well this joint was an obvious no.

I headed to the next daycare and noticed it was located just off a busy street and very vulnerable looking. In a world of baby-stealers and cars that drive through buildings (hey, it happens) I decided this place was a no. I just couldn’t have all that worry in my mind.

I returned to work, cried some more and landed in my boss’ office on account of all the ugly crying. Apparently it was making people uncomfortable. I was given the day to go home and compose myself. I needed more than a day; I needed 24 more months — with pay.

Out of time and nearly out of options, I headed to the last remaining daycare with open space for a newborn. As I greeted the center director the sobbing began, complete with big gaping breaths and a steady flow of snot. She hugged me, snot and all. I told her I was failing as a mother for even being there. She didn’t try to convince me otherwise; she was a mom, too. I was taken to the infant center and introduced to two caregivers with knowing smiles. It was clear they’d seen the likes of ugly criers before. I didn’t know what it was about this space, but I could just tell there was love in this room, lots and lots of it. I looked for a reason, any reason to dislike this place, but I couldn’t find one. Really, not one. Just like that, I enrolled my infant son in daycare before the love spell wore off, and I changed my mind. Once home and all out of tears, I cradled my newborn son. For the first time in nearly a year I felt relieved, even if only on a hunch that I had made the right decision.

I did make the right decision. My son went on to spend 5 years at that childcare facility. The year he left to go off to Kindergarten, I enrolled my second son — as an infant.

While I may never fully forgive myself for every new discovery missed and boo-boo not kissed, daycare allowed me the opportunity to preserve the security of my family. Choosing a daycare that understood all our family needed them to be made all the difference. My sons did more than survive daycare, they thrived in it — we all did. And while putting my boys in childcare might be considered unpopular among the martyr set, I’ve come to realize my decision was born out of sacrifice and love. And yeah, the pension hasn’t hurt either.


  1. I also found your article through Babble. Reading your story has helped me so much. My 1st baby is 4 months old and I have to go back to work in two months. I thought I was the only woman in this world who wants their family to not just survive. I could stay home, but my benefits and salary are great (the pension plan is too, lol). But I’m laying in my bed shedding tears right now because I don’t want to leave her. I know I sound crazy because she will be going to the daycare that i worked at during college. I know everyone there. But I really feel like I’m abandoning her. I dread walking out of that door and down that green mile back to my car. She’s going to go to sleep and wake up without me. *tear*
    but thank you for telling me that your boys thrived in daycare. It makes me feel less guilty…

    • Oh Girl, I totally understand. It is so hard to leave your baby and describing the walk back to your car as “the green mile” really does say it all. I’ll tell you what though, it gets easier. It really does. Caring staff at a trusted day care center won’t mind a dozen calls in a day to check up on your daughter. They won’t mind you showing up unexpectedly. They understand. Best of luck to you as you return to work Mama and thank you so much for your comment XOXO.

  2. I recently found you through Babble (love your blog) and I thought I’d comment on this one. I became a mom just a little over a year ago, and, my oh my, have I been surprised at the tense tone that discussions can take on all things related to parenting. Even though I think that most of time the comments that end up being judgmental or negative actually start from a noble place (concern for children), I wish they didn’t have to happen, and I wish we could all be more compassionate with one another. Anyway, as a mom who had an obligation to go back to the office when maternity leave was over and who’s also experienced not a small amount of guilt about it, I can sympathize with your experience, and I’m appreciative that you shared it.

    • Thank you Meg for your thoughtful comment. I totally agree with you too, we all want what’s best for children! I honestly believe if we gave each other a little more credit, we wouldn’t always assume the worst from each other. We’re all just doing the best that we can.

  3. You know you had me right up until the end. I was totally going with the “all in it together” theme. And what a hard decision it was for you. And how great it was to find the right place. But then I got tripped up on the last bit about the “martyr type.” Sounded almost like you were throwing out a judgement there. But I could be wrong b/c the rest of the piece was so much to the contrary…

    • Andie, those 3 words “the martyr set” seemed to touch a nerve with a lot of folks. We have all (WOHM, SAHM, WAHM) encountered “martyr-type” mothers who have given more, done more and tried harder than we have, or at least think they have. The martyr set may judge because you immunized/bottle-fed/had an epidural/etc. For whatever reason this type of mother leaves us doubting ourselves and our choices, choices that were often painful or difficult to begin with. Truthfully, as much as I myself try not to judge, I suppose I’m guilty of judging “the martyr set”. I have a difficult time understanding the motives behind making others feel small.

      Motherhood is the most challenging and amazing experience of my life, I honestly don’t know how I’d make it through without the support of my fellow mother. I really appreciate your comment, thanks so much for taking the time to share.

  4. First of all, I LOVE your writing….and from it I’ve surmised that if you lived anywhere close to me I’d pretty much beg you to have a cup of coffee (or martini) and be my friend (but not in a creepy, stalky way)! Secondly, good for you for being so honest about the conflict that ALL mom’s have regarding to-work or not-to-work decisions. It’s brutal and there are no easy answers. As my son would say, “double thumbs up!” to you – keep up the great articles!

  5. wow there are a lot of emotional responses. I cried all the way to my first meeting and all the way back. I am fortunate that i can work from home but still need care. Dreams of working while baby naps quickly disappeared when I gave birth to my first colic baby. Anyway I loved the article. It was honest. You were honest for going back to work. Wish moms could join together and realize it is about having a choice! The choice is individual, the need for one is universal. Congrats for making the best choice for your family!

    • Thank you for your comment. Daycare is an emotionally-charged topic, we all do what we have to. Genius: “Wish moms could join together and realize it is about having a choice! The choice is individual, the need for one is universal.” – I could not agree with you more.

  6. I’ve had my son in daycare since he was 9 weeks old and that was the plan from day one. I’ve never had anyone say anything negative about it other than “That must have been hard” (not really negative) or “I could never do that!” (which I pretend is just them sharing their opinion rather than being judgemental. 14 months later, my son LOVES going to daycare and I’m totally comfortable with our decision. It’s our family and it’s what works best for us and that’s all that matters.

    • I’m so glad you found a daycare that works for you, I did too and it made all the difference for our family. My son loves his daycare too and the staff is like our extended family!

  7. I actually found your blog though the babble article. I can absolutely relate to your story. I wish people weren’t so judgmental. I think that most of us just have to make the best decisions for our individual families. And, even though those decisions may vary, it doesn’t make one or the other right or wrong. Just different. I don’t get it when people insist that everyone do things the exact same way they do them. Sounds more to me like people are trying to cover up their own insecurities. But that’s just my opinion. 🙂

    • Exactly, no one choice is better than the other. It’s all about what works for our individual families. I agree with your comment about insecurities, this was a personal essay – not one about the merits of either decision.

  8. I read it and I did not see why anyone would judge you. You did what you had to, and it obviously hurt you a lot to do that. I’m so glad you’re standing behind your story. Bravo!

  9. ashallann says:

    Great article, I really felt like you were repeating my experience with my son. Thanks for sharing!

  10. I thought it was well done…it’s your story, your situation and no one should judge. Be proud that you wrote that, so many other woman have felt the same way. Bravo to you!

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