By Megen Disanto
“Do you feel guilty?” It was a harmless enough comment made by a well-intentioned friend at an inopportune time. Which guilt could she possibly be referring to—the guilt I had from binge-watching Real Housewives instead of making homemade baby food? Or the guilt I had about placing suspenders over my baby’s stained onesie instead of changing him for the third time that morning?
I took a deep breath before answering my friend—the tears were so frequent now I could feel them starting to form. Of course, I was feeling guilty. Well, not about the ‘Housewives’ sesh, that was pure self-care. The guilt she was referring to: my venture back in the workplace after the birth of my son, Tommy. Leaving my little guy to return to work was a type of torture that no one could have prepared me for. I was leaving him in the very capable hands of my husband as he was taking on a role that I always thought I would have: SAHP.
Nearly two weeks before my friend posed her innocent question, I had my first day back to work after the fastest 12 weeks ever. After our morning feeding, I would wipe my tears, kiss my newborn no less than 30 times, and hand him off to my sweet husband. I proceeded to sob during my 45-minute commute which made for some super awkward public transit rides. I owe many bus-riders an apology for ruining their ‘Pod Saves America’ listening with my visceral, ugly crying.
At work, I relished my pump breaks (to be clear: not an actual break) between meetings because guess what? It meant I could cry in private, without commuter judgment. Colleagues would politely ignore my milk-stained blouse and bleary eyes as they carefully sidestepped the inevitable question: “How are you?” Which was always followed by: “How is daycare going?” At that inflection point, I explained that my son was not in daycare because my dear husband was staying at home with him. The responses from there always fell into two categories: a. enthusiasm or b. confusion.
Let’s start with the enthusiastic audience. “You are so lucky, your husband is a saint.” I heard some version of this multiple times a day. Not exaggerating. Not embellishing. ‘Sainthood’ was a frequent word choice. So much so, that my cube mate threatened to start a drinking game.
When being introduced to new colleagues, my elevator speech was no longer what team I was on or projects I was leading. “This is Megen, she just got back from mat leave. Her husband is staying home with their son, isn’t that amazing of him?!” I was just the segue to a conversation about how incredible my SAHH is. “I hope you let him sleep in on the weekends” or “he deserves a vacation” were mentioned in some fashion or another. And then there was always a bizarre line of follow-up questioning, which usually included: “But why is your husband staying home?”
It was a choice we made together. I would lean in at work during my 9-5, be a rock star mom from 5-9, and my husband would take on a bit of a traditional role reversal by staying at home.
My husband was someone who worked in the pressure cooker that was the trading floor for 20 years, co-owned a few bars and restaurants and in his free time, and was an avid (obsessed) Illini fan who frequented all big games. He was a man on the move, on his own schedule, and always working. The questions made me cringe and yet my husband always and still continues to take them in stride.
Here's the truth: I am truly lucky to have him in this role. I’m an actual 24-hour-a-day milk machine, maintain a full-time job, am responsible for our health insurance and household expenses, run an Etsy side hustle, cook, clean, and let’s not forget that as of month 15, our son still is not interested in sleeping through the night. But my husband brings whimsy and creativity to a schedule of naps, music class, carefully prepared meals, and putting practice. (Creativity, because 'putting’ is pretty difficult if you cannot stand yet.)
The life of a working mom is one that I’m still figuring out and may never really figure out, but I’m incredibly proud that my son will watch me try. I still cry on Monday mornings (albeit not on public transit) and have my moments of resentment about not being the SAHP. But if there is one piece to this puzzle of parenthood that I have figured out, it is that my husband has excelled as a SAHD. Saint, though? That might be a stretch.