First international work trip as a mother

I am currently in Warsaw, Poland, at a hotel as I type this. I had planned to wake up at 7 am so I can take advantage of their superb free breakfast, but I was so zonked out that I slept almost 10 hours and woke up right as the hotel breakfast time ended. It was the first time I got to sleep more than six hours straight since Tov was born.

I was in this same exact hotel nine months ago. It feels like a lifetime ago. How different life is now. How different I am now.

Nine months ago, I was six months pregnant. I woke up multiple times during the night because I either had to shuffle to the bathroom or had to shift positions due to a bulging belly. Last night, I woke up several times throughout the night not just because of physical discomfort (oh, the joys of breastfeeding), but because my subconsciousness woke me up to check the baby camera app, just to make sure Tov is sleeping through the night. I wasn’t worried about Tov. I was more worried that David would get no sleep.

He got no sleep. The baby cam app alerted me that Tov was crying in his crib at 2 in the morning. I watched as David lumbered into Tov’s room and stuck the pacifier into his mouth. An hour later, Tov wailed again. Again, the pacifier. Then he cried again. And again.

Poor David. Poor Tov.

There are times when I miss being a single, independent woman, because then, I was free of such relations, in which I am beholden to others and others are beholden to me. I could go on a two-month work trip without worrying about inconveniencing anyone except myself.

This time round, on my first international work trip since I became a mother, my travels affect not just me but my husband, my almost 7-month-old baby, my mother– who flew to LA to help take care of Tov– and my father, who lost his companion. I have new worries now: I have to make sure I keep my milk supply up while on long flights and train rides and drives; I have to hurry back home as soon as possible so I’m not gone too long from the family; I wonder how my long absence will affect Tov’s stability and happiness.

And also, how I miss that babe. On the plane, a couple in front of me had a baby about Tov’s age. Pre-Tov me would have inwardly groaned, dreading being stuck on a long flight with a crying baby. Post-Tov me smiled at the little round head of this baby and longed to stroke the back of Tov’s head. In Warsaw, as I walked the streets, all I saw were babies– babies sleeping on strollers, babies in their parents’ arms, toddlers wobbling on little feet– and each time, I missed Tov. I missed his stubborn tuft of hair. I missed his sweet milky scent. I missed his tiny fingers wrapped around my thumb. I missed his smiles and yawns and giggles and coos. Heck, I even missed his screams and cries.

The day I left the country, I wanted both David and Tov to drop me off at the Dulles airport, though my parents offered to watch Tov. I wanted to be with Tov till the last minute. He fell asleep while we drove to the airport, with his fingers clutching my finger. At the airport, I tried to say goodbye to Tov, but he had his eyes firmly closed, his mouth busy sucking at a pacifier.

“Tov, Tov. Open your eyes. Look at omma. Tov,” I begged, but he let out a cry of protest, eyes still closed. I kissed his head, kissed David goodbye, and walked into the airport with my luggage, heart full of thoughts and emotions.

This is my first time entering a country at war. Every news coming out of Ukraine was no good: Russian missiles are striking cities and villages, pummeling Ukraine’s energy infrastructure. Last week, even Kyiv lost power for days, and millions in Ukraine still don’t have electricity or running water. Meanwhile, the weather is below freezing, and nighttime falls by 4 pm. I am most certainly going to freeze my ass off. I’m not even sure how I’ll get out of the country once I figure out my return date.

Of course, I didn’t have to go to Ukraine. But I am. Because pre-Tov me would have. Because there’s a war going on in Ukraine, and there are stories there that I want to cover. Because even as a new mother, I don’t want to lose certain parts of me, though I suppose that’s a very modern, individualistic sort of mindset that would be foreign to non-western women a hundred years ago.

But I did lose some things. I’ve lost hours of productivity at work that I now give to a very needy human being. I’ve lost the ability to be spontaneous and carefree. I’ve lost the liberated sense of being a rootless nomad, where home is where I hang my hat. I’ve lost the freedom of being able to travel without something tugging at my heart.

And you know, I am fine with it. Because that tugging of my heart means somebody is waiting for me. That I have a home now. That I now have a family– people who are beholden to me, and I to them; people who miss me, and I them. I miss, because I have. And for that, I am grateful.

3 thoughts on “First international work trip as a mother

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