Twenty-four years ago I left the hospital with a new beautiful baby girl.
Our doctor refused to tell us whether we were having a boy or a girl because he wanted it to be a surprise.
But, I knew before I entered the hospital that I would have a girl and that her name would be Sara without an h.
She’d visited me in a dream about four years before she was born.
I knew she would be a wise, strong-willed, bright-eyed girl with striking blonde hair and I knew we would turn out to be great friends. I also knew that she would be smart and not afraid to speak her mind.
All of that turned out to be true.
I had no idea then though how she would change my life.
After three months of trying to figure out how to care for a new baby and how to survive colic, I went back to work on Capitol Hill because that’s what liberated women of the 1990s did after they had babies.
Or so I thought.
Is it terrible to confess I looked forward to going back to work because I knew how to handle a job better than how to handle a newborn?
Then, as I wrote in a blog a few years ago, everything changed one night in January of 1991 when we saw the Gulf War erupt on national television.
Calls from news reporters quickly jammed my phone line.
“What is the senator’s reaction? Are you going to have a press conference? When can we get an interview? Do you have a statement?”
I immediately called the senator and we started planning our response.
Right then, my husband came into the room carrying our six-month-old Sara, who had been with our nanny all day.
Sara giggled with delight when she saw me and threw her soft little arms around my neck.
I covered the phone, and pushed her away and said, “Not now Doug! This is important!”
I looked at Sara’s disappointed face, and my heart sank.
“What am I doing?” I thought. “Not even a war is more important to me than my child.”
Still, I had to go back to work. I left home, drove back to Capitol Hill.
I spent the night answering phone calls, sending out news releases, and organizing a press conference.
I arrived home to a dark house, climbed the stairs to Sara’s nursery and looked at her sleeping soundly in her crib holding on to her Raggedy Ann doll.
I kissed her soft cheek, brushed back her bright blonde hair, and silently apologized for pushing her away.
Standing there looking at her in the late hours of the night, I knew I had to quit.
My job was not compatible with my family priorities.
I loved my job. I loved how it made me feel – competent, in control, and fulfilled.
I wanted to be like my friends who I thought “had it all.”
They had successful careers and happy families.
But, I knew that wasn’t going to work for me, at least not with the type of job I had then.
So, I eventually quit.
I didn’t adjust easily to my new role as a stay-at-home mother. My ego definitely suffered.
It took time to find a new rhythm and to essentially repurpose my life and myself.
Now, here I am alone at this computer in my empty house over 20 years later, looking back on the day Sara came into my life.
Did I do the right thing by quitting?
Did I lose an unrecoverable part of myself in all those years?
In the end, those seemingly ponderous questions are really just perfunctory because I know the answers without even thinking about them.
I used to think I did it for Sara, that I quit working because it would be best for her (and eventually for Annie) if I stayed home.
Now I know the truth.
They would have been fine with a nanny or in after school day care.
In fact, Annie begged me to go back to work so that she could go to after-school care with her friends.
In the end, the choice wasn’t really about what was best for them.
I knew I’d be a better mother and wife if I didn’t have a demanding career competing for my time and attention.
If I had to go back and start over, I’d do the same thing all over again.
If I’d known then what I know now, I’d have settled into it with more grace and less envy of friends who had fulfilling, highly successful careers and managed to be amazing, engaged mothers.
I’d tell myself every day that it would be worth it.
I’d remind myself that in 24 years, when Sara is off working and cutting her own remarkable path in life, I’d have no regrets.
I thought I was letting go of so much all those years ago when I become a mother, quit my job, and started a new kind of life, but when I look back I realize the opposite is true.
I didn’t lose anything.
I gained everything.
Happy Birthday Sara.