02/07/2015 12:59 EST | Updated 04/09/2015 05:59 EDT

Getting Back to Work After the Longest Maternity Leave Ever

Sam Edwards via Getty Images

I wasn't expecting to be in this position.

From as early as I can remember I thought an exciting career would be my priority. Like most girls I know, my primary occupation growing up was being a mother to some little dolls, but there was also a flourishing sideline in my pretend life as an artist. My dad cut one of those funny-shaped painter's palettes out of wood for me to assume my identity. I carried it around with me doggedly, often shlepping the dolls behind.

As a university student, every night I would gather at the park with my feminist friends, smoking and talking for hours about The Future. We rolled out all the clichés, naïve to the fact that they were the well-trodden clichés of youth: this is our time, we will make a difference, our lives will have meaning, but most importantly, we will not be stay-at-home moms.

I graduated in communications studies, which eventually led me to documentary film. I loved immersing myself in different subcultures and finding stories to tell. I got to dig deep into the world of collectors (I met a woman who collects dryer lint), sit in on a taxidermy competition (less gross than you would think), and hang out in those temples of manhood, neighbourhood barbershops (as many copies of Playboy as I'd expected). My films didn't change the world, but it was stimulating and there was always the possibility of doing something bigger. I knew I would have kids, but they would fit tidily into my life.

Then I had those kids. I haven't used the word "tidily" since. The thing is, nobody ever needed me like this before and that felt more validating than any film project. So I went on maternity leave and didn't go back. My two boys seemed so small and dependent. And I owned it -- making them cookies, walking them to the park, and playing trains until I could draw every vehicle on the Island of Sodor with my eyes closed. That was six years ago. Smoking midnight park girl might well ask, "What happened?"

What happened is that I hadn't anticipated that having kids would be so conflicting. That maybe it would be the biggest thing I could do. That it would mean I couldn't go on all the film shoots because it would take me away from my kids when they are too tiny. That reading "Curious George Makes Pancakes" for the 9,000th time might push me over the edge of sanity. That I would take up running not as a metaphor, but to physically run away from my house for 30 minutes. That after three years away, my producer would say she thought I wasn't making films anymore and that even though it was my choice, her words would make me panic. That sometimes I would want in and sometimes I would want out. Of both career and family.

I decided to do what I know how to do -- tell this story. I know there are a lot of mom bloggers out there and I have read lots of them, but I need to figure out my own way. So I am turning the microphone onto myself (not the camera -- I'm not that crazy). I have started a podcast called "First Day Back." It's an audio documentary of me trying to get a film off the ground in the hopes of shooting in Summer 2015. I'm bringing the microphone into my home, to my kids' daycare, and into work meetings. I'm including all of it: The insecure thoughts, the inner conflict, and hopefully some moments of satisfaction.

So far my oldest son has told me, on tape, that he doesn't need me as much I thought he did. My youngest son clutches a photo of me at daycare while he naps. And my husband is cringing because he would rather walk across hot coals than reveal his private life to the world.

I've been surprised by the reaction to the first episode. I was worried that the project might seem too navel-gazing to interest others, or that it would only appeal to moms in the same position as me. Instead, I'm getting messages from dads who tell me they relate, even if they're not the stay-at-home parent. Even childless friends have told me they struggle with work-life balance and feel they understand something of what I am going through.

I wasn't expecting to be in this position, but now I'm here, sharing my story and hoping to learn something along the way.


Photo galleryMaternity Leave Around The World (2012) See Gallery