I returned to work after seven weeks of maternity leave on Thursday, March 8th, which also happened to be International Women’s Day. The juxtaposition of these two events felt poetic to me: after weeks of living into my womanhood at home in a way I never had before, I returned to work to live out my womanhood in a completely different sector.
A change took place within me seven weeks ago: birthing our daughter was the most miraculous and empowering experience. It gave me new perspective on why God named the first woman Eve, chavah, “life.” I watched as life emerged from within me, and in that moment I took on a new identity as a mother. That little life has since depended on me for nutrition, sustenance, and love, and I have given all of myself, all that I am, to her.
That’s why returning to work in some ways felt like a betrayal. Not so much that I was betraying my daughter; I knew she would have all she needed without me. It felt more like I was betraying my womanhood, which had become so tied into motherhood over the past weeks. How could I hold on to my new identity if I weren’t nurturing and holding and comforting my daughter continuously?
After a few hours at work, a woman came to my office seeking pastoral guidance. Inside, I wondered whether I even remembered how to pastor others. She told me about some of the ghosts that have been haunting her for the past few months, and described this feeling of being stuck in a rut, unable to get out and fearful that she never would. And during that conversation, I felt some familiar responses slowly coming back to me: I listened to her cries, I created space to hold her emotions, and we discussed some ways she could mend her wounds.
Nurturing. Holding. Comforting.
The reflexes that I so finely tuned over the past weeks sprang into action yet again.
These facets of motherhood that I felt I abandoned when I returned to work arose from the depths of me just hours after I reentered my office. They had been there all along. Because at its core, this is what ministry is: it is leading and nurturing, feeding and teaching, watching and tending to the wounds of those entrusted to our care.
Returning to work was not a betrayal of my womanhood. Not even close. In many ways, it was a fulfillment of my identity as a mother and a pastor and a woman, made in the image of God. And reentering ministry didn’t excise a facet of my identity, but rather brought to life the fullness of my calling first and foremost as a child of God.