It has taken me a while to do this post because I wasn't in a good enough place to do it for awhile. But I'm better these days and have a little more experience on my hands, so this is my opinion of my experiences as a working and as a SAH mom.
First, let me say that I truly do not believe that one is better than the other. One may be better for one family than the other, but there is no superiority for one over the other. I really dislike people (other moms) that trash talk the moms that don't do what they do. They are narrow-minded jerks, simple as that. Sorry to call names, but I'm pretty non-tolerant of non-tolerance.
Working would have gone a lot better for me if things had been different with Michael. I don't like to blame these issues on him but he did not to take a bottle, he did not like to nap. I did not like picking up a starving, tired, crying baby EVERY SINGLE DAY. The one thing we decided shortly after me going back to work is that we would not have me working when/if we had a second child. Lots of babies do fine at daycare. Mine did not. He was also sick every single week. That made me miss a ridiculous amount of work. And despite my complaints about our daycare, I paid top dollar for one of the best centers in town. It's possible that I could have found him another spot that worked better for him, but in the long run it was a lot or work (it was insanely hard to find infant spots in my area) for marginal benefits (a new center would probably not cure his bottle aversion or light sleeping) and figured that my employment would be ending soon enough so it would be better to tough it out a while longer. But despite the difficulties, Michael did like it there (another reason not to move him). He got excited at drop off every day but the days were just too long.
But despite all the hardships, I am really grateful for having a job to go to for that first year. Michael was a terrible spitter. I later put 2 and 2 together and figured out it was food intolerances (and he was just naturally spitty) but it drove me nuts. Every time I laid him down a cascade of spit-up washed over his chin and neck. Every diaper change, every nap, dozens of times per day. And I was continually covered in vomit. I had breakouts on my cleavage because of constantly being washed in spit-up. I smelled awful all the time. It was not pleasant. It would have been one thing to deal with the spit-up but it was another thing to me because he nursed so much that I would just about have a breakdown every time he spit-up because he never slept unless he was on the boob and he was ALWAYS ON THE BOOB. I was just always hoping that if I could feed him and keep it in him he might give me a break for awhile (that never happened). The few minutes that I would actually get him in the crib for I couldn't sleep because he would start spitting up in his crib and I would just lie in bed listening to him puke and wonder how long before he would start crying for me again. I kinda lived in terror of spitting up. And all of this was made worse by all of the nursing difficulties we had (poor latch, mastitis, bleeding nipples, pain, thrush, clogged ducts, under supply, over supply, a baby that like to scratch me as he nursed). It really was crazy. I was about to loose my mind here. And people that think I'm embellishing have no idea what it was like--it was even worse than I have described. One piece of evidence of my issues was that he better than doubled his weight in 2 months. Most kids take about 6 months to do that.
So working was a great escape from this. He could spit up all day long and I didn't have to be present for it. In this respect, what I didn't know didn't hurt me. The days when I picked him up in the clothes I dropped him off in were rare (and he was bibbed all day to boot). That may sound cold but I really could not deal with it. I probably should have marched into a psychiatrist's office right then but I kept thinking it would get better and I tend to martyr myself too.
As far as missing out on other things, I really don't really feel that I missed out on that much. I mean, sure, I missed out but the days are pretty slow with a young infant. And I'm very sure he did all his 'firsts' in front of us. And I also got a lot of pride out of hearing the daycare teachers tell me how much they enjoyed Michael and how well he was doing. That is a good feeling.
Spending so much time away from him during the week made me appreciate the weekends so much more. Every weekend was like Christmas. Those are truly some of the happiest days of my life. I don't know that they would be as joyful if I'd been home with him everyday.
So now I'm a SAHM and things are different. The spitting up tapered off around 10 months and I rarely deal with that anymore. Michael is much more active and interactive now. I was delighted to read Michael story after story our first couple of weeks home and I was starting to be convinced that being a SAHM was where it was at. Daycare would never spend this kind of 1 on 1 time with him. Other positives included having the time to wean him on to table foods (which was a challenge) and cow's milk. Helping him to learn to walk was also a lot of fun. Oh, and he hasn't been sick once since he's been home (although I think a little illness is good for them).
But that isn't everything, is it? I was dealing with my anxiety and depression issues and not doing very well with them. And the days that have gone poorly and I have felt like a complete failure as a parent? More frequent. I was never getting time away from Michael. And Michael was not getting any socialization. He regressed in speech for while which I will always wonder if that was my fault. Plus I was having trouble with my increased domestic duties. Oh yeah, and Michael's refusal to get on a daytime schedule (and skip naps) wasn't helping. These days we are doing better with some of these things and the same with others. Drugs have definitely helped the depression and anxiety.
I'm thankful for my time at home with Michael. I'm thankful that we can afford for me to be home with him. I'm really enjoying it for the most part. I love seeing him change from day to day. I love interacting with him and telling my husband the cute things he does everyday. I also started keeping a journal about the things he is doing and I will give it to him someday. I think it's good to try to reflect on each day and and write down a few things. I should have started this when he was born but I was so tired by the end of everyday that I didn't have the energy.
This has kinda rambled on and for a reason--I don't think one wins out over the other. For us, right now, me being a SAHM is the right thing. I'm grateful for the time that I worked even though it was tough on us. I'm grateful to be at home. Being a working mom was tough. Being a SAHM is tough. I look forward to the days ahead with Michael but I wonder about/fear the challenges of re-entering the work force if I stay at home for the next several years.
Last year I put myself last. I was sick and in pain much of last year because I just didn't take care of myself. I don't really have that much more time to myself as a SAHM but I'm definitely making myself a priority. But it is still easier with work out of the way. So maybe that is the best part of this all. I need to take care of myself to be a good mom and I have the opportunity to do that now.