A Sunrise Kind of Mom

A Sunrise Kind of Mom

Motherhood is a fully consuming mindset.  You find yourself in this rhythm of always adjusting schedules, environments, and plans to accommodate your child(ren)’s greatest needs.  Especially if you have an infant or toddler who’s not a great sleeper (like I do), you are willing to do almost anything necessary to get your child to get a good night of sleep.

It can be really easy to become this pragmatic mom-machine that anticipates needs and does the dirty work and forgets to enjoy the moment (also, please see Glennon Doyle Melton on why not enjoying the moment is OK too).  This is really not a new concept; I would bet there are hundreds if not thousands of blog posts, memes, and middle aged women who will encourage you to enjoy your children while they are young.  So I know I’m not rocking anyone’s world when I nudge you to occasionally step back and introduce some spontaneity into your parenting.  BUT, that said, I think we need regular, fresh reminders.  Also, I have pretty pictures.

So here is my little testimonial:

We were at the shore over the weekend, and I won’t tell you why it was kind of a pain in the ass to get there because the details are tedious and exhausting (much like trying to rent a car and drive to a popular destination on a holiday weekend).  I will tell you that my daughter hates to be strapped down or confined, and this includes car seats.  Getting there involved a good amount of screaming and crying for extended periods of time (almost 3 hours).  It wasn’t a surprise that her sleep schedule was going to get all screwy and cost us all some much needed sleep, but dammit we were going to the beach.

Sunday night was a particularly terrible night of sleep for all of us (sharing a guest room in a friend’s family home) and my little angel woke up at 4:45AM Monday morning and decided she was ready for the day at a completely ludicrous hour.  I spent about 30 minutes desperately trying to get her to go back to sleep while she alternated between happily jabbering at me or screaming at me for trying to lay her down.  I was laying there thinking about how pissed off I was to be awake and how I just wanted this kid to sleep when the sky outside our window suddenly turned a vivid orange.  I thought, screw it, if we are going to be awake, we’re going to see the sun rise over the beach.

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I have to tell you, we had so much ridiculous fun running away from the waves and pointing at dogs and watching the stunning sun rise in the sky.  And it really hit me how easily I could have missed this whole experience just being obsessed with getting my daughter to go back to sleep.  We played and we laughed and we had a blast, and then when the sun was swallowed up in the cloud cover we went back to the house and she fell back into a deep sleep.

Our pragmatism is part of what provides our children with the structure and space they need to thrive, but we can gain a lot by taking advantage of special moments and letting everything else fall away.  As much as it’s OK for motherhood to be hard and grueling, it’s also OK to chuck the rules out the window and have some fun with our kids every once in a while.

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The Real Reason I Think Breastfeeding is so Important

The Real Reason I Think Breastfeeding is so Important

*Before reading this article please note my prior posts on a healthy acknowledgement that not all moms/babies can breastfeed and that is perfectly OK.

There is a lot of information floating around about the benefits of breastfeeding.  There are all kinds of studies that will tell you that breastfed babies are smarter, breastfed babies are healthier, breastfed babies have lower chances of developing certain diseases later in life, etc.  Most of the benefits that are touted relate to the nutritional value of breast milk and its superiority to formula.  Although the immunological benefits come up as well.  But, depending on where these studies are conducted, some of the studies may reveal more about the long-term well being of children who are raised in homes that value breastfeeding, than the actual breast milk.  I’m not saying that’s the case, but I’m also going to say that we have a love/hate relationship with scientific studies and their results right now.  Not sure what I mean?  Read this brilliant Jezebel article on all the conflicting information you get as a pregnant woman (all citing scientific studies).  It’s the same for anything, people listen to and cite the research that supports their preconceived notions.

That being said, do I think breast  milk is nutritionally superior than formula?  For most kids yes.  Do I think that formula is a life long sentence to ill-health and low grades? No.  Like anything in life, being breastfed is one single influencing factor in a whole host of influencing factors.  So, why are almost all my blog posts about it and why does it matter to me so much that I breastfeed my baby and see other moms breastfeed theirs?  I’m going to warn you, my answer is pretty unscientific and I don’t (*gasp*) have any studies to back me up.

One of the few instincts that babies are born with is the rooting instinct.  There are several mouth reflexes that exist to encourage a baby to seek and find nourishment.  The design of our bodies (and theirs) is that they should root and find their mother’s nipple.  That child has spent the past 9 (or fewer) months inside their mother’s body.  Protected, ensconced, and perpetually cared for in their own perfect little ecosystem.  They come into this world through pain and effort and hard work.  The separation of the mother’s body from the baby’s is a really violent process.  I’m sure there are some that are relatively calm, but even if you had a peaceful birth there is blood and sweat and other bodily fluids all being spent in the effort of removing a part of the mother’s body so it can grow and flourish to be its own independent being.  And now the child is in a world it’s only known by proxy, and the way our species keeps surviving century after century is by developing a habit to immediately seek comfort, nourishment, and warmth at the mother’s breast.  Because both mom and baby need this as a way of sharing her body until they are both ready for their own space.  We come into this world the way we spend the rest of our lives, looking for connection. 

To me, being at a mother’s breast, hearing her heart beat, being held in her arms, being warmed by her presence is such a crucial initial reassurance for a child after the shock of birth.  And I say that as someone who could not provide that for my daughter for her first 4 days of life.  It’s a first indicator to this little person what the world outside the womb will be like.  Once we become pregnant our bodies immediately begin redirecting nutrition and energy away from ourselves and towards growing this little being inside of us.  Unless someone chose to terminate the pregnancy altogether we have no choice in how our body uses resources to grow a child.  We form a bond with this child inside us, but in a strange twist it’s very tentative because it’s inside us, which means we can’t see or touch or hear each other directly.  But, when a child is born a mother is faced with the choice of whether she wants to continue to give of her body to her child.  Breastfeeding is one crucial way (not the only way!) that a mother can do this.  She now has the choice to literally take calories, water, and energy from her own body to sustain her child.  This is really powerful, it’s a physical manifestation of a deep and serious commitment.

Love and connection are not bound by practices and rituals, and especially the love of a mother for her child can never be contained or restrained by one act.  For me breastfeeding is a serious act of love and dedication to my daughter and an oath to be my best as a mother.  This is more important than whatever nutritional and immunological benefits are gained from breastfeeding.  Scientific studies are great, but they’ve never had the final word on anything.  As women and mothers we can tap into a deep and intuitive understanding of what is best for those under our care, and that’s why I choose to breastfeed.

 

 

Breastfeeding: System Failures not Mom Failures

Breastfeeding: System Failures not Mom Failures

I talk a lot about breastfeeding, mainly because I’ve spent the past year plus of my life nursing my daughter 6-12 times a day, so I end up thinking about it a lot.  Which means I’ve read a lot of articles about breastfeeding, I’ve watched all the documentaries and I belong to several virtual and real life breastfeeding support groups.  And of course anyone who is paying attention to trending blog posts and media discussions will see that one of the issues at the crux of the “mommy wars” is breastfeeding vs formula feeding.  For the sake of this blog post let’s put aside the moms who decide in advance that breastfeeding isn’t for them and they aren’t interested in trying.

What we have left are moms who exclusively breastfeed, exclusively pump, pump and breastfeed, breastfeed and supplement with formula, and moms who tried to breastfeed but ended up exclusively feeding their babies formula.  Often moms who have exclusively fed their infants breast milk know that bad information early in the breastfeeding relationship can totally derail breastfeeding and negatively affect milk supply.  As a result, when another mom says she is sad that she “just doesn’t make enough” and needs to either supplement or switch to exclusively formula feeding, a bunch of other moms jump in to see if she is drinking enough water, eating enough calories, feeding on demand, power pumping, getting a good latch, seeing a lactation consultant… etc etc until the message that mom starts to hear in her head is “this is your fault, you could be doing something different and succeed”.  And the truth is that according to research, a very small percentage of women biologically and medically cannot produce enough milk to feed their babies.

However, I would posit that a more important truth is that new mothers who want to breastfeed get either very little information, bad information, or tons of conflicting information before and immediately after their babies are born.  We’ll start with my personal experience and then examine some of the feedback I’ve heard from other moms directly.  I was relatively prepared before my daughter was born.  My mother breastfed and promised to be a resource to me.  I took a birthing class that covered breastfeeding.  I watched two breastfeeding documentaries, one while pregnant, the other a few weeks postpartum.  My obstetrician asked me if I intended to breastfeed once, I said yes, she literally never talked to me about it again.

My obstetrician asked me if I intended to breastfeed once, I said yes, she literally never talked to me about it again.

That’s right.  The doctor who is supposed to be trained in all things women’s health and baby birthing never discussed the potential issues I might face and where to find good/vetted information.  She verified that I had good intentions and then left me to sort through the information I encountered from other moms, nurses, Dr. Google, and well-meaning strangers on my own.  Then my daughter was born and she was immediately whisked to the NICU.  So now I had three lactation consultants and four postpartum nurses coming in every four hours or so giving me different instructions on how often I should pump, what flange size I should use, and how to care for my nipples.  Thankfully I knew enough to ignore some of the bad advice I received in those first three days postpartum.  Fast forward a week and my little girl is discharged from the hospital (hurray!) we go home, she gains weight, everyone says, “great job!”.  Meanwhile I feel like my nipples are going to fall off and I’m using every healing treatment I can find to keep that from happening because I’m so determined that I won’t let anything derail us from breastfeeding a full year.  Finally, I have a full on breakdown around four weeks postpartum and I look online for a local lactation consultant to come and help me.

The first woman who comes to my house is clearly nervous and she’s making me nervous and she’s making my daughter nervous.  She goes through her weight checks and watches us nurse and makes a few suggestions, but at the end of the visit says, “Hmm, I’m really not sure what’s wrong.”  I was NOT a happy camper.  Finally, I ask my pediatrician for a lactation consultant recommendation and I get Lisa.  Oh, what a difference Lisa makes.  It doesn’t take her long to identify a tongue and lip tie, and soon we have schedule a procedure to get it corrected, and while I still had issues for another 6 months, it was enough to get us to one year!

Now, let’s take what other moms have going on.  They have daycare providers who are imposing formula guidelines on them because they don’t understand how breastfeeding is different.  They have pediatricians who don’t understand much about breastfeeding and give them terrible advice.  They have postpartum nurses who are trying to formula feed their babies against their wishes.  They have mothers and aunts who never breastfed and don’t support it and work against them at every turn.  They have husbands/partners who see their breasts as sexual and want them to stop because they seem to have this wrong idea in their head that as the partner they “own” these breasts.

Some of the most harmful misinformation is coming from medical professionals.  When a mom receives bad advice from a medical professional she is put in a position of going “rogue” and going against the advice she receives in order to do what she feels may be best for her and her baby.  Now she feels like she’s taking a risk and the truth is that if motherhood does anything to a woman, it makes her risk averse.  Especially when it comes to her brand new baby.

So, what’s the more important truth here?  The more important truth is that moms haven’t failed to breastfeed, we have a system that has failed to support them in their breastfeeding goals.  We have told them that “breast is best” and they should strive to exclusively breastfeed.  But then we haven’t educated our obstetricians, our pediatricians, our nurses, all of our medical professionals about how to help a woman succeed in lactation.  We’ve set a goal for moms and we have failed to give them adequate support.  On one hand we are supposed to be able to trust the medical advice given to us by those who have spent their lives studying how our bodies work and how to care for them.  On the other hand if you talk to breastfeeding moms you’ll know they’ve had to ignore all kinds of advice from medical experts in order to successfully breastfeed.  And then when they don’t meet that goal, with often really good intentions to help, we’ve essentially told them they are to blame.  We’ve set moms up to fail, and then we put this crushing pressure and guilt on them to make up for the major flaws of our maternal health system. 

Let’s eliminate guilt from our conversations about maternal health.  It’s not helping.  It’s always hurting.  And then let’s focus all the good, constructive energy we have to make the maternal health system better and stop nitpicking our friends, coworkers, relatives about their mothering choices.

 

The Stanford Rapist and the Women’s Safety Discussion

The Stanford Rapist and the Women’s Safety Discussion

The nation has turned on Brock Turner and the judge who broke precedent to give him a disgustingly light sentence, as well they should.  The victim bravely made her voice heard and her bravery has already done much to advance the discussion of rape in our country.  I have seen so many male bloggers/columnists talking about how, at an appropriate age, they’ll be reading the victim’s letter to their sons to help them understand the devastation sexual assault has on the victim.  Brock Turner, his father, and his lawyers are all trying to blame the whole situation on alcohol, as though Brock had no control over what happened that night.  His lawyers were also attempting to underhandedly assassinate the victim’s character as though she was somehow responsible for what happened to her.

Most of the thought pieces in response to this even I’ve seen are encouraging parents to address sexual assault and consent with their sons.  This makes so much sense and should absolutely be a part of sex education.  I’ll say it again sexual assault and consent should absolutely be a part of sex education.  Brock Turner’s father’s response to his conviction and sentencing made it painfully clear to everyone how his son could drag a drunk woman behind a dumpster, violate her, get caught, and then only think about the damage done to his own life and future.  It was so obvious that his father could never even imagine the kind of damage sexual assault does to a person.  And so, as we’re all thinking, “How do we prevent this?!” we are right to say, educate our children on the rights and wrongs of consent.  But, the reality is that this protects the next generation of women.  Educating the current generation of young men doesn’t protect the thousands of women who will be sexually assaulted now, this month, this year.

I hear the people who are saying that women shouldn’t have to worry about going to a party and getting raped, shouldn’t have to worry about going to lunch with a coworker and being drugged, shouldn’t have to worry… And I understand what they are saying.  What they are saying is that we shouldn’t accept this as status quo.  We shouldn’t just accept that this is going to happen and not do everything in our power to prevent sexual assault.  But, the truth is, we do have to worry AND we shouldn’t accept the status quo.  Personally, nearly every woman I’ve been close enough to that we share secrets has been sexually violated or had someone attempt to sexually assault them.  I truly believe that the women who go through life and haven’t experienced at least a rape attempt are rare.  We cannot and should not accept this! 

We also have to prepare ourselves and our daughters for what happens when someone, man or woman, attempts to take from us what we do not want to give.  A rape prevention program in Canada recently made the news as one of the first successful tactics in lowering campus sexual assault incidences.  Yes, it does require women to educate themselves and practice how they would handle inappropriate or violent sexual advances.  Yes, this does put some of the ownership for a woman’s safety in her own hands.  Yes, it requires women to recognize and avoid unsafe situations or take precautions.   NO, lack of this education or training should NOT be a reason to try and blame a woman for being a victim of sexual assault.  YES, the fault of a rape still is and always will be the rapist’s! 

We have to approach this both ways or we fail the current and future victims.  We must educate the next generation about consent and we must help women protect themselves now, today.  These strategies are not mutually exclusive and really have the greatest promise of reducing sexual assault numbers when practiced together.

Women’s Health: Ideals vs. Reality

This isn’t news to any of you I’m sure, but people are always trying to tell women what they should and shouldn’t do with their bodies.  Maybe because we house the mechanism for the continuation of our species?  Perhaps this makes people think they have the right to be laying down these absolute edicts about how we look, how we care for our unborn and then born children, how we birth those children, how we attract (or don’t) attract mates.  Somehow it’s all public domain, and of course everyone has strong opinions on whether you are doing it right.

The reality of the matter produces a difficult situation: listening to the contradicting–and often disapproving–messages leave us constantly questioning ourselves.  We don’t need studies from hygiene products’ marketing departments to tell us that this becomes harmful to our self-image very quickly.  When it comes to women’s health there are pervasive ideas about how a woman’s body “should” function.  These expectations produce damaging results when our bodies and images don’t comply with societal norms. Most damaging results of these expectations  is that if our bodies don’t comply with these societal norms, the assumption is that we are somehow responsible.

I think this concept is most obvious in giving birth.  Many women (myself included) want to have a “natural birth”, this means giving birth without any interventions or pain relief.  There are tons of books, articles and websites out there coaching and preparing women to give birth “naturally”.  Many of these sources also blame ill-informed or indifferent doctors and uneducated mothers for the high rate of births that need interventions.  The hope is that if you do all the right kinds of stretching and mental preparation and you have a great birth plan with your doctor/midwife that you will reduce the risk of infant mortality and have a beautiful drug-free  bond with your baby and you will feel like an Earth Goddess.  I strongly believe that the original blueprint for the female body has a really great system for bringing a baby into this world.  But we live in a world full of imperfections.  Our bodies fail us in all kinds of ways from dry skin to anxiety to common colds to asthma (the list obviously goes on and on and on).  Why would we not think it’s realistic to expect imperfections in carrying and delivering another human being?  One of the most stressful physical feats our bodies will ever undergo.  And this seems obvious (to me at least), but the first assumption when something goes sideways with women’s health, is that the woman is responsible.  Needed an intervention when you gave birth?  Well, did you try spinning babies to get your infant in the optimal birthing position?  Did you do this, or that, or this?

Somehow the blame always comes back on us, like we could have prevented this.  Like we should have prevented this.  It’s the same with breastfeeding, pregnancy, weight gain, weight loss, aging, you name it.  If you are a woman and your body cooperated (easy pregnancy, successful breastfeeding, met fitness goals) then it’s easy to think that everyone should be able to attain the ideal, because well you did it, so can everyone else.  The worst is healthcare providers or partners who also witness one woman who was successful and then holds all other women to the same standard.  OR you see that many women aren’t able to attain the ideal and decide we should eliminate an ideal all together in order to level the playing field.  This follows the logic that women have lots of expectations and pressure put on them as it is, why add any additional stress?

I know it’s really unsexy to be balanced and pragmatic, but how about this.  What if we all shoot for the ideal, BUT also educate ourselves and each other about the realistic road blocks we may encounter?  It is good and healthy that we strive to do the best for ourselves and our families, we should be striving for an ideal!  I recently framed my thoughts this way to another mom who was upset at the prospect of having to supplement breastfeeding her child with formula, “Be kind to yourself Mama! You are amazing! Take the pressure off yourself to be perfect, love yourself for wanting to give your baby everything you can, and then continue to love yourself when you reach your limit. We all have to ‘supplement’ in one category or another.”  Humans are complex creatures, and we can house in ourselves the ability to strive for an ideal, fail, reach out for help, but love and respect ourselves for wanting the best.  We don’t have to kill the ideal in order to practice self-love.  What we absolutely need to do is set realistic expectations for ourselves and other women.  We need to assume that others are doing their absolute best until proven otherwise and support them in their goals as best we can.

Today’s women face really interesting challenges regardless of what they want to do.  The social structure that used to house gender norms has been entirely upset.  As a result we have a lot of freedom, but often not much support.  And on top of that, everyone has an opinion on what we should be doing.  It is good that we have healthy science-based discussions with each other on best practices for all realms of women’s health and it’s also good that we respect each others’ preferences and circumstances.  What’s making it harder for us to stand together and bridge rifts is when we project our own experiences onto others and hold them to unattainable ideals AND when we think discarding the ideals all together will make everyone feel better.  Neither of these options will inspire us to reach for the best option and be better to each other.  We can help each other by being honest about the challenges we face with women’s health.  This includes difficulty getting pregnant, miscarriages, terrible pregnancies, traumatic deliveries, difficulty breastfeeding, issues with contraception, and the list goes on.  When a woman you trust and admire puts a face and a heart to one of these issues you are much more likely to be kind to yourself because you remember being kind to her!  We don’t have to avoid tough topics in order to build solidarity and feminine community.

I still believe that the ideal birth takes place without drugs or interventions.  And I can truly never know if I would have prepared better/differently in my pregnancy whether I could have had that ideal.  What I do know is that during pregnancy and delivery my body didn’t do what it was “supposed” to do and it needed help.  I live in a day and age when that help is available (how great is that?) and I took it with both hands.  I could worry endlessly whether I did everything I should have to get the best result possible (and I did for a few weeks after my daughter’s birth).  But at the end of the day I live a life with an imperfect body and imperfect circumstances.  To think I can control all of that is harmful and counterproductive.  Thankfully I had an incredible birth class instructor who prepared us for both for the ideal set of circumstances and the less than ideal set of circumstances.  I plan on trying the whole pregnancy thing at least once more and I’ll shoot for the “ideal” again, but I will also forgive my body it’s imperfections and love myself for wanting the best if it all goes south again.

Love yourself when you succeed, love yourself when you fail, and make space to share your experiences with other women.

Death to Impostor Syndrome

son of manI recently participated in a fairly well attended women’s professional conference.  I was pleasantly surprised at the experience and quality of the speakers, panelists, and sessions.  But as the day progressed and the panelists delivered their presentations, I noticed a theme emerging in the messages from speaker after speaker. Each woman confessed to suffering from Impostor Syndrome.  If you aren’t familiar with Impostor Syndrome it’s the feeling that you aren’t entirely qualified or sufficiently competent to hold your position or do your job, despite your objective qualifications, and that at any moment your boss and colleagues will discover your lack of capability.  Women experience Impostor Syndrome despite their work history, professional credentials, or educational qualifications.  Implicit in the concept is the idea that those feelings and impressions are misplaced and unrealistic. Paradoxically, to be a victim of Impostor Syndrome, those feelings need to be objectively erroneous.  I walked away from the conference and turned to a colleague saying, “I have to start a Meetup or something for women who don’t identify as impostors; I’m starting to feel like that may be a very small group of professional women.”

While there may be many professionals, male and female, who suffer from Impostor Syndrome, it feels like a new version of a very old trick of female socialization.  The classic move, as brilliantly showcased in Amy Schumer’s sketch show, is to respond to compliments by putting yourself down.  It’s something that women do to keep other women from feeling inferior and to keep everyone feeling that they are on equal footing.  It is an incredibly unhealthy way for women to interact with each other.  I’ve been guilty of engaging in this behavior when I didn’t want to rock the boat.  We learn very early on the playground that to accept a compliment is to make enemies.

Now move to present day in the world of women and work.  We have writers and research telling us that women are less likely to ask for raises and promotions and the resources they need to do their jobs.  We also know that despite the fact that we’ve taken over the collegiate scene, we still can’t seem to get women into many leadership positions in companies across America.  And despite articles from Buzzfeed covering women struggling to engage in male behavior that benefits their own self interest, which I truly can’t even begin to understand, I get the feeling that maybe with all this awareness of how typically male behaviors are rewarded in the workplace and typically female behaviors are not, that we must be getting somewhere?  Maybe we are starting to understand that some of the classic roles that women have assumed in our society are holding us back in our careers.  But, then I attended this conference.  And I realized, we’ve brought many of these behaviors with us into our careers.  Instead of someone saying, “Oh, Sarah, your hair is so beautiful and shiny” and Sarah says, “Ugh, it’s so frizzy, I hate it, it never does what I want,” now we say “Sarah, you are so successful, how do you do it!?” and Sarah says, “I have Impostor Syndrome!  I’m sure I’m totally incompetent!”

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How do we break this need to be down on ourselves in order to make others feel better?  We can’t set a better example of women in the workplace for our younger counterparts until we can be unapologetic about our success.  I can’t speak for every other woman, and I certainly don’t claim to be some great success.  I have achieved a moderate amount of success given my age and education, and I’m certainly no Sheryl Sandberg or Marissa Mayer.  But I know what I am and I gladly own it.  I don’t want to apologize for being an assertive woman in business, and I don’t think that other women should either.  We have to stop taking responsibility for how others feel.  It can be an incredibly valuable quality to have in our personal lives, and empathy is an asset in business and helps guide us to make more ethical decisions; however, we take it too far when we put ourselves down in an attempt to make others feel more comfortable.  It takes conscious unlearning of “social smoothing” behaviors to change this.

Perhaps you truly have Impostor Syndrome, and if that’s the case, certainly don’t deny it for the “cause”.  But I would question whether many professional women really feel like impostors, or whether they think copping to a syndrome will make their successes more accessible to men and women alike.  I don’t advocate being intentionally unpleasant to make some sort of feminist point, but if we’re going to expand common perceptions of how a woman can and should behave, we need to stop coming up with subtle ways to apologize for and undermine our accomplishments.  In the short-term that is sometimes going to be perceived as “brash”, “bossy”, or “pushy”.  If you are a successful woman in your career you have probably encountered these words at some point.  In the long-term, hopefully by refusing to undermine ourselves and other women, we can change the broader perception of strong, assertive, successful women.

The “Type A” Way to Deal with Working Mom Guilt

I am a first time mom of a beautiful 9 month old little girl.  I am also 1 of 3 moms in my entire company, and 2 of us got pregnant within 4 weeks of each other.  The 3rd mom was hired 3 months before I was due, so the working mom/employer dynamic is new for all of us.  I remember talking to the other pregnant mom when I was around 7 months pregnant about childcare.  I had no clue what I was going to do.  The idea of daycare depressed me so much and instead of researching childcare centers in my area I was putting off the decision as much as possible.  My coworker on the other hand had her daycare picked out and her son’s spot reserved by the time she was 6 months pregnant!

Fast forward 5 months, my (generous) maternity leave was coming to an end and I still had no childcare plan in place.  I looked at my sweet little baby who was so happy, but also so helpless and I just couldn’t imagine handing her to a stranger and walking away every day.  So, I went to my employer and asked for some flexibility.  I sent them a proposal replete with research on bringing babies to work and I suggested that I jigsaw together a work schedule that included working from home, bringing my little girl to work, and taking advantage of my husband’s academic schedule by leaving her at home with him.  I never got a formal approval, but I also never got a formal denial.  This is super important, don’t assume that your employers know what you want or what you need.  If you’ve identified a way that you can creatively meet your needs AND your employers’ ask!  The worst that can happen is they say “no”.

So, I started bringing my daughter to work.  I LOVED it.  For those months it worked out very well, she made everyone smile, she was mostly pretty quiet, and when she was noisy they were happy sounds.  I would cover her stroller with a snow cover and she would conk out for 45 minutes to an hour.  Truth be told, I also felt like Wonder Woman.  For once my fatal procrastination had bought me something incredible, 3 extra precious months with my baby.  Around the 5 month mark this arrangement became impossible.  Highly social and easily distracted my little girl couldn’t sleep anywhere but at home and she wanted to be rolling from room to room which was especially impossible with our office undergoing renovations.  I realized that I had to find an alternate solution.

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Working from my couch with a sleeping baby on my chest.

Incredibly I found a mom just around the corner from me on a mommy listserv who ran an in-home daycare and was looking to take on another child.  At first I was skeptical, until I found out that she watched our pediatrician’s children too!  Then I met her and her beautiful family and I literally can’t imagine a better place for my daughter to go play.  The older girls call her their “cousin”, and they squeal with joy when they see us coming down the street.  At first I tried to keep it to just 8-15 hours per week.  But, by January of this year I was approached about a promotion, and the official conversation finally came up.  What was I going to do about my schedule and childcare?

At first I was panicked, I wasn’t ready to be away from my daughter for 40 hours a week!  I love being a working mom, I really enjoy my job, but being in my daughter’s life is the most important thing to me.  I sat down with my boss and proposed that I keep 2 mornings each week to work from home and be with my baby.  They graciously accepted under the condition (of course) that it had to work.  I needed to be effective in my position.  So now I’m away from my daughter for 32 hours a week, and those first 2 weeks I hated myself.  I have never experienced anything like that before.  I am generally a pretty confident person, I examine my life decisions carefully before making them, and so I don’t often find times when I dislike myself or my actions.  But, I kept asking myself over and over “If my daughter is spending most of her time with someone else, what makes me her mother?”  I had answers, but none of them made me feel better.  I nurse my daughter, that’s something that only we do, but still that wasn’t sufficient.  I carried her for 9 months, but she doesn’t remember that.  I thought about this over and over again.  I cried at work while I pumped.  I talked to coworkers who were parents and they mostly said, “yeah, it sucks”.  I was so miserable I thought about quitting my job and getting a part-time job somewhere and totally derailing my career.

But, I couldn’t accept any of these realities as acceptable.  I really didn’t want to quit my job, especially after they had been so supportive of me through a difficult pregnancy and then when I refused to put my daughter in daycare.  I also could not imagine living with the guilt that my life choices were negatively affecting my daughter or our relationship.  I kept obsessing over a way to find a solution.  I may not have solved the whole working mom reality, but I did actually do something that made me feel better.

I decided to determine a measurable indicator of success.  I sat down and I calculated the average number of hours my daughter was awake each day and each week.  I then decided that I wanted my daughter to spend at least 60% of her waking hours with me each week.  So, I figured out how many hours that was and what?!  Wouldn’t you know, it turned out that the schedule I had made was already allowing me to spend at least 60% of her waking hours together.

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My little worksheet!

I felt so relieved!  She already was spending the majority of her time with me.  But without that information, that wasn’t how I felt.  I felt like a failure.  When I decided to quantify my success as a working mom, suddenly I realized that I had already achieved the balance I was looking for.

The numbers made me feel better, however my greatest lesson as a working mom is that in order to survive and make the most of every hour of the day I need to be present in every moment.  When I’m at work I need to be effective and present and enjoy the social and intellectual stimulus (which is one of my main reasons for continuing to work in the first place).  When I’m at home with the baby, I try to ignore chores and spend as much time on the floor playing with her and making her my focus.  Once I stopped stressing about the baby at work and about work when I was home with the baby everything clicked into place.  I felt like my time with my daughter was quality and that her emotional needs were being met and I felt like I was contributing quality work at the office.

Our children come to us in a state of total dependence, but their growth is a slow and steady move towards total independence.  I’ve found it healthy to remember that as long as their time away from mom is spent in a loving, caring environment that it can be a huge benefit to baby as much as mom.  My daughter is so socially driven that she gets cranky when she’s stuck in the house with me all day.  And for her that time with other kids is invaluable.  It is so tempting to feel that as mothers we are everything our children should want or need.  But we provide them with the foundation of unconditional love and care that allows them to feel confident in pursuing their own interests, even as early as 9 months.

Every mom has to define success differently based on her relationship with her children, her available support, and her own understanding of her family.  What I want other working moms to realize, is we are probably doing better at accomplishing our goals than we realize.  It can be easy to assume we are shortchanging our employers or shortchanging our children, all at the expense of our own sanity.  We can’t ever do it perfectly, we all certainly drop the ball somewhere, sometimes.  But, if we take a moment to look at what we are really accomplishing every week and every day, I think we’ll find that we’re actually kind of impressed with what we make happen.  We also have to advocate for ourselves!  The American work culture for the most part does not support our needs as mothers and women.  We must demand that it change to accommodate our needs.  For ourselves, for our families, and for our children who may one day be parents in this country too.