Tag Archives: maternity leave

Being a working Mum (part 1)

Ready for work

Ready for work

Well, this was the week that I returned to the office full time. Sam turned 8 weeks on Sunday, and I returned on Wednesday 2nd January.  I was dreading it. Full on dreading it. I grew up expecting, witnessing and delightedly anticipating 6-8 months of maternity leave. And, I got 5 days off followed by 5 weeks working from home (popping into the office ~3 times a week) and then 2 weeks off for Christmas. I loved being off completely – Sam is a delight, and was wonderful to be at home with. I reveled in full-on Mum-hood and it was enormous fun, and vastly rewarding to slip into the ‘Mum’ role: being there with him, making curtains, nesting at home.

Being Mum

Being a Mum

What I didn’t like so much was trying to work from home, and feeling unproductive and slow. I felt I was not being a great Mum (I was with Sam, but not doing lots of ‘Mum’ things) and I wasn’t being a great Scientist (I just kept my projects rolling along, I didn’t do anything new). Still, I often cried at the thought of returning to work and being away form Sam.

But that was it: I cried at the thought of being away from Sam. The big return happened at the end of a UT-sponsored 11 day Christmas break. No work, no trips to the office, often: no getting dressed 🙂 It was great, but it was not ‘me’. I like structure and progress and achievement. Come the dreaded January 2nd, I actually looked forward to getting dressed up, getting out of the house on time, and being totally focused on something for me – until that point everything was either done with Sam, or with the consciousness that Sam was nearby, and the unavoidable tendency to run to him at to his every wail.

Time to get out of PJs

Both of us at about 3 pm one day. It was time to get out of PJs 🙂

Yes, I actually looked forward to leaving my son. I looked forward to being productive. I looked forward to achieving. I looked forward to talking about things that didn’t involve spit or poop. I looked forward to doing Science – I truly love and believe in the value of what I do.   So, I journeyed off to work with some trepidation, but mainly, excitement.

And it was good. So much fell into place – so much of me came back. Like healthy eating. I knew my breakfast had to sustain me so I made something wholesome and nourishing (I won’t reveal the number of McDonald’s egg biscuits I ate for breakfast on my 11 day break, but it rhymes with schmeleven). I had to take lunch in, so I was motivated to make something healthy. I washed my hair and I did my make up. I felt like I got back to being me.

That's better

That’s better

And I had a ball at work. Partly because of the long break, partly because I knew I had much less time than before, and partly (mainly) because I was there instead of with my son – I worked my butt off. It was like I had to justify being away from him, by doing something equally as valuable. Facebook was off, except for lunch / tea breaks, and personal emails were largely filed away under ‘to be answered at the weekend’. Every day 1 pm arrived before I even noticed.

Sam shopping without his mama :(

Sam shopping without his mama 😦

Granted, about then, I start to really miss Sam. By 2 pm, I miss him enough that it hurts. But I demand some extra pictures / updates from Wes. I see how happy Sam is and I just count down the hours until 4.

Pretty happy little monkey

One pretty happy little monkey

I am not saying it is ideal. I am not saying that given the choice, I would not have a more UK-style maternity leave. I am not saying that I don’t think an extended maternity leave would in fact be better for Sam (as suggested by the bulk of Scientific evidence, which also shows that it would be better for me). I am just saying that there are advantages.

*My milk supply is better because I pump at a scheduled time each day, and pump past empty.

Pumping. It's a love-hate thing.

Pumping. It’s a love-hate thing.

*I have now spent time investing in proper morning and evening routines. That time does not pass by now without every second being valued. In the morning Sam and I wake up at 7 (Sam would like to sleep until 8.30 – not happening buddy!).We play and cuddle for 20 mins then I change and dress him. We go downstairs and I make / eat breakfast (Wes holds him while I nip upstairs and dress like lightening) and then I breastfeed Sam, and pump. He goes to his Dad, full and sleepy and I go to work.

Monkey is actually awake here... he is just pretending to sleep. Seriously.

Monkey is actually awake here… he is just pretending to sleep. Seriously.

In the evening, I get home and breastfeed when I walk in the door (usually I top up with pumped milk). Sam and I play (or I might go for a short run, followed by play) until 6, and then we have serious bath-time. He and I climb in together and laze in the bath for up to 30 mins 🙂 Then it is PJ time, story time and feeding time, and down for bed. I make every second of that time count. It is wonderful time that otherwise was rushed through, or passed off to Wes.

Bath time of awesomeness.

Bath time of awesomeness.

*Wes is happier as it helps him have a routine, and be productive himself. It makes us more of a partnership as we are a real team in this, and also gives me something interesting to talk to him about. I don’t watch much news, don’t really follow any sports anymore, and now I have something in my conversation other than babies. And it puts me in a better mood (unless I have had a bad day at work, but hey, you can’t have everything).

Husband and wife :)

Husband and wife 🙂

It is certainly not easy. It may not be what I would choose. But, I am happier than I was when staying at home (more content? Probably not). When it does get hard (Friday was hard, after 2 pm is REALLY hard) I remind myself of these advantages. I remind myself that Sam still responds in a really special way to me: he has a special calmness for me, and an amazing smile which he refuses to give to anyone but me or his Dad.

Oh that smile

Oh that smile

I also remind myself that when I pictured my family I didn’t picture something as dependent or as needy as an infant. I pictured a more independent child – running about, exploring, socializing and sharing his / her view of the world with me. I pictured three or more people, each having their own experiences, and sharing that, so that they could learn from and grow with each other. I looked forward to us all giving equally and contributing to the family dynamic.

It’s an unusual set-up, and I am surprised it works so well. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but I might choose it for me. In a way, it is also sad. We have all grown-up. Being at home was like being in a lovely cocoon of Mummyhood. And it kept Sam so young: he didn’t have to have bottles, he didn’t have to have a routine, and everything could be deliciously focused on him.

But, ultimately, my contribution to my family, to the world and to myself lies in my work. My Science. My teaching. It makes me me and I am glad to have it back. In essence, I remind myself that I have been gifted the very dream I wanted all along – just a little earlier in Sam’s life than planned 🙂

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34 & 35 weeks! And our maternity leave plans

34 week bump

Nearly 35 weeks! Officially 5 to go, so I guess we are looking at a 3-7 week time frame, which seems VERY SOON. It is hitting me that I will miss being pregnant. I will miss my bump, miss the ‘pregnancy look’, miss how much I love Oreos 🙂 OK, OK, I will also totally miss Wes running around after me too. I am still feeling great, but I do tire out more, which frustrates me. I am just back from a conference in San Antonio, and the sessions were 7am – 7.30 pm. Plus, some social/work dinners in the evening. I HAD to crash out most afternoons, and spend 3-6 in the hotel room, having a nap and then resting. Which annoyed me, but I guess is par for the course this late on. I also realized that I work super hard all week, fading a bit by Friday, and then crash at the weekend with at least one duvet day. The conference was Thurs-Mon, so I didn’t get a weekend, and I think that was part of the problem. In the grand scheme of things, it is not really a problem though: I got a lot out of the conference and had a great time.

5 weeks to go!

So… 5 (3-7) weeks to go, eh? I am mostly done with my crazy / crusty birth prep plans. I am just focusing on (1) some good positioning: finishing up my chiropractic treatment, brief daily inversions (20 seconds), pelvic tilts and trying to sleep in a good position (I failed to do this in the hotel); (2) My squats are going to start in earnest now – I am challenging myself to 300 a day (!); (3) getting good sleep in each night (it is frustrating that I can’t work and write grants late into the night at the moment, but it is so); and, finally, (4) eating 6 dates a day.

6 dates a day I hear you say? WTF? Yeah, really! check it out:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21280989

Can’t do any harm, and is probably nutritionally better than the Oreo / cake / ice cream sugar fixes I seem to have become dependent on.

We have been keeping up with our weekly ultrasounds. It’s good and bad. The good: Firework is doing awesomely, and passes his biophysical profile way quicker than expected. He also seems to maintain a good position: head down, starting to get into the pelvis, and facing towards my back. The not so good news is that the fluid is increasing, when it is supposed to be decreasing at this stage. So, when the OB’s view that I was ‘on the charts, just not a very good position on the charts’, has been refined to ‘off the charts’. The great chart of acceptability (my term) decided that women’s amniotic fluid should be under 20, but goes up to 25. I was hovering at around 23, so the high-risk OB said ‘eh… it’s not great, some people would let it fly, we’ll just watch you.’ This week it was up to 27…

What does this mean? No idea. Risk of premature labor, but at this stage, I am not too worried about it. Baby could go into distress… but he really does seem a happy little chappy. The most worrying thing is that the force of all the water, when it breaks, gushing out of me could cause a cord prolapse (DON’T GOOGLE IT UNLESS YOU HAVE TO, it’s not good. Seriously not good). So, when I see my OB in 1.5 weeks, I will talk to her about whether I should come straight into hospital when labor starts, rather than labor at home, as is my desire. At least then I would be in a good place to uh… ‘mop up’ and damage caused by gushing water. Yeah, terrible pun.

So, we don’t know what it means, other than that my bump is fairly ginormous, and I am carrying around an extra 2 lbs of water, which is theoretically harder on my body. But as my weight gain is still 20-21 lbs, I can’t really complain, eh?

Big Mamma 🙂

But still so many blessings to count. With my very wonky, and very small pelvis and my excess fluid I was extremely likely to have a weirdly placed baby. Not so: as I said, he is head down and facing back. I truly do attribute this to spinning babies and the chiropractic. And feeling great still: lots of energy, no backache, and I can even sleep on my front or back should my body so desire (weird image, I know).

34 week bump

So, with not much to report, I will discuss our maternity leave plans. In the grand old scheme of things, there is no maternity leave in Texas. I come from a culture where all my friends were home for 8 months with their baby, and it was just unheard of to put a baby in daycare until 6 months at least (actually, I was at a childminders before then, but I don’t know of anyone since). We can’t afford an in-home nanny, all our family are far away, and the thought of putting our wee one in group daycare when he was very wee, was just not something I could sit with. I pass no judgement on how anyone else chooses to raise their child. I personally think MY baby needs a full-time at-home experience for 6 (or maybe I need that – who knows?), preferably with a parent (at least until he gets some object permanence). But, I think of myself as a ‘true’ feminist: that is, I am for promoting equality (even if you have to give allowances to one sex to help them achieve that equality), not just women’s rights: so I had no reason to think one parent would be any better than another. So my husband and I put our heads together and figured Wes would stay home with Firework. My plan is to work from home for a good 6 weeks, going in as I am able and when I am needed: then back to full time. Wes will have the little un.

In fact, given Firework’s timing with my job change, we knew we had about 5 months in Texas before his arrival. 5 months in which (assuming a dip in productivity when FW arrives) I had to work like a proverbial to make up for any lost productivity. Wes would presumably take a few weeks to find a job… a week to start. 3 months of him working just didn’t seem worth it. So he stayed at home from the get-go, preparing to take on the job of raising Firework on a day to day basis.

So… I know a lot of people wonder: how has that worked out? How has it been? Obviously there was an adjustment period (for both of us) and that was a little tough – we moved tired and hormonal. I had a new job to adjust to, and a whole host of new responsibilities. Wes had a new life to adjust to. There was the odd fight 🙂 But… we did adjust. I dealt with some of my jealousy that Wes’ weekends are truly his weekends: I often have little ‘tasks’ to do (boring shopping, tidying my study etc) that I wish didn’t encroach upon my free time. Wes dealt with the fact that being at home could be boring, and that it does involve tasks you really don’t want to do – like all jobs. He says that on balance, he prefers it (being at home). I say on, on balance, no question: I prefer it.

Overall, it has been awesome for us, and in ways I didn’t expect. While driving to San Antonio, I had to think: was this choice worth the $2,000 Wes might bring in per month, plus the $400 we had to find for medical coverage? When it comes to raising your child in the manner you choose: of course, no question. But now, before the child? It has still been eye-openingly wonderful to me. I love feeling so cared for: Wes cooks dinner (and is getting really good at it!), and does most of the chores, so he helps me so much: he always knows where X item of clothing is and what foods I really like eating (like, he notices the foods I claim to like, but shove around my plate: hello most vegetables 😉 ). He knows a day-to-day side of me that he was just too tired or busy to see before. Also, Wes ‘maxes out’ easily: after a day from work he might watch a show or two with me, but mostly he wanted to zone out, play video games and surf the net. I ‘max out’ too: but when I max out, I want to talk and be near him. Now, when I come home exhausted and stressed, Wes is ready to spend time with me. We have just sat and talked and shared trashy TV and lazed on the sofa together way more in the last 4 months in Texas, than the last 2 years in Alabama. We’re closer. We ‘get’ each other more (although we still sit firmly on opposite sides of the political divide). It’s nice. In fact, it is wonderful. It is a glimpse of a life that yes, I think is worth upwards of $2,500 a month – although we are not exactly rich, and I baulk even as I type it. And, I recognize that I am lucky enough to have a job where I can afford to type that – you know?

I guess, I feel very grateful that I really now am living the life I wanted to lead when I threw away my 13-year long law school dream. I said I wanted to do something different: I wanted to (1) do something that made a good difference to people’s lives and (2) have a family life. A real, someone-at-home, close knit, advert family-life. But life gets in the way of that: academia is not so conducive to not only being home, but giving your all when at home. I feel very blessed to have the opportunity to try the lifestyle I dreamed of growing up and to find that it worked for me.

Oh, Wes thinks my belly has ‘dropped’ – do you? Is he coming soon?

Image credits

http://www.fitnessandfuel-la.com/2011/07/baking-with-dates-to-reduce-calories-sugar-and-fat/