Baby · Goals · Toddlerhood · Values · Working Motherhood

Back to Work (the Life of a Working Breastfeeding Mom!), Family Update, and Sam at 4 Months Old

I have some “big feelings” to share. Ari also has been having some big feelings this morning, lying face down on the floor in the hall at school while I dropped Sam off, then yelling loudly but not talking or using any words in his own classroom before I sad goodbye. I’m assuming it’s related to my return to work, and probably also to my own sadness and anger about going back to work. If I want to help Ari deal with his feelings, I need to be able to deal with my own, and writing is one way I do that, so I’m going to vent here. I’m going to have a pity party, right here! Maybe someone else out there can relate.

My first couple of days back – Friday and Saturday last week – were not too bad. A.’s parents were here Friday afternoon through Sunday, so they helped A. with picking up the kids on Friday and getting them to sleep, and helped him all day Saturday. I biked to work, and actually felt a little refreshed and liberated taking off down the hill in the rain at 6am. I got to work half an hour early, received many warm welcomes from my wonderful coworkers, and pumped before the start of the shift. One of my coworkers that day lost a premature baby while I was on leave, and I reflected many times during the day on how fortunate I am with my two healthy children, even if I do have to spend time away from them.

I was extremely nervous about whether I’d still be able to do the job after so much time away, but there’s a lot of physical memory involved (just like riding a bike!) and it came back to me. It was kind of fun, getting back into the swing of the familiar rhythms and feeling competent. It’s such a busy job that I don’t have much time to miss the kids when I’m there, and the hours go quickly. However, I got sad at the end of the first day, when a visitor was walking around with a tiny baby who looked a lot like Sam, and I realized it was 8pm, I’d been going nonstop since I’d left the house at 6, and I still had a lot of charting to do and would need to pump again before I could go home, then I had the long uphill bike ride in the rain – and at home, once I finally got there at 9:30 or 10, my kids would be asleep, and then I’d have to shower and eat, then get up early the next morning and do it again.

The bike ride home was hard, with my legs aching from being on my feet all day, but I decided to look at it as a type of meditation that might help me with other challenges in life. I just took it one pedal at a time until I reached the top of the hill.

Getting my pumping breaks has been the big challenge. Those first two days, one of my coworkers who is also a mom and has been concerned about me getting my pumping breaks was there, and she kept checking in with me and offering help to make sure I left the floor to pump on time. I’m supposed to pump every three to four hours, and legally am supposed to get pumping breaks that often (plus we’re supposed to have at least a 15-minute break every four hours, regardless of the reason), but nurses never get our breaks. We feel lucky if we get to sit down for 15 minutes for lunch once during the 12-and-a-half–hour shift.

Both days, I was finally ready for my first break around 11 or 11:30, so four and a half or five hours after I pumped before the shift. Then, when I finally got my patients settled, reported off to my break buddy, heated up my lunch (I have to eat while I pump, or I’ll never eat), washed my hands, and lugged the pump, bag of pump parts, bag of milk containers, and lunch down the hall to the little room we use for pumping (and some people – mostly not nurses – use it for taking naps or getting quiet time), it was occupied! The first day, my manager heard me tell my break buddy about that, and he let me use his office! (Afterwards, I found him eating his lunch on the couch in our staff lounge – awww!) The second day, I just waited until the person came out.

My second break in the late afternoon worked out fine the first day, but the second day, just when I was about to go for my break, one of my patients had a “rapid response” event. That means they weren’t doing well at all and suddenly there was a lot going on, so I had to be in that room for another hour and a half, then they had to go down for a CT scan and a nurse had to go with them. Fortunately, the nurse who was charge that day is a father of four and very supportive of pumping breaks, and he went down with the patient and my other coworker who has been very helpful took care of some other things for me so that I could go pump. Then, after pumping, I had a huge backlog of new orders for things to be done after the rapid response, a bunch of extra charting on top of the regular charting I was behind on, other things to be done for my other patients, and only a couple of hours left to get things settled down for the next shift (because the guilt when you have to hand the next nurse a big mess at the start of their shift is just awful!).

The coworker who had been pushing me to take my breaks on time, lecturing me both days about how I needed to just hand everything over to someone and leave the floor because “it’s a bodily function” and you just have to do it, said to me sadly at the end of the second day, “I stopped pumping when I [started taking the charge nurse role] because I knew I wouldn’t get my breaks.” Aaaauuuugh!! It’s not supposed to BE like this! We have LAWS now! But if you complain that you can’t get your breaks, management will say that you need to manage your time better, or “use your buddies” more, even though our break buddies are always drowning too, and not getting their own breaks. And it’s awful to be constantly asking your coworkers to cover for you. Besides, I remember one nurse who used to work on our floor who was renowned for her excellent time management skills but would be crying at the end of her shifts when she had babies because she hadn’t been able to pump enough during the day. She finally just left after her second baby and got a clinic job, and I’ve heard that she’s much happier.

After my second day, I got home and stood in the basement and just cried for several minutes, feeling a bit dizzy and disoriented, trying to switch my brain over from the work stresses to the things I needed to do at home, figuring out how to be mommy again for the next four days. Wondering how I would manage to not be tired, irritable, and distracted with the tasks that had to be accomplished at home before I went to work again.

Yesterday I worked again, and it’s a good thing it was just one day (I’m off today, then back at work all this weekend). It was a crazy day! Just one time-sensitive thing after another. I pumped before the shift again, at 6:30, then got my first break at 1:30 when I was absolutely bursting, having painful let-down, trying to smile and be pleasant with my patients, and finally just told my buddy some things that she would have to do and left the floor to pump and eat for half an hour. Then I was unable to take another break for the rest of my shift, and at 7, I handed some big messes over to the nurses coming on for night shift. Then I had to go try to remember what had happened all day so I could chart. Then I clocked out, an hour late, and went to pump, once again SEVEN HOURS after my previous pumping session. Then I had to stop pumping early to run downstairs to the tram before it stopped running, so that I wouldn’t be stranded several miles from my bike. Then I texted A. to tell him I was on my way, and he told me he’d run out of milk and given Sam formula for the first time. (I know that shouldn’t be a big deal, but there’s a goal many women have of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, and I worked so hard, getting through the first difficult weeks and two bouts of mastitis!) Then I biked home up the hill in heavy rain and high winds. And I got home tired and ANGRY! And sad. I sobbed to A. about how my milk wasn’t any good anyway because it was contaminated with MRSA, c-diff, toxic medications, and heavy-duty sanitizers from work. Then I went upstairs and saw that Sam was awake, so I quickly hung up my wet stuff and showered, then I looked at him, ferociously sucking his thumb and trying to put him back to sleep, and I thought, the right thing to do here is probably to let him try to soothe himself to sleep. But I really needed him to nurse, so I did what I’m currently reading you’re not supposed to do, and swooped in, disrespectfully interrupting his self-soothing attempts and planting him on my chest. Then I yelled at A. about having to do that, and how anything with Ari that we’re having a hard time with probably came about because I went to work when he was three months old, abandoning him all night, and then didn’t enforce proper limits at other times because I missed him so much and felt guilty. Then Ari woke up calling for me and saying softly, “I want you to hold me,” so of course I had to hold him! And I tried to treasure the moment, but man, was I hungry! Then I demanded that A. take Andrew for a walk in the rainstorm, because he still needs a walk every day! Then, sometime after 10, I ate the burrito A. had bought for me and put away the milk and the pumping stuff, griping about how I’d like to consistently go to bed at 10 so that I can wake up early with the kids and feel cheerful, but that’s hard to do when that’s the time I get home from work!

I was really feeling sorry for myself last night. Sometimes people will say that it must be nice to go to work, to get out of the house and the constant demands of the kids, but at my job I wear a thing on my collar that dings all day with calls from patients, doctors, therapists, and others. I’m still dealing with bodily functions and trying to get people to eat and cleaning up various kinds of messes all day. I still can’t sit down with a cup of coffee when I want one! Or eat when I want to, or even be left alone in the bathroom because I still have the dinging thing on my collar and because the bathroom is where they post signs about new policies and reminders of tasks to be done.

But the trouble is, I’m so much better off than so many parents. I only work a 0.75 schedule, so I have four to five days off every week (even though it doesn’t feel like it!). I always have at least two days with the kids, and usually at least one day home alone while they’re in school. Also, Oregon law gave me 18 weeks home after Sam’s birth! It was unpaid, but my job was protected.

There is no paid family leave at my workplace, but if you sign up for short term disability insurance before you’re pregnant, you get a few weeks of partial pay after your sick time is used up. The Oregon Family Leave Act grants 12 weeks of bonding time plus six weeks of recovery time for childbirth, whereas the national FMLA is 12 weeks total of unpaid time off. Some workplaces allow women to take off more time unpaid, and some offer some paid time, but the law only mandates a certain amount of unpaid time off. Also, the law only applies to companies with at least 50 employees, so many new parents aren’t covered (which is why A. was allowed to take just three days off after Ari was born – and he had to use vacation days – and he took a little over a week when Sam was born). For parents who are covered under FMLA (or state law), using up all the time is risky because then you can’t days off for a sick child, unless your employer has their own, more generous, policy. I took the risk, but I was warned by the leave administrators for my workplace that taking all of the allowed time off means that I could now lose my job if I have to stay home with a sick kid before the clock resets.

In some families, both parents are covered by FMLA and they have enough savings for both of them to take time off, so between them, they can have at least one parent home with a new baby for the first five months. But there are also many families that can’t afford for either parent to be off work, so the dad doesn’t take any time off and the mom goes back a few weeks or even a few days after giving birth. It’s absolutely tragic! And then there’s the lack of affordable, high quality childcare while they’re working, but that’s off topic here…

It’s no wonder that our country ranks atrociously low in maternal health and infant and child mortality (check out this article, for example). Fortunately, there is a push now for paid family leave (see these NPR stories, for example) here. What is being pushed for would still fall far short of the standard set by every other wealthy nation in the world, but would likely still make a big difference in breastfeeding rates, maternal depression, bonding, early childhood development, and other important maternal and child health indicators.

Getting back to me, personally, we’re very fortunate and could probably make it work for me to stay home, but some sacrifices would have to be made in our current lifestyle, as well as our rate of paying off student loan debt and saving for the future. Also, even though I would love it, I don’t feel certain that the kids would benefit, especially since we’d probably have to take Ari out of his wonderful school (and I think even Sam benefits from his time at school). So, we’re still talking about it. I’m so afraid that I’ll regret missing so much of the boys’ early years, especially because I always dreamed of having children and I probably won’t have any more, but what if I take time off now, and then I have to work a lot when they’re older and I can’t see their school plays or whatever? Or we can’t send them to college or whatever other expensive thing we want for them?

Okay, on to happier topics!

We had a nice time at the park with friends, and my friend took some nice pictures of me with the boys:

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I took some pictures of the boys in their “big brother” and “little brother” shirts:

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Ari set up his animals on a “story mat”:

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I took pictures of Sam in cute outfits:

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We had some rainy day fun together, and Sam started rolling consistently from his front to his back right after the tummy time photo was taken!

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On my 35th birthday, Sam turned four months old!

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When I was at work on Saturday, A. and his mom and the boys went to the zoo. Ari wanted to show his toy animals to the animals at the zoo! Here he is showing his seal to the seal:

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Ari and his grandparents constructed this chocolate haunted house while I was at work. Apparently they were trucking along smoothly until Ari put his fingers in his mouth at the end and discovered that the “glue” was sweet! Now I’m afraid he’ll be eating glue at school…

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On Sunday morning I stayed in bed and took pictures of Sam, who has discovered his toes:

Later, Ari wanted to hold Sam, who wasn’t so sure about it:

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Ari being a monkey at the park:

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We had a good time with friends at Westmoreland Park’s natural play area:

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Fall color in our yard:

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In spite of Ari’s difficult feelings that I talk about at the beginning of this post, he has mostly been really sweet lately. It feels like he’s growing up! When we went to story time at the library, we stayed after his session for the “Book Babies” group. The same librarian, who Ari loves, was leading the baby session, and she included Ari by having him help her pass out shakers and books (he brought several shakers over for Sam and me, and would walk all around the room, stopping and staring at people, until he found someone to hand one to!). During the songs, he declined to be her “pretend baby” but sat next to her on the floor, singing the songs and doing the hand movements. When the toys came out, he stayed close to me, very gently playing with one toy at a time and not protesting when a baby crawled over and started playing with the toy he had, or even when the baby flailed its arms around and hit him. He LOVED the parachute (standing in the middle with a big grin on his face) and the bubbles, but stayed calm and didn’t step on any babies – phew! Sam got a kick out of the parachute and the bubbles, too!

Recently, when I’ve been impatient and my voice has taken on a nasty tone, Ari has stood there looking at me, cocked his head, and said, “Be friendly, Mommy!” or “Be nice!” and it totally works to get a grin out of me! I’m sorry that I’m so immature sometimes, but very impressed by his ability to handle it.

Yikes, time to clean the house before I pick them up! I do feel better now!

4 thoughts on “Back to Work (the Life of a Working Breastfeeding Mom!), Family Update, and Sam at 4 Months Old

  1. Jessica, so well put. Nurses are already heroic, but being a mother to small children at the same time is doubly so. One day you’ll be testifying at Congressional hearings on the need for reasonable childcare and family leave. Great pictures of the boys, too.

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