Our daughters were born 7 weeks early. We were somewhat prepared for that possibility. We joined a Lamaze class for couples with May 2006 duedates, even though our twins weren’t due until July. We assembled M and J’s cribs at the beginning of the third trimester. We interviewed and selected our daughters’ pediatrician well before they were due.
We had not, however, made childcare arrangements. All my research showed that we could expect our babies to be in the hospital until around their duedate, regardless of whether they were preemies or full-term. The doctors and nurses led us to believe the same in the whirlwind surrounding the arrival of our 3 lb 9 oz and 3 lb 6 oz newborns.
There was never any question about whether I would return to work after having children. I love being a mother, more than I ever imagined I could love any role, but I also love my job and my coworkers. I am built to be a better, more patient, more creative parent when I spend my weekdays interacting with adults, and my husband was born to be both a father and a soldier. I deeply admire parents who choose parenting as their primary career, in large part because I know I couldn’t hack it.
Once I had taken the requisite 2 weeks to recover from my C-section, I needed to decide what to do with the remaining 9 weeks of parental leave I had at my disposal. If I waited out the 5 weeks more we expected J and M to be in the NICU, I’d have only a month left to establish a routine, adjust to being a mom, and master breastfeeding before returning to work. Almost equally challenging, we would have to make daycare arrangements in a hurry, because we’d been anticipating that the girls would be 2 to 3 months beyond their due date before needing to start daycare.
I’d decided to go back to work while the babies were in the hospital when our lovely nurse, Michelle, stopped me. She told me quietly that our daughters were doing unusually well for preemies, and that they would likely be released long before their due date. They ended up coming home at the tender ages of 16 and 21 days.
We were going to need childcare 4 weeks after their original due date, instead of the 12 weeks we’d anticipated. All of a sudden, we were in a scramble to find the right place. We were absolutely unwilling to sacrifice quality in the interest of expedience. After all, our newborn treasures would be spending 10-11 hours a day in the care of strangers.
We wanted a formal childcare facility, rather than in-home daycare. We just couldn’t afford the possibility of a single careprovider getting ill or having some other emergency that rendered them unavailable when my husband would soon be headed to Iraq and I’d be parenting solo. I started with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services’ childcare search and scoured the violation reports. Only once I’d reviewed each centre’s history did I schedule visits.
We got lucky. Early on in our search we landed our home for the next 5 years. Its inspection record wasn’t spotless, but the only ding was that their infant changing table lacked a safety rail on all sides at their first inspection, a problem that was corrected within the week. The children we met at our visit were well-behaved but boisterous. There was clear affection between every teacher and every child. The facilities were clean, and our questions were answered directly. The older kids’ classrooms were organized, colourful, and proportioned for children, with posters at a child’s eye-level. The infant room contained a rocking chair for nursing mothers who wanted to breastfeed at dropoff or pickup. They would fully support my bringing expressed breastmilk and, later, homemade baby food.
It’s 5 years later, almost to the day, and today is the girls’ last day at their daycare. Their beloved teacher from the infant and toddler rooms is now the assistant director, and still finds a way to fit in a hug for each of them every day. J took her first steps within the walls of the school to which we will only return as visitors. M and J potty trained there, and learned to read. They learned about death, and grief, as well as security and love, and are now ready to move on to kindergarten.
In a lot of ways, it’s harder for me to leave this family of ours than it is for our daughters. Elementary school will be an altogether new adventure, and J and M are bringing with them all the skills and traits they developed at daycare. They’re off to a great start, and the gifts of their pre-school will be with them forever. If their elementary teachers are half as invested in our girls as their teachers have been thus far, we’re golden.
What are your childcare arrangements? What were your options, and how did you choose? What worked and didn’t work for your family? Was it different for each child? Did you experience additional challenges because of the increased uncertainty of birthdates associated with a multiple pregnancy?
If you’re currently expecting, what would you like to hear from parents who’ve been through the childcare selection process?