Re-Entering the Workforce

My last day in the corporate world was Friday, January 2, 2009, before my girls were born on Monday, January 5.  The game plan has always been that I would stay at home with the girls until they start kindergarten, in Fall 2014, at which time I hope to rejoin the workforce in a similar capacity to what I have always done.

This past fall, though, a couple of months before the girls’ fifth birthday, I was presented an opportunity to manage a long-term project for my former employer.  Estimated at 20 hours of work each week, the hours would be flexible.  I would work mostly from home, coming into the office for select meetings, as necessary.  I jumped at the chance to begin to ease back into the corporate world.

I’ve been clocking hours for the past couple of weeks.  So far it’s been both fantastic and challenging…with a few late nights and a dose of humor thrown in for good measure.

The Good

It’s been nothing short of invigorating to put on my business hat again.  I would never trade a day I’ve enjoyed with my girls over the past five years, nor do I want to wish away one second of the next few months before they start school in the fall.  I’ve relished my role as a stay-at-home-mom, but it’s been really energizing to step into a completely different role for a few hours.

The first time I opened my mouth and industry jargon flowed forth, I had to smile to myself.  I haven’t talked about product details and consumer shopping habits in ages…but those rivers run deep, I was reminded.

While I’m working on this project with a different department from where I used to work, it’s also been wonderful to run into a few of my former colleagues.  I’ve gotten some really delighted smiles and welcome back hugs, which has been so nice.

The Challenging

Re-entering the workforce after children from hdydi.comThe most challenging aspect of the past couple of weeks has been parts of the “work mostly from home” portion of the job description.  It’s true that I can do much of my work at any time, and I’ve been trying my best to consolidate that to before the girls’ wake-up time and after they’re in bed.  However, I’ve had a couple of conference calls to attend during the day, and that hasn’t always gone so smoothly.

During my first call, the girls were relatively well-behaved.  I did have to locate the mute button on my phone (which I’d never used before), but all in all, it went OK.

Since then, though, the girls have gotten a little more “brave”.  I cautioned them that only in the event of an emergency were they to interrupt me.  I forgot that “emergency” should have been more expressly defined to my five-year olds.  During my last call, I was interrupted for lip cream (chap stick) and for white drawer paper.  Afterwards, they explained to me,”…but I NEEDED chap stick!  My lips were chapped!”  Yup, that’s an emergency to a five-year old.

My girls don’t require me to interact with them 100% of the day, but I am usually pretty deliberate about saying, “Mommy will read one more book, and then I need to go make supper,” or, “When we finish this game, you can go upstairs and play while I make a phone call.”  The unscheduled interruptions are a relatively new thing for them.

We still have work to do in this area.

The Funny

I had to laugh at myself when I started combing my closet for appropriate business attire.  I found myself wondering if the tags from the cleaners had an expiration date.  Of the 20 or so pairs of slacks I have, most haven’t been touched in SIX YEARS (since I was wearing maternity clothes the winter before the girls were born).  While most of my pants are relatively classic (or that’s what I’m telling myself), I also had to laugh at the fit of a couple of pairs.  Um, I don’t think this will accomplish the has-it-all-together working mama look.

And then I laughed (to keep from crying) the first day I tried to wear heels for an extended period of time.  Since the girls were born, I’ve always said that I wore heels any chance I got…but in looking back, I realize those were very limited occasions.  Sure, I wore heels now and again out to eat, to a wedding, to a graduation…but I hadn’t had them on for a full six hours in many years.  I started off last Thursday, feeling professional and standing tall.  I did fine until I was rushing to pick the girls up from school…I stepped out of the car and tears came to my eyes.  I don’t know what happened, exactly, but my feet had had enough.  I limped into the preschool, but thank goodness I had some ballet flats in the car so I could make the drive home.

Lastly, I’ve laughed at the former colleagues who didn’t recognize me at all.  Granted, my hair hasn’t been this long since I graduated high school, and the last year before the girls were born, I wore glasses instead of contacts.  Oh, and I’ve lost about 60 pounds since I last graced the halls (during my about-to-pop last days of pregnancy).  Well…maybe I’ll grant them a pass, now that I think about that one.

Have you had any deja vu moments harkening back to your pre-baby days?  Have you re-entered the work force after some time away?  How did it go?  And [PLEASE!] tell me you have some magic to keep my kiddos at bay while I’m on the phone???

MandyE is mom to five-year old fraternal twin girls.  She blogs about their adventures, and her journey through motherhood, at Twin Trials and Triumphs.

Secondary Guilt

This is my fourth week back at work since the birth of our twins 13 weeks ago.  In the weeks leading up to my return, I had many people offer support (sharing their stories of tearful returns to the workplace) and some asking if I was really going to go back.  For much of my maternity leave, I felt this looming deadline.  I wondered how I would feel once back at work.  I’ve nearly always had two jobs since I was 19 years old, and for just as long, have known that I would return to work once I had kids.  But, I also knew everything could possibly change once I met their little faces.

Four weeks ago now the deadline was in front of me.  I re-entered the office that I left prematurely in June for a month of bed rest.  I chuckled a little at the decaf keurig coffee pods in my desk drawer, and my eggless Caesar dressing in the fridge, along with other things I couldn’t ingest while pregnant.  I noticed outdated paperwork and a card from my co-workers meant to be handed over in a shower that I missed due to sudden bed rest.  But, ultimately, I was shocked by how easily I fell back into the flow of working.  Granted, we did have our nanny start a week early, so that I could get to know her a bit.  That definitely helped to ease back into the work force.

I always thought that I would feel guilt about returning to work.  Instead, I felt guilt about how not guilty I felt.  I mentioned this to a close friend, an attorney who is pregnant with her third baby and a working mom.  She said, “Katie.  I work so that I can afford a cleaning crew and a nanny.”  My mom remarked, “Yes, we do need to work to afford these things.”  My friend clarified: “No, I mean, I work so that I can justify getting help with my kids and cleaning and don’t have to do it all myself 24/7.”  I applaud her honesty.  It gave me permission to be more honest about my feelings on this subject.

Let me be clear.  I am a feminist who is absolutely in awe and support of ANY moms, whether you are a SAHM, work multiple jobs, or have tons of help while you lie in bed and eat bon bons.  I am not here to judge, and believe we need to create a society that celebrates all choices that moms make.  I also recognize that I’m blessed that this is a “choice” for me, and that it’s not for many women.  Not to mention, I’m aware that working a mile from home, with pretty sane hours make all this far easier of a decision.  That said, with all the recent talk about “Leaning In,” and the like, this is one perspective.  I already feel like a better mother when I am able to nurture other parts of my identity, in addition to the newest part called “mom.”  I’m so grateful to have a job where I can go use the skills I learned in graduate school and in my work experience, and then go home and completely shift gears for the rest of the night.  I look more forward to the nights and weekends when I can spend a few hours just staring at our daughter’s face light up or listening to my son coo.   I get more excited to meet the needs of our little ones when (as Sadia brilliantly put it in a previous post about working) I’ve already met some of my own needs and am not looking to my babies to meet my needs.  The whole oxygen mask on an airplane metaphor, you know.

I wonder if it’s reasonable to hope that someday our society will make space for women to say they want to be a working mom.  Period.  Without any qualifiers.  Because, while I can write this somewhat anonymously for a blog, why is it that I’d still feel guilty sharing this around certain audiences?

Childcare Costs

Handing our children over to someone else’s care, especially when it’s for a full work day, is no small thing. Ideally, we want care providers to be our partners in raising our kids. A great childcare provider doesn’t just make sure that children are safe, fed and clean. She also nurtures children’s curiosity, character, and overall development. He communicates with parents about what he has observed during the day and honours parents’ desires and wishes for the care of each child.

Teacher and toddlers from daycare costs from hdydi.comChildcare providers don’t earn much, especially given the pricelessness of the duties we entrust them with. At the same time, childcare is incredibly expensive. It constitutes a huge proportion of a two-income or single parent budget, especially for young parents at the beginnings of their careers. Unfortunately, we have no magical solution to make childcare affordable, although we can tell you what we did to make ends meet and why we decided to invest in childcare.

In this post, Sara and Sadia try to present the realities of childcare costs in the US and Canada, since we were both shocked by the sticker price and its impact on our lifestyles.

The Reality of the Costs of Childcare

Sadia

daycare costs from hdydi.comWhen my daughters started public school, it felt like I got an enormous raise. Daycare got cheaper as our girls got older–prices tend to decrease by $10-20 per month per child per year of age–but the first year was a massive shock to the bank account. Two infant tuitions in the Austin suburbs came out to US$1650 a month, more than our mortgage. That was 7 years ago, so prices have gone up since. The US$1500+ didn’t include add-on options that became available at age 3, such as soccer lessons, gymnastics time, computer classes and Spanish activities.

I honestly don’t know how I would have made ends meet had I not still been married. We needed both incomes. Full day summer childcare prices for elementary-aged children are comparable to that of infant care, and I confess that this summer was financially challenging on just my income and the child support payment that my ex-husband provides. I really couldn’t have done it without the promotions and raises I’ve earned since my daughters were born.

The irony is that we had researched childcare options and costs. It was only after we decided that we were at a point at which we could afford daycare that we attempted to get pregnant. We just hadn’t budgeted for twins.

The care my kids received was worth every penny. I hadn’t realized going into it that childcare would be our family’s largest expense, but in retrospect it makes sense. Hiring the right childcare provider is an investment in my children’s future, not just their professional success, but also in their personal successes and sense of self. We got back a lot more than we paid for: lifelong friendship and mentoring, people with a real stake in my daughters’ development, and a healthy, happy, wholesome start. A couple of weeks ago, my 7-year-old daughter J had a theological question she didn’t feel that I was answering adequately, so she sought one of the staff members from her old daycare to discuss her concerns with her.

What saddens me is how little childcare providers are paid. I don’t know whether it was the financial structure of our program alone or whether this is typical, but I learned from one of the assistants I hired occasionally for evening babysitting that she earned less than $10 per hour caring for my children in her regular job. She was assisting 20 hours a week in the infant room at a program that was open from 6:30 am to 6:00 pm. In short, the people caring for my children wouldn’t have been able to afford to put their own kids in the program.

Sara

Costs of ChildcareBy the end of 2013 we will have spent over 30K in daycare for our 2-year-old twins, also significantly more expensive than our mortgage. When we were expecting we saved up money to help supplement my 13 months at home with Molly and Jack, (luckily Canadian benefits granted me 50 weeks of paid leave at C$501 a week and I used paid vacation for the remaining month). What we didn’t expect was to be living on an even tighter budget once I went back to work.

When you combine the immense daycare fees, cost of transportation to and from work, along with business clothes, some weeks it often feels that I’m quite literally working for very little money. On days when the washer has broken and you are about to tear out your hair in frustration it helps to think big picture. This is the most expensive time of our life (until we have two children in college 15 years from now), we just need to grit our teeth and count the days until full day kindergarten – 700! (but we’re not keeping track).

Why We Made the Decision to Go Back to Work

Sadia

I never considered being a stay-at-home mom. For a few months, we toyed around with the idea of my now ex-husband being a SAHD, but that wasn’t for him either. For him, his military career is more than a job, although he is loathe to admit it. Serving others through his army service is my ex’s calling, and he’s really good at it. He would have never been able to live with himself if others were fighting and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan while he changed diapers.

Childcare Costs from hdydi.com

Photo Credit: ForestForTrees

I have an intense personality and my extroversion is off the charts. Even during the 8 weeks between my daughters’ release from the NICU and my returning to work, we were out and about all the time. With my husband away on training, and later on deployment, it was just me and the babies in the house. I needed adult contact, adult conversation, and adult challenges.

I wanted to be able to be the best mother I could be. For me, that involves finding fulfillment and challenges outside my children. Having my own intellectual and social needs fulfilled by my job, I can focus on being for my children what they need me to be.

Perhaps the scars of my turbulent relationship with my mother have made me this way. I just don’t want my children to ever be burdened by my needing them for fulfillment. They should be free to explore their own lives, not spend their time validating mine.

There was also a financial aspect to my returning to work, although money never mattered enough to us for that to be a primary consideration. Enlisted soldiers in the US army don’t earn a whole lot. I was the primary earner in our family, thanks to a higher level of education (my MA to his high school diploma) and my job in software.

Sara

I love my children immensely, and with costs considered we seriously thought about one of us staying home for a few years to be with the kids, but when I took up a part-time contract with my work during the last six months of my maternity leave I remember how much I missed my day job. I missed my connection to the outside world, my former self and my career aspirations. Part-time work would have been an ideal balance for home/work life, but living in a big city, with little to no part-time daycare options and having a job I love this was not a feasible option for  my husband or I. When I returned to work full-time although their were struggles, especially related to illness in the first six months, I was more focused when I spent time with my kids. I wanted to read the extra story at bed time and I wanted to build Lego towers with my kids because time was limited I made sure to make it quality time over quantity time.

Tips to Make it Easier

Sadia

We cut our non-childcare expenses to the bone. We cancelled our landline telephone and used our cell phones only, with no data plans. We cooked all our food at home and packed our lunches; we couldn’t afford to eat out. My ex sold his beloved gas-guzzling 1968 Cougar and bought a more practical car. I worked through the night while breastfeeding to make up the time I missed at work when the babies were sick. While our neighbours hired cleaning ladies, we didn’t. We didn’t have cable TV, go to the movies or go shopping beyond groceries and clothes for our growing babies.

Teacher reading to kids: daycare costs from hdydi.comMy employer provides an option to set up a dependent care flexible saving account. In essence, my employer sets aside US$5000 of my income to be spent on daycare before calculating my income tax. This has the effect of putting me in a lower income bracket for the purposes of income tax, reducing my tax burden. As I spend on daycare through the fiscal year, I send in receipts to prove where that money has gone, and the FSA management company reimburses me from the money that was already pulled out of my paycheck.

Sara

Financially we had to make some cuts to our cell phone services, cable and other frills so we could make it work.  We also sold a bunch of items we didn’t need any more to help with the initial pinch.  Big hurdles were when the kids got sick and we needed to make other arrangements during the day.  Having family members as emergency back-up, flex-time at work or sitters who you can call in a pinch (at an added expense unfortunately) helped us survive.  Knowing that there was an end date and having supportive people around us made the adjustment possible, I don’t know what we would have done otherwise.

What Other Options Are There?

There are programs out there intended to help reduce the financial pressures of childcare. There are tax rebates and assistance programs, although the latter involve huge amounts of red tape and often have internally inconsistent rules.

Centre-based care isn’t the only option. In-home childcare can be cheaper than centre-based case, but you’re dependent on the availability of a single person. You might be able to barter for care, providing your care provider a place to live and having her “pay” her rent in childcare hours. If you have family nearby, perhaps you can get free or greatly reduced care from them.

There’s the most obvious answer, one which many of us MoMs have chosen: one parent stays home and makes a non-paying career of being his or her own childcare provider. That comes with its own financial challenges, particularly if you were accustomed to living on two incomes.

We’re not experts here, just two moms who’ve felt the pinch. Please tell us how you address the issue of childcare costs for your family.

Twinfant Tuesday: Why the First Year is Hard

Parenting is no cake walk, nor should it be. Raising a child to be a successful adult, regardless of how you define success, is hard work. I’m not one to shy away from labour (pun mostly accidental) but the first year after my daughters’ birth was difficult to a degree that belies words.

What hard about the first year with twinsI’ve been through a lot in the intervening years, including the dissolution of my marriage and the loss of a son I had hoped would be mine, but it is surviving that first year of twins that I wear as my badge of honour. It’s making it to J and M’s first birthday that proved to me that I could survive anything. It was knowing that I made it through that year that gave me the strength to pick myself up and brush myself off after I watched my husband abandon me, my beloved mother-in-law turn her back on me, and my sweet nephew removed from our family.

Some of what made Year One so hard was unique to our family, but many aspects of the challenge are common to new parents. Each of the reasons below could easily deserve its own post.

I Didn’t Know My Kids Yet

The biggest influence in my parenting is my children’s personalities. Knowing their strengths, weaknesses and triggers helps me parent them.

M doesn’t deal well with change or the unexpected. She tends to lash out when she’s overwhelmed. She gets grumpy when she’s hungry. She experiences the world through words and numbers, and is energized by social interaction. She thinks out loud and needs to feel heard. She knows she’s brilliant and sometimes needs help finding humility.

J’s understanding of others’ feelings is near genius. She needs to talk through her emotions and those of others, and doesn’t take it well when people try to baby her to protect her feelings. She gets lost in imaginary worlds, both on screen and in books and needs a moment to snap back into reality. She’s usually very confident, but will confess to insecurities far beyond her age. She’s a more private person than M or I are.

Why the first year of parenting is hardDuring that first year, I didn’t know these things about my children. I was getting to know them at the same time that I was learning incorporate parenting into the other responsibilities of my life. It took me days to learn that M would cry because she wanted to be held, while J would cry because she wanted to be put down. I didn’t realize that J wanted my eye contact while M wanted to hear my voice. It took a while to figure out that J preferred Daddy to burp her while M was a burpless wonder.

The shortcuts I have at my disposal now, just from knowing who my kids are, weren’t there the first year. The first year, however, was when I learned who M and J are at their core. That M was a chatterbox, I figured out by the age of 4 months. That J was aware of and mirrored my emotions, I knew by the time she was 6 months old.

Infants Can’t Speak

Babies are incredible sponges of knowledge, and they start learning the cadences of their native language(s) in utero. They don’t, however, come out talking. They can’t tell you what they want or where it hurts. They can’t tell you that they’re crying because you held them too long (J) or not long enough (M). They can’t tell you that they like to be swaddled with one arm free (J) or that their favourite song is Row, Row, Row Your Boat (M). The slow process of elimination to figure out what would make each of my children comfortable each moment of the day was exhausting, and I had it relatively easy, since my kids were remarkably unfussy.

More than once, I remember saying to one child or the other, “I don’t know what you want!” after I’d checked her diaper, fed her, held her, walked with her, bounced her, sang to her, added more layers of clothes, removed layers of clothes and tried everything else I could think of. It took me months before I realized that wanting to be within reach of Sissy was a basic need both babies shared. I don’t believe that babies “just cry.” I firmly believe that crying is a means of communicating discomfort.

I was fortunate to be surrounded by parents whose approach to their babies was like mine. They didn’t assume their infants were drinking-and-pooping blank slates lacking in personality. Like me, they learned the meanings of their children’s different cries. (Tangent: my kids used the same cries for the same things, speaking the same language of cries. Their hunger cries were similarly urgent and shrill; they had the same whiny cry for, “I want to change positions;” they had the same hiccup-y cry to indicate that they were tired. Other babies used the same repertoire of cries to mean different things. My kids’ tired cry was another baby’s hungry.)

Baby Sign was our saving grace. It doesn’t work for everyone, but at the tender age of 7 months, my itty bitty babies could tell me if wanted milkfood, more or Mama. By 9 months, they could sign please and thank you.

It Was Wartime

The US was at war in both Iraq and Afghanistan in 2006, when my babies were born. They were conceived and born between my (now ex) husband’s tours in Iraq. He needed to be in a constant state of readiness. We had a general idea of when he would be expected to go overseas, but he could be called on at any time.

As a practical matter, this meant that I needed to be on call for the babies all the time. If one of them was sent home from daycare with a fever, I could try calling Daddy to see if he could pick them up, but the answer could very well be, “No.” He might be scheduled to take them to a doctor’s appointment, only to have some sort of last-minute work obligation. Our choice would be between rescheduling the appointment or my taking time off work instead. We always chose the latter. If I was with one child in the ER in the middle of the night, I needed to be ready to take the other because Daddy might get called into base in the wee hours of the morning.

Here’s a concrete example: J and M were born at 33 weeks old. A few days after they were born, my husband’s unit left Texas for California for desert training. He got to stay behind with us. When the girls were 10 days old, his army paternity leave was over and the doctors told us that they were out of the woods. Thankfully, they were no longer at risk of dying when my husband was required to join his unit. He didn’t return home until several weeks after our girls came home from the NICU. I figured out how to care from them solo before he made it home. His dad had been staying with me but needed to go back to Washington State well before my ex returned.

Once Daddy left for Iraq, of course, there was no question about who would take care of the babies. Sleep when the babies sleep? I’m sure that advice works for moms who are home with their singletons, but it wasn’t for this working mama of twins when the twins’ sleep schedules got out of sync! I slept while I breastfed.

Kids are Enormously Expensive

Our daycare payments for two infants came out to be more than our mortgage. Thanks to the 10% discount on the second child, we “only” paid $1650 a month for childcare. That was 7 years ago. Inflation has taken its toll, so I can only imagine what the cost is now.

Daycare took up my salary, so we had to live on my husband’s. Trust me when I tell you that soldiers don’t earn a whole lot. We couldn’t afford to contribute to our retirement that first year, and that was okay.

I cut corners where I could. I made my own baby food to avoid baby food costs. I breastfed for as long as I could, which helped cut down on formula costs. I would have loved to cloth diaper, but our daycare required disposables. It was a while before I discovered Amazon Subscribe and Save, and I kicked myself for all the money I could have saved.

We bought things second-hand. Our girls’ high chairs were hand-me-downs from a twin mom at work. I returned the high chair we received as a baby shower gift and spent the money on formula. I watched my Freecycle list and pounced on clothes and toys others were getting rid of.

I didn’t eat out. If people at work wanted to lunch with me, they could buy something  and I would bring food from home. My splurge was an occasional $2.14 meal from Wendy’s.

Feeling like I couldn’t afford the occasional babysitter was scary. Budgeting without any wiggle room was awful. After a promotion at work, things became less tight. Daycare costs fell as the girls got older. Although summer camp pricing is comparable to infant care, it’s only for 3 months of the year.

I spent the extra pay that my ex got for being in combat on a lawncare service and a biweekly cleaning lady.

We were incredibly fortunate to have military health insurance. No premiums. No deductible. No co-pays, except (at the time) $3 for generic prescriptions and $10 for name brand. The girls’ birth, complete with ambulance ride, C-section and NICU time cost us $6. I had two prescriptions for painkillers.

If we’d have normal medical coverage, I honestly don’t know how we would have made ends meet. I feel like we had a decent middle class income. When you crunch the numbers, it’s a little insane.

I Had to Learn to Let Go

The perfectionist in me got slapped around, and hard, by that first year. I had to let go of all my highfalutin goals of motherhood and dig down deep to decide what really mattered. Did I want to read to perfectly clean babies with lullabies gently playing in the background in a neat and tidy home where all the laundry was folded and get a shower every day? Sure I did. Was that going to happen? No way. Not the first year.

I had the TV on. I dressed myself and the kids straight out of the clean laundry hamper. I ate pre-prepared meals. I slept on my lunch break at work, right on the floor of my office. My social calendar consisted of phone calls cut off mid-sentence and life in the blogosphere.

Being someone who processes through the written word, I devised a parenting credo to carry me through. I set achievable goals and didn’t look more than 2 weeks out. I learned humility and prioritization. I learned that being a super mom has nothing to do with being SuperMom.

Breastfeeding is Hard. Breastfeeding Two is Harder

I’ve told you my breastfeeding story recently, but both breastfeeding and formula-feeding are hard.

My Reproductive Years are My Career-Building Years

I came to conclusion that there wasn’t enough of me to meet my parenting ambitions and my career ambitions. That understanding didn’t come quickly, but it did come easily and organically. I spend my time at home managing children; I don’t have any desire to manage adults at work. Fortunately, since my girls were infants, my workplace has begun to allow for career paths that don’t lead to management. At the time, though, I made peace with motherhood and my military marriage costing me career progression. I liked my job and still do, but I would never again be a superstar.

I Need Sleep

We all need sleep, and there isn’t much to be found when you’re raising kids. My babies didn’t sleep through the night until they were well over a year old. I somehow managed to survive on 3-5 hours of interrupted sleep per night. I’m sure I could have been a much better parent if I weren’t constantly exhausted. It’s a miracle that I didn’t have an accident. I fell asleep while driving to work more than once.

Did I ever tell you about the time I showed up to work with my pants on inside out? Or the time I forgot to button my shirt after nursing and needed my daughters’ teacher to tell me to put my boob away before I got back on the road? Sleep deprivation does that.

It’s hard to have perspective when you’re sleep-deprived. It’s hard to have hope. I would say that the lack of the sleep is the biggest challenge of the first year with a new child or children.

“Wife” and “Mother” are Distinct Roles

This is a huge topic, but suffice it to say that being a wife can take as much energy, time and effort as being mother. The two are not the same thing. My co-parenting relationship with my husband had little overlap with our marital relationship. It’s easy to get so focused on meeting your new babies’ needs together to forget that there are other parts to your marriage.

A C-Section is Major Abdominal Surgery

For those of us who have had caesarean births, the recovery required seriously complicates the first days. Perhaps we can’t lift our kids and it’s painful to nurse them because they kick the incision. Perhaps you cannot physically walk to the NICU to see your baby. I may have pulled out my stitches a few times in my efforts to get to my babies. A C-section may be common, but that doesn’t mean it’s not major.

If ever someone tries to tell you to suck up the pain, remind them that the doctor pulled your uterus (which she’d just sliced open to remove a human being) out of your body to examine it before putting it back and sewing you up.

I’ve never had a vaginal birth, so I honestly can’t speak to how that recovery process might impact the first few days with your baby.

Hormones

There’s a reason that post-partum depression and psychosis exist as medical conditions. The changes that your body is going through as it goes from your pregnant to your non-pregnant state can wreak havoc on your brain chemistry. This is no flippant, “it’s just hormones” issue. Post-partum psychosis can be fatal.

It’s Completely Worth It

I would do it all over again, in a heartbeat. If I had the financial capacity, I would love another child. I’d love another set of twins. You know what? Hand me a set of newborn triplets. I’m in my element with babies. I love how they sound and how they smell and how they act. I love the way a baby will grasp my finger, babble to himself or seek out her own feet. Crying doesn’t faze me, although it has been known to make me lactate. I love that I can love on a baby without any fear of over-coddling him. I love the feeling of complete trust that a baby has when he’s sleeping in my arms.

(Seriously, I’m a baby whisperer. Ask Wiley.)

That first year gave me everything I needed to be able to figure this parenting thing out.

Is/was the first year hard? What made it (or kept it from being) hard? What did you learn about yourself and you babies?

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school in order to better protect their privacy and was delighted to have the opportunity to keep a foot in the blogosphere through HDYDI. She also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

In Which I Find My Limits

Army Wife to Single Mom

When my now ex-husband left me last March, there were plenty of things I worried about, but my capacity to be a single mom wasn’t one of them.

I’d been an Army wife during wartime during my entire career as a mother. Our soldier had deployed to Iraq when our daughters were 5 months old for a total of 15 months. He left for Korea for 12 months a year after he’d returned from Iraq. His subsequent tour to Afghanistan was a nice short 9 months. That didn’t even account for his stateside training-related absences, which could stretch to three months. We divorced when the girls were 6; Daddy had been living at home for under 3 years of their lives. While I would have loved to have had a meaningful co-parenting relationship despite the distances involved, we frequently went weeks or months without being able to communicate, so parenting decisions fell to me alone.

I was fully capable of managing our home and children without another parent around to help. I worried how our daughters would cope with the trauma of their parents divorcing, not living with Daddy even when we was stateside, Daddy’s remarriage and associated step-mom and step-sisters. I worried about how I would manage on a single income. I didn’t worry about whether I could parent my daughters “without help.”

I Have Help

“Do you have help?” people ask me, all the time. What they mean, of course, is do I have family members in the area who will watch my children or perform house maintenance or pick them up from school in a pinch. I don’t have family help, but I don’t consider myself to be lacking in help in raising my children and managing our lives. I usually answer, “We don’t have family nearby, but we have a great community network.”

My help comes in the form of daycare providers, camp counselors, and babysitters whom I trust as partners in raising my girls. Do I pay them in money (and sometimes theatre tickets)? Sure, but that doesn’t make their help any less meaningful. My help comes in the form of J and M’s friends’ parents, their teachers and counselors, and their Girl Scout leader. They give me the context of what is age appropriate and help my girls build their social skills and academic skills. My help comes in the form of supportive co-workers and managers, who make my kids welcome at work social events, who let me telecommute to give me an extra hour or two with my kids every week, who treat my kids like their own nieces. My help comes in the form of the company I pay to maintain my lawn. My help comes in the form of the neighbours who will trade a few hours with my kids one weekend for me taking theirs another. My help comes in the form of the HDYDI community.

I Have Limits

Photo Credit: elcamino73

Photo Credit: elcamino73

I started feeling overwhelmed over the last few months. My home, always messy, began to feel dirty too, something I usually do not stand for. My shoulders and hands began to ache without reason, an early warning sign I’ve learned to recognize as a bellwether of a resurgence of depression. I suddenly started fighting dandruff, despite having made no change to my shampoo or diet. I started dropping the ball on work assignments. I found myself avoiding picking up my telephone messages, a sure sign that  depression was looming. Last weekend, I was so clumsy in the kitchen that, after breaking two plates, I avoided any food preparation that might involve knives or fire.

On Monday last week, the weight of life felt too much to bear. I asked my boss whether I could take the rest of the day and all of Tuesday off. With the kids at summer camp, I spent those hours cleaning my house, going to the gym, getting my eyebrows waxed, napping and reading. I talked to a couple of close friends about how I was doing. When I returned to work on Wednesday, my shoulder pain was gone. The dandruff had cleared. I found myself humming on way to my office. When I received an email inviting me to perform in a local venue that would have been on my bucket list (if I had one), I was excited, not panicked at the thought of adding the rehearsals to my schedule.

The 15 Month Cycle

It didn’t take much to set things to rights. I just needed some “me” time. At first, I thought my losing my Zen was a result of the post-adrenalin slump following the completion of a multi-year project at work, but it wasn’t work that had been feeling overwhelming. It was Life that was bothering me, the weight of the entirety of M and J’s well-being falling on my shoulders.

I had an epiphany. This was the longest I’d ever gone being a single parent. While I worried about whether my ex would come home from combat alive, I always believed that after at most 15 months, my partner would be home. I wasn’t alone always going to alone in raising M and J.

Don’t get me wrong. The girls’ father has seen them since we got divorced, but it’s hard for him since we don’t live in the same state. He’s seen them 3 times since last August, when the girls and I moved back home to Central Texas, leaving Daddy behind in El Paso. (He’s since moved to North Carolina.) Much as I love my kids, I did enjoy the childless days and the opportunity to pick up around the house and to go out for dinners and game nights with friends. I didn’t quite feel like I was off the clock, though. Daddy brought the girls home ahead of schedule 2 out of the 3 times he had them, so I can’t completely turn off mommy mode when he has them, unlike when we were married and he’d take a few days off after deployments to be with the kids. Then, it was important that I did stop being Mom to avoid the temptation to try to teach him how to be Dad. Daddy and the girls needed space to get to know each other again. That just isn’t our dynamic any more.

I had hoped and worked for an ongoing co-parenting relationship with my ex, but it hasn’t panned out. He’s just not a phone and email guy and has a hard time making “theoretical” parenting decisions. He needs to be present in the moment to make child-rearing calls, and he’s just not around. J broke my heart a while back, observing, “Daddy spoils us. He’s more like a grandpa than a parent.”

The 15-month respites I could rely on as an Army wife are no longer available to me as a single mom. So now, I need to use my help, in this case summer camp and an understanding boss, to find my own respite.

I have my mojo back and a much better understanding of where my limits are.

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school in order to better protect their privacy and was delighted to have the opportunity to keep a foot in the blogosphere through HDYDI. She also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

Working Mom Nursing Twins

World Breastfeeding Week 2013 Blog Carnival - NursingFreedom.org and The San Diego Breastfeeding CenterWelcome to the World Breastfeeding 2013 Blog Carnival cohosted by NursingFreedom.org and The San Diego Breastfeeding Center!

This post was written for inclusion in the WBW 2013 Blog Carnival. Our participants will be writing and sharing their stories about community support and normalizing breastfeeding all week long. Find more participating sites in the list at the bottom of this post or at the main carnival page.

***

My twin daughters had my breastmilk as part of their diet until they were 7 months old. They were preemies, born at 33 weeks gestation, and both spent time (16 and 21 days) in the NICU before they were stable enough to be released to us. I work full time and returned to my job when the girls were 11 weeks old and not quite 5 lbs each. My (now ex) husband is a soldier and deployed to Iraq when J and M were 5 months old for a 15-month tour. He was also gone for the first 3 weeks after the babies were home, thanks to pre-deployment training out of state.

b_134016When I describe my nursing situation like that, it seems like a victory that I was able to keep it up for 7 months. Don’t be fooled, though. Even now, 6 years after my daughters stopped nursing, I feel the dull ache of failure when I think of our breastfeeding experience. Objectively, I know that my 7-year-old daughters are healthy and smart and funny and sweet. It didn’t harm them in any way that I can see that I only breastfed for 7 months. I know I did everything I could. I know that, on balance, I’m a good mother. Still, my daughters’ 7 months of breastmilk and high-calorie formula feels like a personal failure. My goal had been 12 months of exclusive breastfeeding.

While pregnant, I had been under the impression that nursing, because it was a natural instinct, would be easy. In retrospect, “natural” and “easy” rarely go together. I should have known better. After all, what’s more natural that raising your child? And what’s harder? There are plenty of new moms for whom breastfeeding is easy. I wasn’t one of them.

It also wasn’t so hard for me that it wasn’t worth pursuing, as it was for some of my friends: the friend whose baby’s lactose intolerance meant that he couldn’t gain weight on breastmilk; the friend whose baby never once latched properly; the friend whose baby was so premature that her body didn’t even interpret it as a live birth and never produced milk at all. We all have our own stories and our own set of challenges.

Two Babies

Ah, the twin thing. I had enough breasts to go around, so that was a plus. My aunt-in-law’s successful breastfeeding of her triplet daughters 12 years before my girls were born was a huge inspiration for me. It also gave my husband a surprising degree of insight into what might work for us.

Let me say this loud and clear. Moms of multiples, if you want to breastfeed, it’s worth a shot. You may be a natural (pun intended), like Wiley. It may not work out. Either way, it’s the rare MoM (that’s Mothers of Multiples to those of you not in the know!) who regrets trying to breastfeed her multiple infants.

I tried tandem nursing, simultaneously breastfeeding both babies, but it didn’t really work for me. When the girls first came home, they didn’t have the muscle tone to hold their heads up, so I needed one hand to support a body and another to support the associated head. When my husband was home, I could sit in his lap and use his arms to support the second baby, but it wasn’t practical on my own. Instead, I’d let one baby feed in my arms while the other nestled in my lap.

b_202337Prematurity

My daughters’ early birth and subsequent NICU stay were the biggest challenges to establishing breastfeeding. My water broke–or rather “J’s water broke”; M’s amniotic sac had to be ruptured by the doctor–nearly 2 months before the girls’ due date. I had to have an emergency C-section, delivering 3 lb 9 oz and 3 lb 6 oz babies. They hadn’t yet put on the baby fat that allows full-term newborns to regulate their own body temperature and provides them the calories to carry through until mom’s milk came in.b_074835Instead of the newborn suckling I had anticipated, my babies were fitted with feeding tubes. Instead of their first meal being colostrum, it was high calorie formula. Those calories in the formula come from corn syrup.

I began to run a fever shortly after delivery, so I didn’t get to see my daughters until about 36 hours after their birth. Both my husband and I had been loud and obnoxious about our desire to get breastmilk to our babies. The hospital staff provided me with a breastpump and associated accessories. I began pumping when the babies were a few hours old and pumped every 3 hours for the time they were in the hospital. 16 days of round the clock pumping was the only thing I could really do to mother my babies. I was no medical professional and they required medical care, but pumping made me feel a little less helpless. I was still grieving the drug-free vaginal childbirth and chubby newborns I’d imagined I’d have.

yhst-42522233509519_2274_614394049

Photo Credit: Just Multiples

About a day after the babies were born, the pumping bore fruit. A tiny golden drop of colostrum clung to side of one miniscule bottle into which I was pumping. A maternity ward nurse delivered it to the NICU for me, where the nurses poured liquid formula into the bottle, washing every speck of colostrum into the girls’ next meal. They split the enriched formula between my babies. From that point on, any milk I could produce got magicked into my teeny ones by feeding tube.

Only once in the 16 days both my daughters were in the hospital did I have the opportunity to breastfeed. The lactation consultant was available during M’s feeding time, and she worked with me on a successful latch. M had already been exposed to the doll-sized NICU bottles and had been sucking impressively. We had just got the hang of it when a NICU nurse gently pried M from my arms. We couldn’t afford to let her use her energy on suckling. She needed to focus on the growing that she didn’t get to finish in utero.

I never got to even try to nurse J in the hospital. She had a hard time remembering to suck on her bottle, and had to have her feeding tube reinserted after it had been removed to make way for exclusive oral feeding. That’s why she ended up being hospitalized 5 days longer than her sister. She needed to be able to take 1 oz (31 mLs) of formula by mouth, 8 meals in a row, to be released from the NICU.b_152911Another challenge my preemies presented was their size. They were simply too small to reach from my breast to any pillow. I tried stacking three pillows, but they were wobbly. I used pillows to rest my arms, but I wasn’t going to trust them with my babies.b_235012J and M’s prematurity-related weakness was another challenge. Their sucks were incredibly weak. Once we got home, I discovered that it took them each about 45 minutes to get a full meal. By some miracle, the babies switched to the breast easily. Finally, a round peg for a round hole!

At the pediatrician’s recommendation, my daughters supplemented their diet with two meals daily of high calorie formula and infant vitamin supplements. I still pumped for the feedings while holding the babies’ bottles. I froze the milk.

Work

We settled into a routine. Nurse M for 45 minutes. Nurse J for 45 minutes. Do as much as I could in 90 minutes: change diapers, play with the babies, eat, do minimum necessary tasks around the house, go grocery shopping, shower, bathe the girls, sleep. Then nurse for another 90 minutes. I got a lot of reading done, let me tell you!

My 11 weeks of maternity leave came to an end, much to soon. I was grateful to get back to the world of adult challenges and conversation, but leaving the babies in the care of strangers was terrifying. Those strangers are now members of our family. My daughters attend the same school as their infant room teacher’s daughter. I bought my house to ensure that they’d be at the same school.

At work, I took three 15-minute breaks, morning, noon and afternoon, to pump. I didn’t produce anywhere near the quantity of milk that I did when I pumped on one side while nursing on the other. The girls’ formula intake went up.

I’d leave my expressed breast milk in the refrigerator at daycare, and the teacher would exhaust the breast milk before resorting to formula.

I was extraordinarily fortunate to have an understanding boss and supportive work environment. The guys at work rearranged our office assignments so I could share an office with a female coworker who was unbothered by breastfeeding. I could pump at my desk without having to pause my work.

It also helped that my boss was the mother of two. Her youngest was only 4 months older than my babies, so we were pumping simultaneously and both constantly eating ravenously. We both stored our milk in the office refrigerator. My boss turned out to be a font of parenting knowledge and gave me many a breastfeeding pointer.

I started taking fenugreek supplements. I looked at photos of my girls while I pumped. I watched videos of them. I brought the onesies they’d worn the day before to work with me in the hope that the smell would trigger my body to produce more milk. Nothing seemed to help a whole lot. I couldn’t get more than 4 oz in 15 minutes when I pumped exclusively. When I had a baby to one breast and the pump to the other, it was a different story. The milk  came gushing. I tried several floor model pumps at the local breastfeeding store. It wasn’t the machine. It was me.

War

My husband left for Iraq for the second time when our babies were 5 months old. My extra pair of arms for tandem feeding was gone. The extra person who could latch the babies on for midnight feedings without waking me was gone. We could no longer change diapers at the same time. He couldn’t fix me a sandwich while I bathed the babies. Plus, he was getting shot at. He would miss our daughters’ first words, first steps and first hugs. When he finally got to come home, our girls didn’t recognize him, unable to equate the strange big man in their house with the photo we said goodnight to.

b_153107At 5 months of age, J (actually in my lap in the photo above) was a Daddy’s girl. Daddy knew how to swaddle her. Daddy knew how to burp her. Daddy knew how to make her laugh.

Within a few weeks of Daddy’s departure, J went on nursing strike. I’d bring my breast to her lips and, instead of opening her mouth and latching, she’d angrily turn away. I am completely convinced that she was protesting Daddy’s absence.

One day, after I’d broken down in tears in her office, my boss suggested that I take a few days off to try to reestablish breastfeeding with J. “Spend a few days skin-to-skin with her,” she said, “and see what happens.” I’d exhausted my vacation time during maternity leave, but my boss assured me that I could make it up. I could just do my work in the middle of the night while I was nursing instead of going on leave without pay.

I took three days off, I think. I took M into daycare and kept J with me, separating the girls for the first time since the NICU. I spent my time alone with J shirtless, holding her every second that I didn’t have her on the changing table for a clean diaper.

I tried a nipple shield. I tried latching J on in her sleep. I tried starting her on a bottle and then quickly switching to the breast. I tried the football hold and the cradle and the cross-cradle and side-lying. I tried singing and silence and white noise. I tried rocking and reclining and lying down and standing and walking. I’d already been taking fenugreek for months and constantly smelled like brunch.

One thing worked. If I sat in the bathtub with J, the water slightly warm, she would breastfeed. As soon as her little bottom touched the water, her head turned toward me, her mouth open, and the magical latch would just happen. If I lifted her out of the water, even for a second to get myself to a more comfortable position, she would break the latch and turn away again.

I kept up my attempts to break J’s nursing strike for another month. I dutifully sat in the tub with her, her sister in a bouncer beside the tub, morning and night. I didn’t quite have the reach to hold J in the water and comfort M at the same time, so we never managed the whole 45 minutes in the water. Besides, the water cooled and the sound of the water refilling the tub made both babies unhappy.

After a long frustrating month, I quit trying. I’d already gotten into the habit of nursing M on one side and pumping for J on the other.

A month later, M started fussing when I offered her the breast. I’d already been through the wringer trying to fight J’s wish to move on from nursing. I didn’t have any fight left in me.

So, at 7 months old (5 months corrected), M, J and I ended our breastmilk journey.

b_163457

Life After Breastfeeding

Today, J and M are 7 years old. They’re smart and curious bookworms. They’re outgoing and popular. They’re healthy and happy. They’re loving and kind. They’re more than okay. They are the kind of people I want to get to know and be friends with when they’re adults and they absolutely adore each other.

wpid-Photo-Jul-20-2013-1137-AM.jpgI have no reason to believe that an additional 5 months of breastmilk would have improved their lives. There’s an irrational part of me, though, that just can’t let it go.

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She co-parents at a distance with her soldier ex-husband and his teacher wife. She decided to retire her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school in order to better protect their privacy, and was delighted to have the opportunity to keep a foot in the blogosphere through HDYDI. She also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

***

World Breastfeeding Week 2013 Blog Carnival - NursingFreedom.org and The San Diego Breastfeeding Center Visit NursingFreedom.org and The San Diego Breastfeeding Center for more breastfeeding resources and WBW Carnival details!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants. Below are a list of links for today’s participants; you can find a complete list of links (updated throughout the week) at our main carnival page:

(This list will be updated by afternoon August 5 with all the carnival links.)

  • An Unexpected Formula-Fed Attachment — Kyle (of JEDI Momster and) writing at Natural Parents Network, exclusively breastfed three healthy babies. So when she was pregnant with her fourth, she assumed she would have no breastfeeding troubles she could not overcome. Turns out, her fourth baby had his own ideas. Kyle shares her heartfelt thoughts on how she came to terms with the conclusion of her breastfeeding journey.
  • It Take a Village: Cross Nursing — Shannah at Breastfeeding Utah shares how cross-nursing helped her baby in their time of need, and how that experience inspired her to create a community of cross-nursing and milk-sharing women.
  • Random little influences and Large scale support communities lead to knowing better and doing better — amy at random mom shares how her ideas and successes involved with breastfeeding evolved with each of her children, how her first milk sharing experience completely floored her, and how small personal experiences combined with huge communities of online support were responsible for leading and educating her from point A to point D, and hopefully beyond.
  • Mikko’s weaning story — After five years of breastfeeding, Lauren at Hobo Mama shares how the nursing relationship with her firstborn came to a gentle end.
  • My Milk is Your Milk — Lola at What the Beep am I Doing? discusses her use of donor milk and hhow she paid the gift back to other families.
  • World Breastfeeding Week 2013 Blog Carnival – Celebrating Each Mother’s Journey — Jenny at I’m a full-time mummy lists her experiences and journey as a breastfeeding mother.
  • Working Mom Nursing Twins — Sadia at How Do You Do It? breastfed her twin daughters for 7 months. They made it through premature birth and NICU stays, her return to full-time work, her husband’s deployment to Iraq, and Baby J’s nursing strike.
  • So, You Wanna Milkshare? — Milk banks, informed community sharing and friends, oh my! So many ways to share the milky love; That Mama Gretchen is sharing her experience with each.
  • Milk Siblings: One Mama’s Milk Sharing Story (and Resources)Amber, guest posting at Code Name: Mama, shares how her views on milk sharing were influenced by her daughter receiving donor milk from a bank during a NICU stay, and how that inspired her to give her stash to a friend.
  • Humans Feeding Humans — Krystyna at Sweet Pea Births shares ideas on how we can celebrate all the different ways modern mommies feed their babies. While we are comfortable with the breastmilk-formula paradigm, she proposes that we expand our horizons and embrace all the different ways mamas feed their infants.
  • When Breastfeeding Doesn’t Go As Planned — MandyE of Twin Trials and Triumphs shares the challenges she faced in feeding her premature twins. She’s still learning to cope with things not having gone exactly as she’d always hoped.
  • Taking Back My Life By Giving Away My Milk — When Amanda Rose Adams‘s first child was born, he was tube fed, airlifted, ventilated, and nearly died twice. In the chaos of her son’s survival, pumping breast milk was physically and mentally soothing for Amanda. Before long her freezer was literally overflowing with milk – then she started giving it away.
  • The Tortoise and the Hare — Nona’s Nipples at The Touch of Life discusses why we care about breast milk and formula with everything inbetween.
  • Finding My Tribe of Women Through Milk Sharing — Mj, guest posting at San Diego Breastfeeding Center shares her journey breastfeeding with low milk supply and supplementing with donor milk using an at the breast supplemental nursing system. She shares the impact milk sharing has had on her life, her family, and how it saved her breastfeeding relationship. Her article can also be found at her blog:
  • Human Milk for Human Babies — Sam at Nelson’s Nest shares her perspective on milk-sharing after an unexpected premature delivery left her pumping in the hopes of breastfeeding her son one day. Sam’s milk was an amazing gift to the other preemie who received it, but the connection was a blessing in the donor mom’s life too!
  • Sister, I Honor You — A mother feeding her baby is a triumph and should be honored, not criticized. Before you judge or propagate your own cause, go find your sister. A post by Racher: Mama, CSW, at The Touch of Life.
  • Every Breastfeeding Journey Is Different, Every One Is Special — No two stories are alike, evidenced by That Mama Gretchen’s collaboration of a few dear mama’s reflections on their breastfeeding highs, lows and in betweens.
  • Quitting Breastfeeding — Jen W at How Do You Do It? share a letter she wrote to her boys, three years ago exactly, the day she quit breastfeeding after 9 months.
  • A Pumping Mom’s Journey — Shannah at Breastfeeding Utah shares about her journey pumping for her son, who was born at 29 weeks.

What a Nightmare

Just a heads up. This is a post in which I vent.

—————————

I am miserable. Everything I’ve been stressing about for the past several months is now starting to come to a head. I start work next week, with the official first day of school on the following Monday. With this deadline in mind, I feel like I’m fighting on too many fronts.

On Weaning

I’ve done the whole pump at work thing. Not fun. Not part of my return to work plan. But I’ve hit a slight snag trying to wean. 2.5 years ago with my first it wasn’t hard at all. I wanted badly to stop pumping, so I used the week off during Thanksgiving to step it down, and then Christmas break to finally end it. It was blissful to be finally done. But the point is that I was highly motivated and I had the time to make it a very gradual process. With the twins… I’m actually enjoying my pumping ritual. Pumping for two is not easy, and I am proud of having done it for this long. It just feels wrong to be letting it go. With that said, I still refuse to go back to pumping at work. So, starting about a month ago, I began lengthening the time between pumpings to 3 or 4 hours. I got a clogged duct. Well, the solution to a clogged duct is to pump MORE. So, in pain and running a fever, I went back to every 2 hours and finally it stopped hurting. Then I started over and to 3 hours, then 5, now 6… and guess what? I feel another clog coming on. I’ve never once experienced a clogged duct pumping for Toddler; this time is the 4th painful clog. Oy vey!

On Twins’ Sleep

For the last few days, we’ve been experiencing a sleep upheaval around here. The babies are not sleeping their normal times and durations, it’s affecting their feeding schedule, and they’ve been crying inconsolably much like they used to 4 or 5 months ago. I can only guess that they are transitioning to 2 naps now. It’s wreaking havoc on my nerves. This transition is probably never easy (I remember some headaches when Toddler went through them), but with twins it really is difficult x2. Maybe one is ready for a new schedule and the other isn’t? Maybe they both are but they need me to do something differently? I haven’t figured it out yet. I want to have them firmly set in the new routine before shipping them off to my mom’s, but right now it’s just survival.

On Twins’ Childcare Arrangement

So my mom decided she’d rather have me bring the babies to her house where she’s more comfortable instead of coming over to mine. I’m not altogether sure this is the best way to go, but it’s what she chose so we’ll have to work it out. Husband, his brother, and I spent quite a bit of time last weekend over there (while she was at our house watching the kids) clearing out, cleaning, assembling a second crib (Toddler’s will now be babies’), and installing a baby gate in the babies’ room. We are nowhere near done. The carpet needs to be cleaned, toys sanitized and organized, and all the baby paraphernalia x2 need to make their way over there. Did I mention this room is upstairs?

On Toddler’s Childcare Arrangement

Yesterday I registered Toddler for full day preschool nearby. It isn’t the most ideal place (Husband would say that I don’t think anywhere is good enough for her), but it will have to do. Mandarin is spoken, it’s close to home, the price isn’t too exorbitant, and the teachers seem caring enough. I paid for the month of August and gave a $250 deposit. Like all preschools, no discount for holidays (teachers get lots!) and 6 months’ attendance is required before the deposit can be refunded. No turning back now. She better like it there. I’m so scared what will happen when I have to leave her, or worse, at nap time. If she cries, I think I will cry too.

On Start of School Anxiety

After so long of being a SAHM, I truly dread going back to the frantic life of a working mom.  Not that life isn’t frantic staying at home with 3 young children, but in a different way I guess. I don’t look forward to waking up at the crack of dawn, getting myself ready as well as Toddler (before I didn’t really care how she looked to go to grandma’s house– she went in pajamas and unbrushed hair), remembering to get the day’s stuff ready for 2 babies, and rushing out the door to make it to school at 7am so I could get things done since I can’t stay after school. I also don’t have any appropriate clothes. Seriously, I haven’t worn real clothes or shoes for over a year. My wardrobe since the twins were born consists of camis and stretch pants. Before that I was wearing maternity clothes. And I literally have been only wearing a single pair of flip flops since the beginning of last summer. My shoes probably don’t even fit anymore. There is certainly some shopping to be done, which I don’t have time to do with 3 kids around.

On Other BS Stuff

Of course when one (several) bad things are happening, life has a way of throwing a bunch at us at the same time right? Our washing machine has been on the fritz for weeks. Buy a new one or attempt to repair it? No clue how to answer that question, but wondering every time I put in a load of laundry whether it will spin is not a way to live. I haven’t seen the dentist in at least 4 years. It’s probably time to go, but time and money and my fear of the dentist are all prominent factors here. Do baby clothes ever manage themselves? I find that I am frequently taking piles of outgrown clothes, some still with tags, and throwing them in huge storage bins. Here is another instance where two babies is definitely worse than one. I have had intermittent back pain ever since the twins were born. Keeping up with two mobile babies really does a number on me. Add in some stress and physical exertion and I start to feel like I’m breaking in half at the waist. You know what else? Our cleaning lady is vacationing for the month of August.

————————–

Ok, I’m done. Whew! That feels a little bit better (not really). If anyone has any advice how to get through this, I could use it.

Saying Goodbye to the Breastpump

The time has come. School starts in about 5 weeks, and I go back to work in less than 4. I can’t believe it’s already upon me. I had thought back when the twins were 8 weeks old that I had quite a lot of time to decide how I would handle the breastfeeding thing. Making it to 8 months was always the ideal goal, the one that would happen in the best of possible worlds. More realistically I thought I’d stop when Husband went back to work, or at most 6 months perhaps. But somehow, I’ve been able to keep up with pumping every two hours while I’m awake for over 7 months now.

Of course at times this has been incredibly challenging, like taking the pump with me while on outings longer than 3 hours and pumping in the car/bathroom/other weird location, or pumping while one or two or all three kids need my attention. I’ve woken up in a pool of leaked milk, stayed up late to wash pump parts that I forgot about, and threatened to take a hammer to the darned contraption when I was done (might still do this).

But mostly, it’s just become a part of my life. I have learned to live it in 2-3 hour increments. After that amount of time, I get to take a “break” to go pump, and allow myself 10 minutes of me time. Sometimes Toddler comes along and plays on my bed next to me for a quiet chat– time to spend alone with her. It’s a chance for me to get caught up on the news, read some blogs, check in on Facebook– I’ve recently even started reading Game of Thrones.

Now that this routine is about to change, I feel a bit lost. I weaned the pump when Toddler was 8 months old. Working and pumping definitely took a much bigger toll, and I couldn’t wait to be done. But this time I feel different. I’m sort of mourning the loss of something that has become such a big part of my life. I read somewhere that the pump is like your third child, and in a way it is, and that child is kind of hard to let go. I know I should be excited that I will no longer need to wash all those pump parts, my family can get all that time back, and pumping will not be one of our schedule constraints any longer, but I’m actually more… sad.

Or maybe I’m projecting my emotions about returning to work onto pumping. I think I would happily trade continuing to pump if it meant I could continue to stay home.

Silver Linings of Bed Rest

12 days ago I went in to the doc for my 32-week check up and a half hour or so later, ended up in the hospital for monitoring, due to high blood pressure, having dilated and lots of swelling.  Once hooked up for monitoring, I was told my contractions were about 3-4 minutes apart.  I had been having contractions for a few months now, and never really bothered to time them, as I’d been told it was normal to have contractions early with twins. Before you knew it, I was being admitted, and stayed two days in order to get some meds in my system to slow down contractions and two doses of steroids to help with the babies’ lung development should they come a lot earlier than anticipated. Upon discharge, it was recommended that I stay on bed rest till 34 weeks, at minimum.

12 things I’ve learned in those 12 days that I did not know before

  1. The clock does not matter in the hospital.  I had a nurse come in to check my weight at 3am.  My weight.  I understand that this could be related to ruling out preeclampsia.  But still.  3am seemed a little unnecessary.  Almost like they just wanted to give a job to the night nurse to even out the daytime workload.
  2. After only two days of hospital bed rest, my muscles seemed to weaken.  I have nothing but sympathy and total admiration for you MoMs who endure MONTHS of hospital bed rest, not to mention, people who struggle with chronic illnesses that keep them bedridden for the forseeable future.
  3.  Even nurses in the high-risk OB floor, whose caseloads are probably half women pregnant with multiples, will make the annoying comments like, “Wow, a boy/girl set of twins!  Now you’re done!”  If the nurses in this arena still make these comments, can we really have hope for the rest of society to be more PC?
  4. IVF really does prepare you for the discomforts of being poked and prodded a million times and the lack of modesty that comes with being in the hospital.  Silver linings.
  5.  It is possible to gain 10 lbs of fluid in 48 hours from IV fluid.
  6.  It is possible for it to take 10 days to lose said 10 lbs of fluid.
  7.  The advice from others takes different shape throughout pregnancy, and has followed this timeline for us: Trying to conceive advice- “Just don’t stress about it, it’ll happen.”  Pregnant advice-”You think you’re tired now, just WAIT until you have a baby to take care of at 3am.”  Twin advice (from moms of singletons)- “Better you than me.”  See also number 10 on this list.  Bedrest advice-”You need to just accept it.  It’s all for the greater good.”  I just can’t wait to see what lovely nuggets of wisdom we get once the babies are actually here.
  8. That list of things I’ve always wanted to do that’s piled up for ages can actually get done pretty quickly when I don’t have other things like work, exercise, cleaning that I’m able/allowed to do.
  9. Working from home would not be something good for me.  I didn’t learn this through this experience, but it reaffirmed that I do get so much out of being around others each day, conversing, learning, contributing.  And I’m grateful to have a job I can return to that will allow me this luxury when the twins arrive.
  10. I am so lucky I had no complications in this twin pregnancy until 32 weeks, and even with being on bed rest, this is still a very healthy pregnancy.
  11. Every step of our fertility and pregnancy journey has taught me more and more to surrender and accept the things I cannot control.  Bed rest is just another one of these things to humble me and remind me to live life on life’s terms, not on mine.
  12. I am so incredibly lucky to be surrounded by friends who have texted every day, parents who have driven 45 minutes just to walk my dog for me, a husband who has waited on me hand and foot, family to visit and make us meals, a great hospital system a few blocks from our house, and my general health.

What did you learn from your bedrest or pregnancy complications?

Katie is almost 34 weeks pregnant with b/g twins, currently on bed rest and watching way too much HGTV.  She lives in the Chicago area with her husband and soon-to-be-big-sister canine friend.  

Third Strike at Summer Camp

summercamp“Specialty” summer camp logistics has been a nightmare that I can’t wake up from. I told you about the fiasco of our first couple of days this morning. Today was the final straw.

When I went to drop the kids off, I signed them into the full-day program and made sure that the counselors at drop off knew that my daughters needed to get to their cheer and soccer camps at 8:00. At that point, I was informed that this wasn’t an option on field trip days. Since the full-day campers and counselors would be offsite on their field trip, there would be no one available to take care of the children when the specialty camps let out. I could elect either to have the kids go on the field trip and skip cheer and soccer or I could find alternate care for the afternoon.

I wasn’t told when I signed the kids up for camp that specialty camps were essentially going to be incompatible with a work schedule. I specifically told the guy at registration that I was a single working mom, so full-day was a non-negotiable requirement. I’m sure that plenty of kids and parents elect to lose a day specialty camp over time at work, but poor J had already missed a day of cheer-leading on Monday. I wasn’t going to disappoint her again. Instead, I tried to do as much work as I could from my house with the kids there after I picked them up at 1:00 (having been late to work all week thanks to the search for answers at the Y). I was able to get some good focused time in immediately after they got home while they read, but by 4:00, they needed me to focus on them. I’m just so grateful that I have an employer who flexes to the unpredictable needs of two-career and single parents.

Even the coaches at the specialty camps were completely unaware of the conflict between full-day field trips and part-day specialty camps. I can’t help wondering how many coaches have had to stay late, over the years, on discovering that there was no one there to take responsibility for a subset of their kids when they were done with camp for the day.

I must say, in defense of the full-day program, that Sophia, the coordinator, called me as I was pulling out of the full-day parking lot to let me know about the field trip/afternoon care conflict. She apologized for not having mentioned it when we spoke yesterday. I’m embarrassed to say that I landed all my frustrations on her. She’s been nothing but helpful, and I called her later in the day to apologize for venting the way I had.

My daughters and I chatted in the car until shortly before 8:00, when I delivered M and J to their respective coaches. I then stalked YMCA staff until I located supervisors who were willing to talk to me. Specialty camp management was downright useless (except for Casey, who I mentioned yesterday).

The full-day management seemed to take my concerns seriously. They had obviously already discussed my frustrations. They listened to my concerns and recommendations for improvement. They promised to look into both systemic changes that they could implement and why I hadn’t received their weekly emails that outline what we can expect from camp. (There were emails!? This was the first I’d heard of them!)

I made sure that they knew that I had no complaints about the care my children were receiving, and that I’d had nothing but positive interactions with full-day staff. I was just flummoxed by the lack of communication, and the general not-my-problem attitude of the specialty camp administration. I reminded the full-day management that, while they probably get into the swing of things over the course of the summer, there are probably going to be new parents every week for whom the whole process is new and unknown. One of managers let slip that the specialty program doesn’t even inform them of which of the full-day children are enrolled in specialty camps in any given week; I think there’s clearly some federated organization pain going on, which is something I deal with–and try to minimize–at my own workplace.

I had originally thought we could push through the remaining specialty camps that M and J had selected and signed up for this summer, but I think it’ll be better for my blood pressure and the resulting home climate for us to call it quits. The emotional eating alone may be taking years off my life. The friend whose daughter is in J’s cheer camp and my daughters’ Girl Scout troop offered to pick my girls up early on field trip days so I don’t have to miss more work. I’m incredibly grateful for the offer, but she just shouldn’t have to make it.

I think it’s time to stick with the simplicity of the tried and true. Trying to make specialty camps and full-day care work together is like fitting a round peg in a square hole. I’ll leave those special programs to parents who don’t have to balance childcare with a work schedule during the summer. We’ll just stick with the full-day program at an elementary school location. These soccer, cheer, cooking and tumbling camps will have to be another set of things that J and M don’t get to experience because Mommy has a job.

On the upside, both M and J had a grand day. At one point, J’s cheer class happened to go outside to practice, ending up at the same field where M was working on soccer drills. The girls had an emotional reunion, and the coaches agreed to let M skip out of soccer early to visit J’s cheer camp for the week’s performance of the routine they’ve been working on. J, being the lightest kid in cheer camp, gets to be a “flyer,” the girl at the top of the pyramid. She’s giddy about M getting to watch her. I think that the counselors’ sensitivity to J and M’s relationship with each other and their willingness to think outside the box to nurture it shows that they don’t subscribe in the least to the uncaring culture of their management.