Twinfant Tuesday: Going Back to Work After Maternity Leave (Part IV)

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8 tips for making the return to work successful, from an IT professional and mother of twins.

Tips for Making a Return to Work Easier

Here are a few things that I think kept me from throwing up my hands and quitting my job in the first week back.

  1. A supportive co-parent. I trusted my husband completely with the babies. He had been present for them in their NICU-bound first days in ways I couldn’t after a C-section. Although he didn’t see the need for it, he agreed to stay home from work my first two days back, just in case the babies refused to feed from a bottle or I just couldn’t make the breast pump work for me.
  2. Research. I read up on the psychology of children raised by working mothers. I can’t find the articles I read back in 2006 now, but the ones that gave me the most comfort fell into two categories. There were the findings that showed that children of working mothers got just as much quality time from them as from stay-at-home moms, which countered my concerns that my children would be or feel neglected. There were also articles that argued that working moms were generally happier than stay-at-home moms. Having been diagnosed with clinical depression myself and having been raised by a mother with untreated mental illness, I knew how important it was to take care of myself so that I could be the best mother possible.
  3. A job I love. There would have been no point in returning to work if I didn’t enjoy what I did. I loved (and still love) the challenges, the pace, and above all my wonderfully smart, funny, supportive co-workers (including RachelG). I enjoyed my job so much that I went back to it even though my take home pay after daycare costs was about $100/month. Fortunately, I was awarded a promotion not long afterward, but I enjoyed work enough that it wasn’t about the money. If I were just working to make ends meet, I can imagine being deeply unhappy.
  4. A great boss. My team lead, Gordana, was breastfeeding her own infant when I came back to work. She was both a professional and a mothering mentor. She made sure that I had a place to pump and made me feel at ease making my breastfeeding needs known and respected. When J went on nursing strike, it was Gordana who recommended that I take some time off work to spend full days skin-to-skin with J to coax her back to the breast.
  5. Trusted caregivers. My daughters’ infant teacher, Suzanne, has become family. From the moment she met them, she loved my daughters as her own. She always told me what was going on with them, worked as a partner to address her concerns and mine, and gave insightful recommendations from her experience with infants. Every day, I was given a sheet of paper for each child documenting every meal, nap, diaper, activity, and event of the day. I trusted her, and still trust her, completely. She was actually the one who recommended the elementary school my daughters now attend, from which her own daughter is about to move onto middle school. When my girls (along with their friend Shaw) graduated from pre-K at their daycare centre, Suzanne cried as hard as I did.
  6. Established breastfeeding. The 8 weeks my girls and I had together 24/7 showed me that we could make breastfeeding work. I didn’t mind supplementing their diets with formula, but I was committed to getting them as many of the benefits of breastmilk as possible. Had we not been going strong with breastfeeding already, I’m not sure I could have made it through each workday without my babies at my side.
  7. Confidence. I had to be certain that I was doing the right thing. There were going to be naysayers feeding into my own doubts. I told myself that my working was the right choice for my family, and no one else could possibly decide for us how our family should be structured. I’ve never been one to follow the expected path, so that part came easily.
  8. Lowered standards. The fact is that an adult who spends 12 hours in their home can get less done with regards to housekeeping and cooking than one who is home 22-24 hours a day. Laundry didn’t get folded. It just didn’t. I used cleaning robots (Roomba and Scooba) to clean my floors because I couldn’t do it. We hired a lawn maintenance company because even if I were home during daylight hours, there was no way I was doing yard work. And I didn’t sit. I was in constant motion that first year. The first time I sat down outside of work and breastfeeding was when the babies were 6 months old and we went to Washington and were surrounded by doting grandparents, great grandmothers and great uncles and great aunts. I sat down and had a glass of wine with my mother-in-law while Grampy fed the babies. It was amazing.

Proud Grandpa displaying his grandtwins at the fire station

What are/were your concerns about returning to work?

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Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the single mother of 8-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, but now also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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Twinfant Tuesday: Going Back to Work After Maternity Leave (Part II)

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Why 11 Weeks Was Enough

For our family, 11 weeks post-partum for a return to my job worked out rather well. Please don’t take this to mean that I support the US’s shamefully short maternity leave policies. I simply mean that for us, 11 weeks was okay. I think every mother needs to decide for herself and her baby what the right amount of time together is before returning to work.

My daughters took to the breast amazingly easily after their NICU days of gavage- and bottle-feeding. We made the switch right away, no transition plan needed. Since M was home nearly a week before J, I was able to establish a breastfeeding and pumping routine with her. She fed for 45 minutes every 3 hours, and I pumped for 20 minutes after each breastfeeding session. (I didn’t figure out the magic of pumping on one side while breastfeeding on the other until later in our breastfeeding journey.) Twice a day, M got high-calorie formula fortified with Poly-Vi-Sol while I pumped. The pumped milk was delivered to the NICU once a day, my wonderful father-in-law driving me and M to the hospital and waiting with the baby in the car as I limped in to briefly hold J. My husband had been shipped off to California by the army when the girls were 10 days old.

When J came home, she fit right into M and my feeding routine. I never could get simultaneous feeding figured out, so the babies would each feed for 45 minutes every 3 hours.

That’s right. During the 8 weeks of maternity leave between the babies leaving the hospital and my return to my job, I spent 12 hours every day breastfeeding.

This is what breastfeeding 12 hours a day looks like.

Much as I wanted to make breastfeeding work, returning to work gave me back my sense of self. I felt valued for more than just my milk-production ability. Had I not had my work successes and co-workers to validate me, I don’t know that I could have survived J’s nursing strike, her complete refusal to breastfeed at age 5 months.

It felt so good to be back at work. A multi-year project completed days after I came back to work, and while all my friends were burned out and exhausted, I was chipper and exhausted, ready to get back to something I knew I was good at. It wasn’t that I was at bad at mothering newborns−I’m 100% baby person−but I really enjoyed the concrete validation that I was doing things right. That validation doesn’t come until years down the road for parents, if ever.

Then there was lunch. Every day at work gave me an entire hour during which nothing was expected of me. I could eat. I could nap. I could take a walk, or wash my face or brush my teeth without guilt. I could give friends my undivided attention. Lunch was a glorious extraordinary gift that I had taken for granted for years.

Maternity leave was a very lonely time for me. My husband was away for army training much of the time and my in-laws could only take a few weeks off work to travel from Washington State to Texas. My friend Sara and I spent as much time together with our 3 newborns as we could, since her husband was away with mine, but we lived 40 miles apart, so daily hanging out wasn’t reasonable. I hadn’t yet made other mommy friends. People did come to visit, but I lived 30 miles from work and the majority of my friends just couldn’t make the trek. I am an intense extrovert. I talked to the babies all day long, but they weren’t the most insightful of conversational partners.

Since my daughters have been in daycare since they were so young, they’ve never known anything else. Yes, we had a bout of separation anxiety when they were 17 months old, but I’ve never dealt with the sort of trauma at being separated from my girls that I’ve seen with other parents. Returning to work as early as I did taught me to trust others to care for my children

It also helped foster a more egalitarian separation of duties with my husband than we might have had otherwise. We shared the responsibilities of diapering and bathing our babies. During the 3 months Daddy was home in the girls’ first year, between California training and Iraq deployment, my then-husband took on all housework and cooking so that I could focus on breastfeeding. He even took half the nighttime feedings, since we both had jobs to get to in the morning. He mastered latching the babies onto my breast without waking me and quickly figured out how to determine when each baby had emptied one breast and was ready for the second. Within the first week after I returned to work, I was able to sleep through my husband’s rolling me over to switch breasts, and I got more than 90 minutes of sleep at a time for the first time since M came from the hospital.

SadiawithBabes

Did you look forward to returning to work? Did you feel guilty?

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the single mother of 8-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, but now also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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