Back at Work with Baby

I started back to work on Monday. I only took 8 weeks this time because I couldn’t afford to do a month unpaid (for my non-US readers who don’t know, the United States “maternity leave” is a joke – you get 6 weeks of disability for vaginal delivery and 8 weeks for cesarean, and disability is less than $200 a week). My work gave me two weeks of maternity leave, on top of the disability, and came up with an extra project for me to do now that I’m back to make up the difference in my salary, which is great and more than my previous employer did for me, and I have the flexibility of being able to work from home and make up hours as convenient and I get to bring the baby with me as much as I need to, which will be all the time at least through the end of the year.

But I’m exhausted. Trying to do it all is physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausting. I’m getting about 2 hours less sleep than I have been and I’m not able to rest while nursing at work like I do at home. Monday was tough on both the baby and I, Tuesday was good, yesterday was tough again, and today is good again. I had hoped to get a break and get some me-time and extra work done in the evenings after my son goes to bed, now that the baby is taking one bottle a day from my husband, but she needed me both Monday and Wednesday night as she’s transitioning to being out of the house all day and teething at the same time. Monday I was holding her, too tired to even cry even though I felt like I needed to, and last night I just accepted it – after screaming her head off for the entire 30 minutes I was putting my son to bed, she immediately calmed when I took her from my husband, then I tried passing her back to him ten minutes later and she went off again (he feels really bad about it), so we took a bath together, she and I, and then I just held her and read the rest of the evening.

It is harder than I thought, but every time I want to whine, I just remind myself how much better I have it than so many. I get to make the choice of having my baby with me, I have a supportive husband and family, the company I work for is transitioning to being even more supportive of it’s employees and trying to avoid us all overworking quite as much as we’ve been in the past. So I feel like an ingrate when it doesn’t seem like enough. The hardest thing for me, I think, is now that my son is in school all day and I don’t get home sometimes until 5:30PM, I feel like I get maybe 15 minutes before bath time and then our 30 min at bedtime for stories and cuddles and that’s it, and it’s not enough time for me. And I look at all the projects I want to do around the house (we still haven’t even finished unpacking) and all the creative projects I want to do for myself, and I have to remind myself that an infant is hard enough to take care of all by itself and everything else will come in due time. I have to continually let myself off the hook or else the tension starts building too high.

On the plus side, I’m feeling good about getting back in the swing at work now. Things are getting organized, we’re in the planning stages that I really like to be a part of, and there are some really fun projects coming up for me, as long as I let myself have fun with them and not stress out. And I’ll soon lose all the baby weight I gained (already more than halfway there) because of all the manual labor I’m doing on top of wearing the baby for hours every day. There will be days that I know I’ll barely be holding things together, that I feel like all the threads are starting to unravel, but it’s all worth it. At least, I hope so.

Career Verses Motherhood

My place of employment where I am part-time salaried and freelance on certain projects is pushing me up to full-time hours for three months starting in a couple of weeks, and they should know soon if they will keep me permanently full-time (all depends on whether certain funding they are hoping to get comes through or not). And I am having mixed feelings on the matter.

On the one hand, I’m really excited. Between the full-time hours and the extra freelance fees, I have a chance to make an actual, grown-up living wage for the first time in my life, from one place of employment, plus fairly decent benefits (as far as working for a non-profit goes, that is). My hours will still remain flexible, in that some weeks I’ll work more and some weeks I’ll work less, and I can still do some of the work from home, but the bank of hours that I draw on will literally be doubled. The projects that are planned for the coming year are incredibly interesting and varied, and having the full-time hours will give me the time to really go in depth on those projects and do the high-quality creative work that I enjoy doing.

On the other hand, it is twice as many hours that I have to work, which means less time spent with my son. Less time to work on personal creative projects. Having to really lock myself in to quality time with both my son and my husband because otherwise I will get too distracted by work and forget. Less time to cook and bake for fun. Less time to take on freelance projects. It means I have to fully relinquish control of the household to my husband (which I’ve already done a lot of) for all of our sanity, which is a rather difficult thing for me to do. But the potential lack of time to spend with my son, even though it is way more than many other parents get to have, is what aches the most.

The dreaded Mommy Guilt is something that will never go away. Balancing everyone’s needs and wants is a difficult task, and one that I’m not entirely sure I’ve accomplished. But we’ll take things as they come, as we always do. As we have to do.

“It’s my nature to go around in high spirits most of the time and then collapse.” – Margaret Sullavan

A friend of mine sent me a postcard while on a cross country trip (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, if you are curious) with the above quotation on it.  And it struck me as being very true about me.

I am happy in my life and my creative work most of the time, taking on more projects, juggling as many balls (and knives and flaming swords) as I can, because I love what I do.  And I push myself to do more and more until I can’t take anymore and I collapse in exhaustion or illness.  Lack of sleep spurs inflammatory responses in my body that make me crave bread and sugar, which then triggers more inflammation, and all of this makes my psoriasis flare up.  And then I get down about everything emotionally because I’m so drained.  I rest up, resolve to be better and kinder to myself in the future, and I end up in a continuous cycle.

Since realizing this about myself post grad school, and knowing how unhealthy working like this makes me, I’ve tried to become more conscious of my pacing.  I’ve begun taking care of myself better over the years.  And now, I can tell when I’m about to hit a wall and attempt to take steps to get back on track.  Like last night, I went to bed as soon as I got my son down, at about 8:40PM.  So rather than the 4-5 hours I’ve been getting almost every night for the past two months, I got closer to a cumulative 8 hours, which is what I needed to begin to recover.

It is such a difficult balance act.  On the one hand, I want to push myself to create, because that is what makes me happy, but on the other hand, I don’t want to work myself into an early grave or neglect my family.  Ideally, if and when the creative work is able to provide a living wage for me, my schedule will be much easier to balance, but I have to acknowledge that self-sufficiency may never come, especially in today’s society.

Anyway, this quote gave me a lot to think about, and I’m sure I’ll be reflecting on it a lot more in the coming months.