I woke late Thursday morning. Too late to take a shower, style my hair and make myself more presentable for my first day back at work.
To make up for it, I put lipstick on.
Going back to work last Thursday was a lot like ripping off a Band-Aid. For the first few moments, it hurt; but the pain faded, and I didn’t feel it again — not that I couldn’t wait to go home to squeeze my baby and hold him until bed (which is exactly what I did).
My husband walked me to the door with my son still snoozy in his arms. Walking out the door hurt, but the hurt faded as I drove, and it was gone once I sat down to check my email for the first time in six weeks.
I felt OK.
And I didn’t feel guilty for feeling OK.
Over the weekend, my boss and coworkers hung curtains over the large, inward-facing window in my office so I can close up shop when I need to pump, and I taped printer paper on the two small windows that face out into the parking lot. An “Open/Closed” sign and a lock on my door round out the perfect “Mother’s Room.”
I love not needing to leave my desk. Pumping is boring enough without the added hassle of setting up in some other room without anything else to do.
You know, like when I pump at 2 a.m.
That Thursday, I think I pumped nearly 30 ounces <– Not an overstatement. It’s like my boobs knew I was leaving him.
My coworkers took me out Friday, too, to welcome me back. I, of course, selected my favorite place to grab lunch — Public Old Town.
I also got new head shots taken Friday during Pink Portrait Day with corporate photographer Kacy Meinecke.
All proceeds went to benefit ICT SOS, an organization founded to fight human trafficking. Not only a fabulous photographer, also a fabulous person.
I didn’t just go back to work last week. I think I went back to “Shae” a little, too.
Emails, voicemails, proposals and projects? Check.
Lunch at a foodie hot spot? Check.
Sassy face photos with bright red lipstick? Check.
Today, my doctor will tell me if I’m healed and ready to get back to active Shae duty. Honestly, though, “active Shae duty” just involves 40- to 50-hour work weeks and an occasional attempt to exercise regularly. (My last attempt to get into a fitness regimen was stifled by pregnancy exhaustion and nausea.)
Today is also my last day of maternity leave. Tomorrow, I go back to work.
I’m ready to go back to work. I’ve prepared for my child. He will not hunger because my freezer and my deep-freeze are packed full of breast milk for him while I’m away. I also have the best child care in the form of his father and loving grandmother rotating days when my husband doesn’t have to go to work.
Physically, I’m healed (as far as I know — the doctor might say different). Plus, I’m excited to take my work projects back on and get outside of my house on a regular basis — and to wear real clothes again.
…not that sweatpants aren’t amazing.
But I think I know why some moms choose to stay home with their children — and not just for financial reasons.
I am going to miss so much during one of my son’s most developmentally exciting times.
He’s only six weeks old. His smiles aren’t yet intentional; I might miss his first one. I might not be the first person he smiles at. His coordination isn’t developed, and his movements aren’t intentional either. I might not be the first person he reaches for when he’s hungry or cold or uncomfortable or just wants to snuggle.
Because I’m not going to be there.
I’ve experienced bouts of “mom guilt” — from going to the store for an hour to drinking Dr. Pepper. It takes many forms — some, ridiculous — but this “mom guilt” is the worst for me.
I’m excited to go back to work, and I feel so guilty for it.
Heavier than any other emotion I’ve felt, it is both dense and hollow. Leaving him when he is so small — even in the care of my husband — weighs on me and makes me feel empty at the same time. I know my baby will be safe and loved, but I’m not the one keeping him safe — and, for eight hours a day, I have to love him from my office.
Plainly, it sucks.
Guilt over leaving my child was not something I expected of myself. I expected to feel free to feel whatever I wanted, including excitement and dread, but I did not expect to feel like a horrible mother.
This also sucks.
I’ve been told by friends that “it gets easier,” and I believe it does. Before my son was born, my greatest joys came from working — don’t make fun of me — I love having work goals and accomplishing them and cheering about it in my head. Crossing things off my to do list is close to nirvana for me. (Again, please don’t make fun of me.) I’m giddy just thinking about it… but looking at my goals and my to do list now, both pale in comparison to every noise my son makes and the peacefulness I feel when he’s draped across my chest snoring softly in his sleep.
Of course, missing my son’s developmental milestones is not the only reason I have this mom guilt.
While I’m at work, I can’t help him with his development… because I’m not going to be there.
While I’m at work, I can’t nurse him… because I’m not going to be there. I also fear I’ll fail to pump just the right amount of times to keep my supply up and my milk might dry up. (Another form of mom guilt.)
While I’m at work, I can’t hold him while he cries… because I’m not going to be there. I don’t love it when he cries, but I sure do love holding him until he stops.
The case for paid maternity and paternity leave shouldn’t have to be argued in this country. It’s important for the health and development of the child, and it’s important for the health and wellness of the parent. It’s also important that parents not suffer crippling financial ruin for staying home to care for a baby.
I was lucky to spend six weeks with my son — not everyone can — but I had to use every day of vacation and sick time from last year and anything I earn this year to do it.
I am lucky my son will be close by while I’m at work — with his father or with his grandmother.
I’ve heard people say you’re never truly prepared to have children.
After having a baby, I say: “Fair statement.”
I did try to prepare some things — if not myself completely — for my baby’s impending arrival, such as bedside snack and diaper stations, freezer meals and smoothies. I also stocked up on diapers, wipes, burp clothes, pumping and milk storage supplies and coffee.
Lots and lots of coffee.
Here’s what I found useful and what I didn’t end up using:
Diaper, Snack and Other Stations
My son sleeps in our bedroom in a bassinet next to our bed. Why? Because our bedroom is on the second floor of our house and the baby’s bedroom is not. I’m not walking up and down stairs in the middle of the night, half asleep and sleep-deprived, to change a baby’s diaper or feed him.
Danger is not my middle name.
I knew I would need diapers, wipes and burp clothes nearby in the middle of the night — hence, bedside diaper station, replacing the Ansel Adams print and handmade decorative bowl I put bobby pins and hair ties in that I forget to take out before bed.
Now, it doesn’t really matter what’s in my hair before bed — bobby pins, baby spit, barf — nbd.
I originally included diapers, wipes, burp clothes and nursing pads. I actually use diapers, wipes, burp clothes and a changing pad.
The changing pad is necessary. Trust me.
Guess what you don’t need in the middle of the night? Nursing pads. You won’t care.
While I also have a drawer full of water bottles next to my bed, I don’t have a bedside snack station. That’s downstairs where the majority of the feeding and pumping occur. I’m not sure if you know this, but breastfeeding (and pumping) is hunger-making.
I am hungry all. the. time.
Snacks are required.
My favorites include Cashew Cookie Larabars, trail mix and string cheese. The cheese stays in the refrigerator, of course.
I set up a diaper station here, too, but I ended up never using it — just took the baby to his changing table in his room when I am downstairs with him.
I also set up a snack station in the nursery thinking I’d be doing a lot of breastfeeding in there. Turns out, I don’t do any breastfeeding at all in the nursery because the television is in the living room and, sometimes, mommy wants to watch Law & Order while baby eats.
With an extra basket floating around, I was able to set up another needed station: bath.
Add a Command hook and we have here a space-saving bath time storage solution!
One station I hadn’t prepared but definitely needed is in the kitchen: dishes.
Between pacifiers, bottles, droppers and pumping supplies, we’re scrubbing dishes two or three times a day.
Speaking of bottles…
I purchased the Kiinde Twist Feeding System Starter Kit and an 80-pack of storage bags because it was so cool. I loved the idea of what it offered: a system for direct pumping to storage bag to bottle to baby without the need for milk transfers.
Except for just one thing…
My son didn’t like the Kiinde Twist Feeding System bottles or nipples. He didn’t seem to care that they were designed specifically to reduce air intake and gas (so maybe his tummy troubles would be less troublesome). He didn’t seem to care that I had purchased the starter kit, pre-washed the pieces and was unable to return any of it.
So I put the bottles and nipples into storage, filled all the bags (and ran out of room in my freezer so I can’t use the storage shelf anymore) and, now, all I use from this system is the bottle/bag/jar warmer that I purchased separately.
A friend of mine warned me not to buy a bunch of bottles for the baby because the baby might not like the bottles I pick.
I should have listened instead of being sucked in by the cool-ness of this product.
Babies, turns out, don’t stay small for very long. ALL my newborn clothes got maybe two wears and only got those two wears because two things got worn each day (sometimes three, babies are gross). I now have overflow of newborn clothes that will never again be worn by my son.
(Including his lamb-y jammies, and I’m not OK about that. They’re still in his drawer so I can look at them.) <– This. This is why mom’s are weird.
A friend of mine told me the sizes on baby clothes are bonkers anyway…
If you’re OK with buying adorable things your child won’t wear more than once — unless you have a normal-sized baby, I guess, mine was large — go ahead and go crazy with the newborn outfits. They’re so small and precious and the pants are so tiny omg it’s not ok.
The baby requires a lot of attention early in the morning — he’s hungry.
Well, mommy is hungry in the morning, too, and smoothies are easy to spin and sip while caring for an infant.
I prep fresh or frozen berries, spinach and bananas and add extras like frozen juice or milk cubes, Greek yogurt, chia seeds and ground flax. Then, I mix them up in plastic bags and blend as needed.
Right now, I have Strawberry-Avocado with berry juice cubes, Blueberry-Spinach with coconut water cubes and Peanut Butter-Banana with oats and flax. I’ll add orange juice, coconut milk or almond milk to these when I blend them for breakfast or lunch.
Sometimes, they’re consumed alongside a cup of coffee and a bagel or toaster pastries. (These aren’t the Pop-Tarts brand so I’m calling them toaster pastries. These are organic toaster pastries so I feel less bad about eating them. I do not feel bad at all about drinking coffee.)
I am not emotionally prepared to tell you about the freezer meals I prepared, but I will try, and I will also try not to use a bunch of words not suitable for ears or eyes.
In December, I prepped 13 crockpot meals and stored them in our deep-freeze. These freezer meals were to feed my husband and I without requiring us to go to the grocery store, cook or order pizza.
I cannot tell you how many times we ordered pizza.
Honestly, I don’t know what I did wrong.
So far, every chicken meal has been bland or… just… wrong. If the freezer didn’t ruin the food, the crockpot did (and the crockpot is 9-1 against the freezer). Some food, such as the tomato-based soup with Italian sausage and tortellini, was OK. Other food, such as the chicken noodle soup, Mexican chicken soup, turkey chili and chicken pot pie, among almost all the other ones, either could not be consumed or tasted so bland no one wanted to consume it anyway.
When I read about crockpot meals, when I see my friends and family talk about their crockpot cooking, when I see entire cookbooks dedicated to the art of the crockpot… I just want to know the secret.
What’s the secret? Tell me, world!
I am occasionally successful at a crockpot meal, but nine times out of 10, I made something so inedible that we end up ordering pizza, takeout or subs to go.
While waxing woefully about my crockpot culinary challenges, a few of my friends shared their own.
Remember the Lampoon’s Christmas? How the turkey was so dry it kinda poofed into dust? Did that with some chicken in the crockpot. — K
I liquefied cheese. And before you say cheese is already liquid… no. No, it’s not. Not like this. — T
I’m glad I’m not alone.
I forced a few of the chicken soups and chicken chilies down my face. Hunger and sleep-deprivation are great motivators for eating whatever you have. Some of the meals, though, I just… couldn’t.
One of the roasts turned out OK so I’m hoping my other two roasts also turn out OK. I also have a Honey Dijon Pork Loin I’m not confident about, but we’ll see.
One thing is for sure: I am never doing that again.
(I’m also never doing pregnancy again or childbirth so hopefully I won’t need to! Ha!)
I have to admit: I didn’t do a lot of research into parenting styles, philosophies or how I planned to parent my infant. Mostly just Pinterest.
I knew I was going to do three things:
Sleep in the same room, but not in the same bed
Take six to eight weeks off work to parent
Infants, turns out, don’t need a whole lot of parenting. I don’t think you parent infants anyway. I think you just have to keep them alive — well fed, well napped and clean pants.
However, in my Pinterest-level research, I discovered these amazing schedules for babies developed by parents and specialists and child psychologists. I thought: “Man! These are great! I would love for my baby to be on one of these sleep schedules.”
Since I had already preordered the “chill baby” — I know, right? — I figured I could implement a schedule for my baby in the six to eight weeks I would be home with him.
Well, guess what…
I did not have a chill baby. He’s mostly NOT chill MOST of the ENTIRE day. No chill at all, this kid ;)
I also did not have a baby who wants to follow a schedule I found on the internet. Oh, no.
The schedule above was my first attempt at putting the baby on a sleep schedule. Look at all those naps! Look at how I can schedule the rest of my at-home activities, such as showering and eating and going to the bathroom without juggling a screaming newborn. And, look! I will know exactly when he’s going to be hungry.
Second, I am not awesome at waking up in the middle of the night if the baby or my very full not-been-emptied-in-hours boobs don’t wake me up. The nurses woke me up at the hospital. Unfortunately, a team of helpful nurses do not live in my house to wake me to feed a sleeping (read: DO NOT WAKE HIM UP OMG WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU) baby.
I’m not setting an alarm either. I’d just sleep through it or snooze it because tired.
And I refuse to wake my baby when he’s sleeping (ever again) if he’s not showing signs of discomfort.
Seriously. A LOT torture.
Third, sometimes my baby will sleep for five, six or — gasp! — seven hours at a time at night. (He only slept for seven hours once, and it was glorious — after I panicked, of course.)
So my dreams of scheduled 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. feedings were dashed by my precious infant who wanted to be awake from 7 to 11 p.m. (uuuuugggghhhh) and up again an hour later or maybe 3:30 a.m., depending on his mood, for a feeding/comfort session involving using me as a pacifier.
Thanks, little dude.
An attempt to put him on his very own special sleep schedule also failed.
I’ve been keeping a notebook of when he sleeps, eats and plays as well as for diaper changes, spit ups and screaming sessions. I used the information I gathered from about a week of his activity to predict his activity moving forward.
I thought: “I’m f-in genius.”
Except for a few things…
First, remember I did not have a chill baby so, of course, he could care less that I documented his every snore to develop his very own special sleep schedule.
Second, he got older, developed new skills — like this amazing shrieking noise to indicate hunger or irritation or the fact that he’s a baby — and changed his very own schedule so I couldn’t predict when he would get tired or when he would get hungry.
I had to wait for the shriek.
Third, “wake/diaper/feed” doesn’t really work for my baby on his very special sleep schedule because sometimes it’s “wake/feed me now before I scream/oops too late screaming/good luck changing my diaper while I mad-kick at nothing.”
Of course, predicting when an infant will poo is impossible, but it will likely happen immediately after changing a wet diaper and buttoning him back into his onesie or in the middle of changing a diaper so it just gets everywhere. (ALWAYS lay the new diaper down before taking off the old one. Always.)
So you’re spending a lot of “nap time” cleaning up messes because of your special sleep schedule.
Today is wonderful because Henry is four weeks old (shut up, no he’s not) and growing well. He’s a healthy, squishy, little nugget.
Today is sad because Henry is four weeks old, and you can tell.
Please excuse me while I sob.
He’s bigger, taller — er, longer? — and chubbier, and his head isn’t cone-shaped anymore. Little rolls are forming on his arms and legs, and he’s growing another chin without a neck in sight.
His hair is getting lighter, and it’s patchy — falling out — from sleeping with his head turned one way or the other or not at all. His eyebrows and eyelashes, however, are still thin and almost too light to see.
His mouth doesn’t pull inward anymore, and he has a defined lower lip that seemed to be missing when he was born.
His eyes are still blue, but they’re open a lot more often, especially at night… when he’s not sleeping.
He’s still a newborn, falling in the 0-3 months category, but he grew out of all of his newborn clothes (except his lamb-y jammies) and is rocking 3-month onesies like a champ.
Today is wonderful because Henry is four weeks old. Today is sad — for mom — because Henry is four weeks old.
When we were in the hospital, my son lost 11 percent of his birth weight. Remember, though, he started at 9 pounds, 5 ounces so I wasn’t too worried until Day #3 of our hospital stay — my milk had not come in.
It was totally supposed to come in by then…
…or maybe it wasn’t.
I guess it really depends on who you ask because they all had different answers — nurses, lactation consultants, doctors, pediatricians… all of them! I choose to believe my OB who told me that delays in milk coming in are totally normal for women who give birth via C-section because of some hormonal nonsense I don’t remember because those four days are still pretty foggy.
The hospital pediatricians were concerned since he was weighing in at 8 pounds, 1 ounce on Day #3 so I started to worry, too.
I already have a problem with fretting, and I was near an emotional mess (hormones, folks), so having pediatricians tell me we had to stay in the hospital for another day so he could gain weight — and he didn’t — made me cry.
Pediatricians made me cry.
They’re like the nicest of all doctors!
We spent our last night in the hospital learning how to supplement our son with formula using this weird cup thing.
It did not go well.
My son also had a difficult time latching, which — if you know a thing or two about breastfeeding — is the most important part. Next to the milk coming in, of course. We had to improvise so six pillows, three or four helping hands and something called a “nipple shield” later, we got him latched in the “Football Hold.” I say we because I required the help of my nurse, the lactation consultant and my husband to be something close to successful.
It was a team effort.
A team effort completely impossible to duplicate at home.
For example, there are only four pillows in my house, and my husband sleeps on two… actually, just one now… of them. Plus, I don’t have a nurse and a lactation consultant on-hand at home.
Three pillows and a Boppy (and sometimes a folded up blanket) made due for the first two nights at home… but my milk still had not come in.
I couldn’t breastfeed my son until he was nearly six days old so, when he got weighed at his first doctor’s appointment, he hadn’t gained back anything near his birth weight. (He did by the time he was two weeks old.)
Because I was so worried about his weight loss and because I knew nothing about breastfeeding, my husband and I went to the lactation clinic where a very nice woman helped me get the baby to latch and feed successfully for an hour. Woohoo! We weighed him before and after he ate to make sure he was “transferring milk.” He got an ounce off just one boob, and my milk had just come in that morning!
After that session, I felt I had nothing to worry about. He did so well! We did so well! I told my husband everything was fine.
I was wrong.
Side Note: Never brag on your child. It’ll backfire.
(This will be a recurring theme.)
When we got home, I attempted to replicate our feeding at the lactation clinic only to have my son scream at my boob and fight me for 20 minutes before finally latching. Every time he lost the latch, which happened often, the whole screaming-fighting-latching thing would start over.
When a baby is hungry, he will give you clues, such as rooting, sucking on his little hands and, yes, even licking his lips. (This is pretty cute.) If you don’t respond right away, the baby gets pissed and refuses to latch until he’s been calmed.
My son went from sleeping to screaming with no “hunger cues” in between. Getting him to latch at home was a nightmare.
An absolute, 20-minute-every-time nightmare.
Getting into the Football Hold position, too, was a nightmare. So many pillows, so many props, so many hands!
Luckily, as he got bigger and as I got better at controlling his limbs, the nightmare faded into one of those dreams that’s not really scary, just weird, and you wake up very confused.
He’s nearly four weeks old (shut up, no he’s not), and we are breastfeeding champions. I’m a pro; he still kinda sucks at it. Not bragging on the kid, here. We’ve graduated from screaming at the boob for 20 minutes to latching it without too much ceremony. Sometimes, we huff, but it’s cool. Mom is patient… OK, mom is more patient.
We’ve also adapted to new holds. Necessity put us in the “Side-Lying Hold.” Necessity, also know as, I was so tired I couldn’t keep my head up so he had to figure it out. This hold would have worked in the hospital, but my C-section incision was so new and so painful that I couldn’t turn to lay on my side. I could barely get out of bed.
Now, we’re practiced and near-perfect at the “Cross-Cradle Hold,” which is, by far, the easiest one to do that requires the least amount of props. Just a Boppy! (And three pillows for me to lean against in bed.)
We’re not so great that I’m willing to make an attempt to breastfeed in public. I’m not taking him out of the house yet anyway. HOWEVER, when he’s got some head control and I’m able to carry him about for long periods of time without getting tired and he’s hungry and we’re in public, um, yeah, I’m gonna feed him.
And I’m not going in a bathroom to do it.
He was back at his birth weight — at least nearly at 9 pounds, 3 ounces — at his two-week checkup. At his two-month check up (shut up, that’s 10 years from now), we hope he’ll have gained another two to three pounds.
The chart is very confusing.
Unfortunately, breastfeeding is going to take a hit by the time his two-month checkup rolls around. Mommy has to go back to work, which is eight hours — technically it’s nine hours, plus drive time and getting ready time, so let’s round up to 10 hours — away from my son. Instead of nursing, I’ll be pumping.
Which brings me to my next point…
Pumping is not fun. In fact, it’s awful.
Imagine being stuck in one spot attached to a machine with one hand completely immobilized while the machine squeezes the life out of your chest over and over and over…
Now, imagine doing that twice.
You can do one of three things with your free hand:
Hold a book. A small book. Fumble to turn the pages.
Scroll through your social. Follow more people on Instagram because this gets old fast and the news is too depressing to read more than once a day.
Hold your head up because it’s 3 a.m., and the baby didn’t wake up to eat but your boobs did.
(You can also eat oatmeal.)
Guess what you can’t do.
Of all the motherly things that have come into my life since having my son, pumping is by far my least favorite.
I hate it.
But I’m going to keep doing it because I go back to work in two weeks, which means my son is going to need a milk supply without me around and I’m going to need to keep my supply up… which means I need to pump.
For like four hours a day, I’ll be stuck in the same spot. Hooked up to that machine. Probably without oatmeal.
Even though pumping is terrible and breastfeeding is hard — like legitimately hard — it’s the best thing for me and for the baby (who screams at me) so I’m going to keep doing it until I don’t need to anymore.
With a conventional delivery, a woman will stay in the hospital overnight — longer, if there were complications, of course.
When delivering surgically — this is my new favorite way to refer to my son’s birth — a woman might stay in the hospital for FOUR DAYS OMG.
I was in the hospital for four days. (The last day was technically my son’s fault.)
The first week of my maternity leave was spent trying to get in and out of an uncomfortable hospital bed using abdominal muscles to which I no longer had immediate access to check on my son who’s little nugget-ness lost too much weight (See? His fault.) laying in his baby Tupperware of a bed while my poor husband tried to sleep on what I can only assume was a Styrofoam couch.
Plus, my legs were the size and shape of tree trunks from the swelling. I not only didn’t have ankles, I also didn’t have knees. The swelling was real, y’all. It’s called pitting edema, and it comes with a heart murmur. Fun!
Not my ideal first week of maternity leave.
Of course, it wasn’t all bad.
Our night nurse the entire time we were in the hospital was the single most amazing human being in the entire world.
I loved her.
Plus, a fleet of nurses and doctors made sure my son and I were healthy, recovering well and getting proper treatment. They were also in charge of my pain medication, which was good because — left up to me — I would forget to take it until I was kneeling in pain unable to move <– First day back at the house… (My husband did have to take over the scheduling of my pain medication for a while.)
But I didn’t prepare for a C-section delivery; I prepared for a normal delivery because, after all, I have the anatomy for it and my baby measured appropriately during the entire pregnancy.
Then, my appropriately-measuring baby boy turned out to be not at all small at 9 pounds, 5 ounces and facing the wrong direction — effectively getting stuck. My doctor called me a “hider” and plans to do an ultrasound before I deliver any more babies so we can get an actual size. (This won’t be a problem. I’m never doing this again.)
So mommy had a C-section, and she was not prepared.
Turns out, I wouldn’t need Tucks, aloe vera or witch hazel. Turns out, I wouldn’t be able to wear pants. (Extra large sweat pants, yes. Regular pants, no. Nearly nothing fit over the girdle — OMG, the girdle — nor my tree trunk legs.)
Returning to duty was the farthest thing from my mind.
Three weeks later, it still is.
Of course, three weeks later, and I’m recovering quite well. My pain is managed, and I think I’m finally finished with those awful after-birth contractions for which no one offers an epidural — rude — and no one really warned me about. While I’m not wearing my comfy lounge pants — they do fit a little too snug against my incision — I’m also not wearing the god-awful girdle anymore so breathing is a thing again.
I also sweat out all the swelling so my legs fit in my stretchy pants again, and my heart no longer murmurs. Yay!
My last three weeks of maternity leave can now take on the difficult task of preparing my body, mind and baby to go back to work. Wowzers.
We’re working on getting the baby on a schedule (more on this later), breastfeeding and pumping successfully (more on this later) and enjoying as much of our time together as we possible can :) More on this below!