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Calling all working moms: What are your rose-smelling secrets?

People keep asking me if I had a nice birthday. I don’t know what to say. I don’t want to lie, but I also don’t want to be that person—you know—the one who answers a positive question in an unexpectedly negative way and then causes an unnecessary, awkward silence. In my opinion, if I do that enough, I will lose friends…or at least acquaintances, who will do what they can to steer clear of the pessimism and uncomfortable situations I create. After all, who wants to talk to a big complainer anyway?

So, back to my 32nd birthday. It was okay, I guess. I spent the majority of the day at work planning an interesting project, then took my son to a pediatrics appointment that lasted way longer than it should have (hours), and afterward de-stressed at a kickboxing class in the evening. My husband bought me pink roses (my favorite) and a pint of the best hot fudge in the whole world (disgustingly enough, yes, I eat the hot fudge by itself—to me, that is a much better treat than a sundae…although I definitely enjoy a good sundae every once in a while too. And, no, in case you’re wondering, I don’t eat the whole pint at once…that would be disgusting.)

All in all, it was a fair day. And, I was accepting of its mediocrity at the day’s end, because I had taken off from work the next day (Friday, the day after my birthday) to celebrate with a three-day weekend and plans to spend some much needed quality time with my son, stepson, and husband…who I feel like I hardly ever see anymore between working every day, going to the gym, and just taking care of life’s miscellaneous, like grocery shopping and paying bills and keeping the house livable.

My first day off (Friday) ended up being pretty much like every other weekend or vacation day I take- somewhat stressful and less than fulfilling.  I spent too much of the day thinking about what I should be doing with my time (like the stuff I mentioned above, plus laundry, dishes, dusting, mopping, packing up clothes that don’t fit the boys anymore, etc). Although I did take care of some of those tasks, I didn’t achieve as much as I could have…because all I could think was, “this is my special day off, and I should be spending time on things I really want to do (like beading, drawing, blogging, shopping, or reading).” I didn’t do any of those things because I felt guilty that I should be doing housework.

Amid over-thinking what I should or shouldn’t be doing with my time and then disappointing myself with not accomplishing much of anything useful or fun, I spent a good amount of the day chasing a toddler around the house as he tried to climb the oven and all the safety gates in our home, pull our air conditioning units out of the windows, jump off the couch, and dive into the toilet.

Sidenote: as much as I’m bitching that I got nothing done, I did do the laundry, the dishes, and some organizing in my bedroom. I took my little guy on two walks in the beautiful weather, and I taught an aerobics class in the afternoon. I cooked two meals from scratch (which I never do), and I relaxed with a glass of pinot noir and an hour of Netflix with my husband before I hit the sack. Looking back on that, on top of the roses and hot fudge, I can’t say it was a bad day. Yet, I was far from satisfied with it. It felt like a busy, but mostly unproductive day, in both the ways of housework and of relaxation. Maybe my standards are too high?

Day 2 (Saturday) was much better. I stopped thinking so much and just got to doing, both necessary things—like paying bills and cleaning—and fun stuff—like going to the park and shopping (as a family). By today (Sunday, day 3 of my three-day birthday weekend), I finally feel satisfied. I can say honestly that the weekend was everything it should have been—productive and relaxing. I accomplished a good part of my to-do list, and I got plenty of playtime with my stepson and son, snuggle-time with my son and husband, and even a little me-time to exercise and blog.  I truly feel ready to start the workweek.

But…why do I do this to myself—why are days off such a stressful mix of worrying about the best ways to spend my time and of feeling guilty and unsatisfied about how I end up spending it? Two-day weekends just don’t seem to cut it for me anymore. They’re simply not long enough to prepare me mentally for the week to come. Unfortunately, I don’t see myself having anything more than those two days weekly away from work anytime soon. So, what’s the solution? Any suggestions from anyone out there? I think I asked a similar question the last time I took a vacation (and felt like I needed a vacation even more when I returned.) I got some good suggestions then about putting a little vacation into everyday life. Maybe I’ll compile and post a list about the working-moms juggle if I get some more ideas…how do other working moms make the most of the time when they’re not at work?

In the meantime, for the first time since I got them, days ago, I just noticed the amazing scent of my birthday roses, sitting on the table next to me. If that’s not a reminder of the importance of answering such questions as the one above, then nothing is. However, instead of spending the last couple hours of my precious weekend searching for an answer, I’m going to enjoy some chardonnay and a little cuddle time with my hubby before the cycle re-consumes me, starting tomorrow when I go back to work. Cheers.

Lessons from a Maternity Leave

As I was gathering together my things for work: checking that the bottles and baby food were all set for tomorrow and that my breast pump parts were packed in my bag, I was reflecting a bit on before, during, and after my maternity leave…and I thought I’d share:

Holy Four Months—Come to Mama!

I was blessed with a four-month maternity leave. After working eight years at the same place, I had saved up enough paid time off to do that. It was the longest time I had ever been off from work. Looking back, I realize my summer vacations from college and even grade school never even lasted four entire months. It was the most time I would be off since I was about four years old, and I was really, really looking forward to it!

“Blessed” is the word I choose to describe how I felt about my leave because I recognize that most working women don’t get that much time. In planning for my leave, I thought about baby on the horizon. I thought about all the joy he would bring into my life, and how much I would dread going back to work when my leave was over. I also thought about the four, whole, glorious months I would have to catch up on me! I made lists of all the major tasks around my house that I hadn’t yet tackled; I would: clean out the attic, get rid of clothes I hadn’t worn in years, put together albums of all my loose pictures. I thought about all the jewelry I would make (one of my favorite hobbies)…and maybe I would sew another quilt?

In retrospect, I’m not sure why taking care of baby didn’t factor into my leave plans. I had heard they sleep quite a bit during the day…so I guess I just figured that would be my all-about-mommy time. When I envisioned my leave, there was this tiny, smiling, bundle there, but he was sleeping in the background…and I was on vacation!

Reality Check: Baby = Work

Little did I know, those four months were not going to be so easy. The first two weeks of my leave, which started on my due date, were spent waiting for baby to arrive. We all have heard that most babies don’t arrive on their due dates. Still, most of us, especially we, first timers, have some ungrounded expectation that childbirth will occur on or at least near the date the doctor quotes. Well, I was two…whole…weeks late. Yes, that’s right: fourteen days and nights of trying suggestion after suggestion for how to bring baby into the light and mama-to-be back to her sanity. From long walks to black licorice to wine to sex (not fun when your body is so large and disproportioned that you can hardly waddle around the house, let alone lie down comfortably and pretend to feel attractive), I tried it all…and still, no sign of baby. On top of that, one eighth of my maternity leave was already gone!

Finally, after those two weeks of waiting for baby plus forty hours of labor, it all ended in a c-section I begged them not to do. (“Please give me just a little more time; I WILL push this child out of me!” was my desperate plea between contractions.) When I got home after 8 days in the hospital, my recovery took much longer than the doctors expected or than a person like me—who has trouble sitting still—can handle. I found it difficult to walk or do much of anything for the whole first month.

Because it hurt to pick baby up or hold him against my sore abdomen, everything that involved baby was challenging. And in general, he was so much more work than I had imagined! Without family around and with my husband back to work after the first week home, I felt overwhelmed. Baby napped often enough (a few times a day), but the naps were so short (usually less than an hour) that it was hard to get anything done. And with all the questions I had about nursing and caring for baby, I found myself leafing frantically through the indexes of baby books and racing through baby websites and research articles as soon as he fell asleep.

As the laundry and dishes piled up and I couldn’t even find time to shower or brush my teeth, my how-I-will-spend-my-four-months-off list became a forgotten memory. Between diaper changes, cleaning up spit up (baby threw up loads after every meal), nursing every two hours, and trying to get baby to nap and stay asleep, if I had the time in a day to wash my face, change my clothes, and dab some concealor under my eyes to hide the lack of sleep, I felt like a success. Who knew that was how it would all go down?

Qualifier

Now, I don’t want to sound too negative here. In spite of my trials, having a baby was (and is!) a very joyous event for me. I relished those moments of closeness with my tiny one with his teensy weensy everything those first few months. And, still, with every pound Jacob gained and every inch he grew, I felt like the hard times were worth it. The smiles, giggles, even the crying—the joyful moments overrode the challenges, by far. Between the struggles, I was constantly reminded that it was no minor miracle that baby was alive and perfect in every way. And, I knew that very miracle originated in my body and was still going strong because of my milk that nourished him. That alone kept my spirits high! Still, it was so different than I had planned.

Back to Work, Back to Me!

Although I feel a tinge of guilt when I say it, the truth about my maternity leave is that having four months off from work made me realize that I never, ever want to do that again. I could attribute it to my long and painful recovery, Jacob’s poor napping habits, or any number of things related to being a mommy. But, plain and simple, I just don’t like not working. And, that’s a good thing, because I don’t really have a say in the matter! To afford our somewhat modest lifestyle (a house just big enough for us that is over a hundred years old, two functional but un-extravagant cars that enable my husband and I to commute to work, and enough money to pay the utility and grocery bills), I simply have no choice but to work full time.

Now, don’t get me wrong—I love spending time with my son, and I love having free time to work out, write, make jewelry, and do other things…but truth be told, I also love to work! I like interacting with adults on a regular basis and having meetings, deadlines, and goals. I like the structure and intellectual stimulation that a job provides, and above all, I like feeling productive. When I was at home with baby all day, I couldn’t be productive in ways that were important to me. I have to say I REALLY hand it to stay-at-home moms out there. I truly don’t understand fully how it’s done. By the end of four months of being at home with baby, I longed to be back at work.

And, so here I am, my leave almost 8 months behind me, and happily so. I’m not just back to work; I’m back to the gym, writing almost daily, making a piece of jewelry at least a few times a month, and on top of all that spending time with my precious Jacob, my stepson, and my husband. I thrive on the structure of it all. Unlike my son’s napping and changing schedule, it’s predictable. I know what each day holds, and I know that it holds a variety of tasks and responsibilities that I will accomplish. And, doing that puts me in a better place mentally and physically for spending time with baby when I get home. And, that’s what it’s all about, right? Whether you work or stay at home or do some combination of both, feeling good about yourself and having energy and motivation to make the most of your time is what’s important, right? Working is what works for me!

The Little Things

The post below is part of the Carnival of Breastfeeding. At the end of the post are links to the other participants and their posts on extended breastfeeding. Please visit their blogs after you finish reading mine!

One of my favorite times of the day is the middle of the night. Like clockwork, around 3:30 every morning, I wake to tiny hands on my waist and the sweet voice of my 11-month-old son singing “mamamama.” From my side, I turn toward him slowly in my bed without knocking him down—these days I wake to him standing, facing me, using my shoulder or my hip as a ballet bar for quick and tiny pliés. As I pick him up, lay him next to me on his back, and whisper in his ear his favorite line that he’s heard thousands of times, “are you a hungry baby?,” he kicks his legs excitedly and squeals. I lift my pajama shirt, he pops on for his early breakfast, and I doze off to the rhythm of his sucks and swallows with his warm little body close against mine.

I didn’t know I would nurse this long. Although I had planned to heed the American Academy of Pedicatrics (AAP) recommendation to nurse “for the first year and beyond,” I honestly wasn’t sure I’d make it. Though I had excellent breastfeeding support in the hospital after my c-section (not an elective procedure—I had to endure 40 hours of labor before surrendering to it—another story for another day), I had millions of questions when I got home. While pregnant, I read several books on nursing, which certainly helped. Still, there was so much I didn’t understand. I remember asking myself hundreds of times: “how can a natural process come with so many questions?!” For me, the main challenges were too much milk (I was engorged a lot at first and my milk would choke my precious newborn because it came out so fast!). Some other challenges were a breast infection (mastitis) I got sometime around my son’s three-month mark, the biting that began (and thankfully ended shortly after) the appearance of his first teeth, and then the heat I took in general from my family, co-workers, and friends—especially those from past generations—for “inconveniencing” myself with nursing when “formula is just as good.”

The kicker for me was when I went back to work full time after my four-month maternity leave (a godsend). This was the most challenging period of my breastfeeding days thus far. Bringing my pump and all its tiny parts to work, and then finding time to assemble it, use it, and wash it several times a day between meetings and deadlines was tough at first. On top of that, the first week I was back to work, after months of sleeping in his bassinet seven to eight hours a night without waking, my once good sleeper began waking every hour or two of the night and refusing to go back to sleep until I nursed him.

Fortunately, it all got easier. If you are a mom in some challenging phase of breastfeeding, I tell you that with confidence—it gets so much easier! I still pump twice a day at work, which I admit I don’t love. That’s one part of the breastfeeding process that I doubt sincerely I will miss. However, my frustration with the process has dwindled. Now that my son eats solid foods and has spread out his nursing sessions, I only need to pump twice a day. Moreover, my (male) boss is used to my office door being shut a couple times a day and to me having to step out of meetings to take care of “mommy duties”. As for the nighttime feedings, after several nights of getting little or no sleep after pulling baby out of his bassinet and into a rocking chair to nurse him every few hours, I decided it was time for him to sleep in our bed. That way, he could nurse when he wanted, and neither of us had to get up. Months later, that’s still how we do it.

“Enjoy the little things in life, for one day you will look back and realize they were the big things.”—Unknown

This has been one of my favorite quotes for years. I’ve reflected on this quote many times since my son’s birth: when he was a teeny tiny newborn that would cuddle up in my arms for hours at a time, when he first began smiling and then laughing, babbling, crawling, standing, and pointing. There are so many precious little things that I’ve made sure to treasure, knowing that although they are all short-lived, these are the things that I will look back on as meaning the most.

The choice to nurse is no little thing. Ask any mom who wakes several times a night to hungry cries or who pumps three times a day, five days a week. But, nursing is something that brings so many little moments to be cherished. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the excitement in my son’s face when he knows I’m about to feed him, his loving gaze into my eyes while he’s nursing, or all those times we have snuggled close to each other, skin to skin, and my milk was his lifeline. I imagine, years from now, when I wake to the digital 3:30 on my alarm clock and my son is asleep in his room, I’ll think of what it was like when he was nestled against me as a baby and drinking from my body. And it will be a big thing.

The post above is part of the Carnival of Breastfeeding. Please use the links below to hear from other participants in the Carnival on extended breastfeeding.

Elita @ Blacktating: The Last Time That Never Was

Diana Cassar-Uhl, IBCLC: Old enough to ask for it

Karianna @ Caffeinated Catholic Mama: A Song for Mama’s Milk

Judy @ Mommy News Blog: My Favorite Moments

Tamara Reese @ Kveller: Extended Breastfeeding

Jenny @ Chronicles of a Nursing Mom: The Highs and Lows of Nursing a Toddler

Christina @ MFOM: Natural-Term Breastfeeding

Rebekah @ Momma’s Angel: My Sleep Breakthrough

Suzi @ Attachedattheboob: Why I love nursing a toddler

Claire @ The Adventures of Lactating Girl: My Hopes for Tandem Nursing

Elisa @ blissfulE: counter cultural: extended breastfeeding

Momma Jorje: Extended Breastfeeding, So Far!

Stephanie Precourt from Adventures in Babywearing: “Continued Breastfeeding”: straight from the mouths of babes

The Accidental Natural Mama: Nurse on, Mama

Sarah @ Reproductive Rites: Gratitude for extended breastfeeding

Nikki @ On Becoming Mommy: The Little Things

Dr. Sarah @ Good Enough Mum: Breastfeeding for longer than a year: myths, facts and what the research really shows

Amy @ WIC City: (Extended) Breastfeeding as Mothering

The Artsy Mama: Why Nurse a Toddler?

Christina @ The Milk Mama: The best thing about breastfeeding

TopHot @ the bee in your bonnet: From the Mouths of Babes

Beth @ Bethstedman.com: Extended Breastfeeding: To Wean Or Not To Wean

Callista @ Callista’s Ramblings:  Pressure To Stop Breastfeeding

Amanda @ Postilius: Nursing My Toddler Keeps My Baby Close

Sheryl @ Little Snowflakes: Tandem Nursing- The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Zoie @ Touchstone Z: Breastfeeding Flavors

Lauren @ Hobo Mama: Same old, same old: Extended breastfeeding

Tanya @ Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog: Six misconceptions about extended breastfeeding

Jona (Breastfeedingtwins.org): Breastfeeding older twins

Motherlove Herbal Company: Five reasons to love nursing a toddler

Mama Alvina of Ahava & Amara Life Foundation: Breastfeeding Journey Continues

Mamapoeki from Authentic Parenting: Extended Breastfeeding?

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