Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Making Breastfeeding Work At Work

Ask any nursing mama who is looking down the barrel of her return-to-work date what she is most anxious about and she will probably say continuing to breastfeed while working. It’s a major source of anxiety and stress that forces many to quit breastfeeding before they’re ready or lose confidence in their ability to be successful working mothers. Indeed, only 26% of full-time working moms breastfeed for the first 6 months of their baby’s life and only 17% full-time moms manage to for the first year.

We need to work together to make it easier for moms who wish to continue breastfeeding. But if you are the mama going through it right now, you don’t have time for all that, you just want to know how the hell you’ll do it. Here are some things I learned as a breastfeeding/working mama of two kids these past few years:

1.  Don’t Hide It.

It’s ok to be discreet, but don’t treat pumping at work like a secret you have to hide from everyone else. I don’t mean that you should pull out and start pumping your bazongas in the middle of a meeting, but you have to be open about your status as a nursing mom and what that means for you with your coworkers. It feels awkward to talk about it at first, as if there is something to be ashamed or embarrassed about, but your boss and coworkers aren’t going to treat it like a natural part of your daily routine unless you do. And you know what’s REALLY awkward? Two coworkers walking in on you pumping because you were too embarrassed to tell people they should knock or ask for a lock on your door (or even ask for a cover for your door window, which is why you were hiding in a corner of your office). So just tell people the truth, it’s better than the alternative, trust me.

2.  Ask for What You Need.

If you need a lock, get one (see above). If you need to block out your calendar at certain times of the day, do it. If you need to adjust your schedule temporarily to meet the needs of your baby’s feeding or pumping schedule, ask your boss for a change. I’ve turned down lunches, excused myself from portions of long meetings, and shifted my entire schedule to make it work. It’s not easy, and there are probably people who won’t understand it. But once you prove that how you feed your baby doesn’t interfere with your brain or productivity, most people will be fine. And if they’re not, f them.

3.  Remember How Tired You Are.

A mama who was up 3 times feeding her newborn and still has to be showered (sometimes) and presentable (sort of) and at work by 8 will sometimes forget, well, everything. Forgive yourself for how absent-minded you will be in advance, and just prepare for it. Leave extra pump parts and freezer bags at work for when you inevitably forget something. Carry your pump charger with you in case your pump dies midday. Leave an extra shirt (or entire outfit) in your car for when you spill milk. And let yourself weep when you spill it.

4.  Keep Your Perspective.

Breastfeed for as long as it feels doable for you, but don’t think in terms of goals. Your kid will never remember or care that he or she wasn’t breastfed. That said, you can ride out the hard days by remembering that it continues to get easier and easier.   If you would like to do it for a year, just know that the 2nd 6 months are WAY WAY easier than the 1st 6 months. Your baby will start sleeping through the night, and it will get easier. Your baby will start drinking less frequently during the day (so you get to pump less), and it will get easier. Each month, it WILL get easier.  If it doesn’t, or you don’t enjoy it anymore, then stop. But if you’re just having a hard day or week, just know that you can do this.

5.  Pay It Forward.

No matter what your feeding choices are, support other moms and their choices. If your coworker is going through it, advocate for them. And if you supervise a new mom, be cognizant of what she may be going through and ask how you can help make it work. When breastfeeding at work becomes a normal part of the dialogue, policies will change and the stigma will (hopefully) vanish. We can all be a part of that. 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Mommy Tracked

It is Thursday at 1:59pm and I am watching an April rain storm from my sunroom with a piping hot cup of tea in hand.  The kids are upstairs napping and I am sitting in peace, happily writing.  I didn't wake up 2 hours before my kids did this morning, I didn't drive to work in the pouring rain, and I showered at 1pm because a friend is coming over later (otherwise, waste precious nap time on a shower? As if). I've played with the kids, had two meals with them, and had the longest conversation I've ever had with one of Noah's teachers.  There is still a lot of day left to go but, at this moment, I can say that I made the right decision.

A month or two ago an opportunity to go part-time at a law firm presented itself to me.  Leaving a hard-to-get in-house position wasn't something I would just do so, with nothing to lose, I decided to ask for exactly what I'd want in a job and not a drop less  (a mostly flex/work from home schedule, a couple of days "off" a week, a very competitive salary, and opportunity in the future for partnership), and see what happened.  Well, to my surprise, they said yes.  To all of it.   I was thrilled.  I would be able to continue developing as a lawyer, continue to significantly contribute financially to our family, and have much more time with my kids.  I made something happen that I've been talking about for years, and was feeling pretty empowered...that is, until I resigned from my job.  People at my company were shocked that I was leaving -- until I said the words "part-time."  And then, each and every person responded in the exact same way: they nodded their heads.  I know, it seems like an innocuous enough gesture.  But (to me) it meant "of course, you're a mom, part-time makes more sense."  For weeks I listened to all of the trite commentary: "You'll never regret the time with your kids"; "They're only young once"; "They grow up so fast".  And then it hit me...the outside world had officially mommy-tracked me.  Nevermind that in my new role I would still be working the majority of the week and in a rigorous and even more demanding setting.  Nope, in their eyes, I had officially taken a step back in the name of my kids and that put me in a different bucket.  For some reason, this perception (or what I perceived to be the perception) really threw me.  Of course the primary reason I was taking the new job was to achieve a better balance and have more time with the kids.  But if I hadn't worked my butt off for the past nine years, such an opportunity may not have presented itself, and I certainly would not have been able to negotiate the salary and schedule I got.  I didn't feel like it was a step back, but a rare career opportunity that I had earned.

It gave me a small glimpse into the real perception of FT working mamas.  That we aren't fully raising our kids, that we are missing something...and while admirable and respectable, making that choice doesn't always feel "right" to others.  People tend to make the assumption that if a mom could choose to spend more time (or all of her time) at home, she would.  So my news was met with more than just understanding from others, it was almost met with a sense of relief.  And I sorta felt like I was letting the FT working mama cause down.  The truth is that I would have preferred to remain full-time if I had more flexibility.  I wasn't missing my kids grow up - I had good, quality time with them each day and did all of the things I would do if I were home with them on a smaller scale.  I didn't make the change to be more of a mom, because I was always 100% a mom.  And, likewise, working on a new schedule won't make me less of an attorney.  The "tracks" are far more complex than "mommy" or "working".  Oversimplifying it does a real injustice to almost all the women I know who, whether working or not or raising kids or not, pretty much rule the world.

But today, well, today is glorious.  Today, I will put any (perceived) perception aside and have faith that I made the right choice.  I will revel in the extra time with my kids, I will work hard to prove myself in a new job, and by golly I will finish this hot cup of tea.

Monday, January 26, 2015


I don't hate the winter, in theory.  There's something so peaceful and quiet about it.  A nice break in the year after an every-weekend-is-booked summer, a hustle start to the fall which, for us, includes a million birthdays and runs straight into Halloween and the holidays and another birthday without much of a break.  Get past Christmas and end-of-the-year work deadlines and we - finally, deservedly - coast into a sort of quiet zone where we can watch movies guilt-free all weekend because it's too cold to go out (ok, yea, we should be at the museum or something, but shut up), subsist on homemade stew, wear sweatpants as much as life will allow, and teach our kids about snowball fights and igloos.  Sounds lovely, doesn't it?  It is, for the 3 days or so this idyllic winter hibernation plan actually works out.  Because when you have kids, the other 117 days of winter are spent with at least one person in the house (if not all) being sick.  And I don't just mean a cough and runny nose (which for the purposes of assessing whether to go to work or send your kid to school does not register even a 1 on the "sick radar").  I'm talking about rashes, multiple doctors visits, weird viruses you've never heard of, antivirals, antibiotics, ER visits, just shit that will mess your life up.

After 4 winters with kids, I can no longer passively sail into winter without feeling dread and anxiety about what's to come, saying little prayers that this or that doesn't happen.  As confident as I feel (most of the time) about being a working mom, when my kids get sick, it always takes me back a notch.  I don't want to diminish the particular torture of stay-at-home moms who have to take care of their sick kids all day and night (especially if they get sick, as well), because that is just exhausting and unrelenting.  But when you're working too, there is a nagging anxiety about how you will fit in this unpredictable nonsense, and it's always coupled with a feeling of guilt that you're giving work or your kids the short shrift (although I've found that if you want predictability as to when your kids will be sick, plan a vacation, party or presentation at work, that oughtta do it.)  Am I going to be up all night before my presentation this week?  Will I or my spouse have to stay home?  Will I make it home for a doc appointment?  Does my child need ME?  Will my boss think I'm lying?  What if my nanny gets sick?  I've delayed much-needed doc visits until my pre-scheduled work-from-home days, and I've stayed home even when I was sure my kid would be fine with our nanny.  I've canceled trips and plans, and I've traveled with kids who had no business being out of the house.  I've walked out in tears, I've stayed home in tears.  No matter what side you land on, it's always stressful.  And HA! the joke is on you if you are foolish enough to get sick yourself.  You go to work regardless because you need to save your sick days for your kids and you don't want to infect them at home.  And then people look at you like, why is she here?  You can't win.

We're not an irregularly sick family; we usually go through the same cold/ear infection rigamarole most Chicago families do (I'm curious - do families in California deal with this too?? I'm willing to move).  But years of breastfeeding, probiotics and vitamins aside, we've gotten hit hard this year.  We've already been riddled with both kids getting the flu (they're fine), our younger one hospitalized for some bowel issue I hadn't ever heard of (he's fine), and me currently on day 9 of viral pink eye/head cold (btw my tactics on trying not to infect my children with one of the most contagious things out there while still having to make dinner, change diapers, breastfeed, give baths etc is nearing comical).  But I'm fine.  Well, I've lost my will to live, but otherwise, I'm fine. 

And it's only January 26.  JANUARY 26!  Sigh.  Cue the GoT music.  It's going to be a long winter.