Maternity leave in review

In two days I’ll return to work after my third maternity leave. That’s one job, three pregnancies, three maternity leaves and three “first days back at work”. My first post on this blog was about returning to work after my second was born (see October 2016 archives) and now here we are again! In honor of this occasion, I wanted to spend some time (kid naps allowing) to reflect on the past few weeks.

This maternity leave started earlier than planned when my contractions started the morning after my last day of work. I had been expecting at least a few days (if not weeks!) of extra time to wrap things up, but baby had other plans. I subsequently spent the first 3-4 weeks wrapping up work. I know that sounds really terrible, but it was actually okay. Everyone knows that newborns don’t sleep, so it gave me something to do in the wee hours of the night, and it was something that would definitely prevent me from dozing off with the baby. I am also fortunate to have a lot of support staff and they helped me make phone calls to patients (since that’s not something that can be done in the middle of the night!).

My husband didn’t take his paternity leave right away, so it was a bit of a whirlwind. Even though we had family helping out, if I had to do it again I would ask him to take a few weeks off in the very beginning. It would have been immensely helpful to have a bit more overnight help those first few weeks and I would have probably been able to take some daytime naps without the baby! It seemed pretty stressful for him to work while so sleep-deprived and this definitely led to more bickering than usual. Fortunately, things improved with time (and sleep!).

We briefly had a night nurse helping us out…until she fell asleep holding the baby. I couldn’t believe it. As my husband always says “why are people so bad at their jobs? You have one job – learn how to do it right!” So I guess another thing I would do differently is not hire a night nanny. Yes, it was helpful to have someone hold the baby for a few hours overnight, but I did enjoy doing the bulk of evenings since so much baby bonding happens during that time. I also found that I didn’t rest easy when she was over, perhaps because I was worried about the above. Fortunately, our little guy persevered and now his sleep isn’t as atrocious (although it is definitely nowhere near ideal for having to go back to work!).

My older kiddos have done really well with their new little brother. Toddler Y (our middle child) had a tough time those first few days, but now he is sweet as pie. One of our major challenges when I return to work will be carving out individual time for all three kids. Right now, the older kiddos have independent activities on Saturday mornings, and I plan to build onto that time.

One of the highlights of maternity leave was seeing a lot of family. My mom spent a few weeks with us right before and after Baby Z was born – not quite as long as the last time, but just the right amount of time during the hardest days. We also had both of our families visit on separate occasions and I was able to visit home twice (the last time for 3 weeks!) during maternity leave. The kids have a blast around family, so it was so nice to see everyone on multiple occasions.

Another highlight was meeting an awesome group of moms with kiddos around Baby Z’s age. I have excellent mom friends whom I met shortly after my first was born. Some had second babies so I didn’t feel the need to branch out much with Toddler Y. But this time around I knew that Baby Z would need some baby buddies and went out of my way to meet people. Well, this group of moms is just awesome, and it’s been great getting to know them.

On an organizational front, I did a TON around the house. I cleaned out the whole attic, donated and threw out a bunch of items from all throughout our home (trying to get a head start on minimalism for 2019!), made headway on two home improvement projects we have been working on, had the guest room painted, reorganized the guest room/soon-to-be Baby Z nursery, cleaned out the entire shed and organized all of the kitchen drawers. I gave away a ton of baby things we no longer needed, worked on Baby Z’s scrapbook and first-year album and also researched and toured a slew of private schools in the area. I did much of this with the baby strapped to my chest, but needed a bit of assistance for the manual labor.

Of course, the highlight of maternity leave was the hours upon hours I got to spend with Baby Z. I wore him almost constantly in a sling (now carrier) during the daytime hours. He often slept in bed with me overnight (not necessarily by choice, but we made sure the bed was as safe as possible for infant sleep) and he accompanied me to appointments, a handful of work meetings and a slew of errands. He’s an excellent eater, and I will forever be grateful to my employer for allowing me to have all of this time with him.

When I return to work, he will be about 4.5 months old. I know international readers will balk at how little that is. However, having had all of my children in the US, I feel so incredibly fortunately to have had 4.5 months of paid maternity leave, as well as the assurance that my position is stable. When I return, I’ll be able to set time aside as I wish to pump and to adjust my schedule as needed to make this year as manageable as can be. In fact, I’m returning part-time this month, and I am so very grateful to be able to rev up gradually.

I will always be sad about leaving my baby. What will it be like for him to not be strapped to my chest all day? (Honestly, probably not as bad as it will be for me!) I will worry incessantly about something going wrong while he is out of my care and I will miss his little noises and tiny fingers and sweet smile. I will stress out trying to give everyone attention in the few hours we have before work and after work/before bed. But I have faith that it will all be okay. Not easy, but okay.

Many moons ago, when I was obsessing about going back to work vs not going back to work (not really an option for me at the time but an interesting hypothetical argument) and then obsessing about daycare vs nanny, the one thing that stuck with me was reading that kids will thrive with a decision as long as the parents are happy with that decision. So I always focus on the positive aspects of my job and the positive aspects of their relationships with other caregivers.

I also have this to get me through: my older kids are alright. They’re happy little clams, in preschool now. My oldest is four. If we repeat his life cycle 4 more times, he’ll be twenty – an adult! In other words: time flies. As my children have grown, I’ve had (some) opportunity to think about who I am independent on them, how my husband and I interact independent of them, what I will do once they leave. Yes, I am not very far in and they are still very, very small and very, very dependent, but there are snippets of time when these opportunities for thought arise. When they have arisen, I have always been very happy to be working. This is what has worked and been okay for me, but it may not be the best case scenario for anyone else, and that’s okay too.

So in less than 48 hours, I’ll be waking up and changing out of my pajamas first thing. I’ll put on make-up, grown-up clothes, triple check my bags to make sure I have my work things plus my pump things, and then I’ll leave my sweet little baby behind. First I’ll have to convince my older kids (who have been out of school for three weeks!) that getting dressed and leaving the house early is also a good idea. I am not sure which of those feats will be harder! And in a few weeks time, doing this will be the new normal, and these lovely (and hard) maternity leave days will be a distant memory!

To have and to hold

I love weddings. It is so magical to watch people embark on their “happily ever after”. When I was single, weddings gave me hope that I would find the love of my life. When I was newly married, weddings were a joyous occasion with the knowledge that these newlyweds were as happy as we were. Now, more than half a decade into our marriage and brimming with children, weddings are a reminder of those exciting honeymoon days of a marriage. I love my husband dearly but I have to confess that marriage is very different with children than without children.

As a newlywed, my husband could do no wrong. His quirks were endearing, and I’m sure he felt the same way about mine. Now, after a full day of chasing after my toddlers and feeding/changing/rocking my baby, one of my husband’s quirks can quickly send me over the edge. After a full day with all three boys, my cup is empty, and I often feel like I have nothing to give to my husband. He too seems to need some time to unwind after the kids fall asleep. Don’t get me wrong – we love each other more than we did as newlyweds, but we have found that we need to be more intentional about conveying that love. We also need to take a step back to truly see and acknowledge one another. Most parents find that they have less time for self care once they have children and the same is true of spouse care!

When we argue, one of us may break the ice by bringing up two of the tricks we learned at our Catholic Engaged Encounter weekend, prior to our wedding. Both have always made us laugh. The first is to hold hands while arguing. If you try this, you’ll quickly learn that it is impossible to truly be angry at someone if you are holding their hands. The second is to consider whether your words are “life-giving”. If they are not, consider how they sound to the person hearing them.

We haven’t mastered the art of making time for each other since this last child was born (9 weeks ago). This is partly due to the fact that we live far away from family, but mostly due to the fact that we are exhausted. For now, we are focusing on not being short with one another, spending time together after the kids go to bed, finding joy in the mayhem, and allowing the other parent to rest when one of us feels more energized. This is about as “life-giving” as we can manage to be at the moment.

On the eve of your third birthday

On the eve of your third birthday, I sat besides your crib*, singing to you and rubbing your back because you had a cough and a runny nose and were so frustrated that you couldn’t get the ‘boogies’ out and were having a hard time breathing.

This brought me back to all of the days** and nights I spent besides your crib, rubbing your back and singing. I remembered your last sleep regression, when you were 18 months and I was 8 months pregnant and sleeping on the floor besides your bed just to get a bit of sleep. I remembered how long it would take me to put you down for a nap because you would wake up the moment the hardwood floor creaked as I tried to sneak out of the room. I remembered the months of you waking up between 4:00-5:00am, how sometimes I would just load you up in the stroller when you got up and head out for a (slow) run and then to grab some coffee, letting your dad sleep. Although most of the time I would try to coerce you to fall asleep again and, when that failed, I would make some coffee and bumble through the morning like a zombie. I could go on and on – so many memories of little you.

When you wake up tomorrow, you will be 3. I can hardly believe it. Where did the time go? You have zoomed into toddlerhood before my eyes. Your words, your ideas, your compassion – I have no idea how the helpless newborn I brought into the world in 2014 has grown to be this loving, imaginative, and awe-inspiring child. You amaze me every day, little nugget.

Love,
Mom

*We are not quite ready to move X to a toddler bed. Mostly we’re afraid that he’ll recognize he has the freedom to roam outside of his room in the middle of the night/early morning.

**Naps were also not easy for this kid.

Sleep desperation

When my first was born, I pined for sleep on a 24/7 basis. X didn’t sleep, EVER, unless someone was holding him. Classic first-time parenting mistake, but also personality-driven, as I learned after having my second.

Here’s how the first few weeks went: During the day, X would nurse and fall asleep, and someone would hold him. Or he would snooze in a carrier (we used the Boba wrap the most during those first few weeks). When we lay him down, he slept less than thirty minutes. After officially giving up, he slept in this carrier until I went back to work when he was 4 months old.

At night, we would swaddle him tight and lay him on his back. He would sleep anywhere from 20 minutes to maybe 3 hours (max). We were up a lot at night. 8-9 weeks in, my husband held him for 5 hours one night just so I could sleep. It was my first time sleeping for longer than 3 hours since his birth. I was a zombie. I also felt terrible complaining – I had undergone infertility treatment to get pregnant. I felt so fortunate to have this baby in my arms – how could I complain about something as measly as sleep?

Did I mention that he had colic? This made the first few weeks even more difficult. Every night, from approximately 3-4p on, he could only be soothed by being held in the carrier. We tried every “S” that existed, but nothing helped.

We had a Pack n Play, a co-sleeper, a bassinet. He wouldn’t sleep in any of them. We tried every swaddle imaginable (except this one, which was actually my fave after our second was born). We had a consultant (a post-partum doula of sorts) visit our home to observe our interactions with him. She recommended double-swaddling, which was of no help, His startle response was intense! We spoke to two sleep consultants, including a well-known author of an infant sleep tome, who charged a steep price to give his two cents, which were unfortunately not helpful.

Somewhere around 8-10 weeks, we were desperate. Since I didn’t sleep at night, I spent the time reading every sleep book under the sun (this was my favorite).  So one day, I placed him on his stomach during nap time (NOT a recommendation from the book). He was un-swaddled and I sat next to him the entire time. He slept for 2 hours! I was in shock. At night, we started placing him on his stomach to sleep. His sleep improved marginally – regular 3 hour stretches. For the first few weeks, we watched him the entire night. At first, we had family visiting so could easily take shifts. Once they left, this became much more difficult and we were not much better off! We used a movement sensor, which put our minds at ease, but in actuality, it would not have been very helpful in the event of SIDS given the lag between breathing cessation and alarming. E spent a ton of playtime doing tummy time, and first rolled over at 8 weeks, although not reliably until 3.5-4 months. Let me be clear: I do NOT recommend that infants sleep on their stomachs. Infants should sleep on their backs. Please follow the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines for safe infant sleep. I was terribly anxious the entire time that we did it, often waking up in the middle of the night (he slept in our room, in the co-sleeper or Pack n Play, until he was 4 months old) to frantically check on him. And with our second son, we never once placed him on his stomach to sleep. However, during those first few months of the newborn haze, it seemed like the best of bad options. We didn’t trust ourselves to stay awake while holding him (we were exhausted!), we were afraid to have him in our bed, we couldn’t justify the cost of a night nurse, and we had to sleep!

It was a tough time. When he began to roll over consistently, we moved him into his own room. He continued to wake up every 3-4 hours. However, we were (for no good reason) adamantly opposed to sleep training (Cry It Out). Our friend joked that everyone was vehemently opposed to CIO until they just couldn’t take it anymore. She was right (in our case, at least)! We reached our breaking point around month 7, when X started to wake up every HOUR and NOTHING would soothe him to sleep. Via a friend’s recommendation, we connected with an excellent remote sleep consultant. She was willing to work with a variety of parent attitudes regarding sleep training, and presented us with many options. We ultimately chose a gradual CIO (e.g. Ferber method) plan, and this worked for us. After less than a (very tough) week, our little one was sleeping through the night. Legitimately through the night! We had a few hiccups along the way – early wake-ups (we weren’t very strict on waiting until a certain time to get him), travel glitches, regressions, etc. – but we were able to reset by returning to our original plan.

X’s last regression was at 18 months. Since then (knock on wood), he has been sleeping like a champ. Some days he will sleep in until 7:30am! It’s glorious (or would be if we didn’t have a second who is an earlier riser). And he is generally in bed around 7:30-8:00pm with no tears.

So if you’re currently in the trenches, just remember that those first few weeks to months (to years) can be really tough! There’s no right answer, but eventually you’ll start sleeping again!