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!

The Blob Trimester: Baby’s Z’s 1st 3 months

As my youngest (baby Z) is one week shy of 4 months, I find myself fondly reflecting on the fourth trimester haze. If you are not familiar with the term “fourth trimester”, it is common terminology for the first 3 postpartum months. Due to human anatomy and the limitations of the birth canal, human babies are born neurologically premature. Thus my rationale for (very affectionately) calling my newborn a blob.

Let’s put it this way: newborns would never survive in the wild. They can’t hold their heads up, they can’t make meaningful movements with their arms and legs, they can barely see, and they are easily surprised. They can only communicate via crying and they spend a great majority of their days sleeping, drinking milk, peeing and pooing. This is one reason why the fourth trimester is so challenging for new parents: you are suddenly in charge of keeping a small, defenseless human alive. No pressure!

Prety daunting, huh? Couple this with the fact that new parents are chronically sleep-deprived (newflash: babies don’t know the difference between day and night, so you may find yourself pulling a lot of all-nighters), moms are experiencing a hormonal hailstorm (why does everything make me cry? why am I suddenly so angry at my husband? why am I so worried about every damn thing?) and everything you previously knew about yourself has gone out the window (so long hobbies, singular focus on career, social life). Given all of the above, we might as well also call this time period the sob trimester.

Never fear, however. Between 3-4 months, everything gets easier. Yes, there are still challenges (hello 4 month sleep regression!), but your little blob has turned into a reciprocal mini-human who tracks your movements, produces wide-toothed smiles and even cackles with laughter, which makes the experience much more rewarding.

For the sake of preserving my own memories, here’s a recap of Baby Z’s first 3 months:

  • Birth: By far the best of three (third time’s the charm!). Baby X was induced and we barely made it to the hospital with Baby Y. For Baby Z, we went to the hospital as soon as contractions started and were told to walk around until they intensified. We did this for quite some time, even coming home to shower and re-pack, so by the time we returned to the hospital, it was go-time but not baby’s-about-to-fall-out time. I was able to get an epidural (thank you, modern medicine), labor peacefully and when it came time to push, he was out after basically 3 pushes with no tearing involved.
  • Sleep: We purchased a Snoo for this guy, but I wasn’t quite comfortable having him sleep in it from day one. The rocking seemed a bit intense for me and I capped it (there is a function where you can limit the motion) and have kept it as such to this day. In the beginning, he honestly mostly slept in bed with me (my husband would supervise so I didn’t roll on him) and we also lay him down in the Snoo (without turning it on) or put him in the Rock n Play (which he honestly never liked very much and also isn’t safe for unsupervised sleep). We hired a weekend night nanny for those first rough nights and she fell asleep holding the baby on the third night she worked for us! As my husband would say: WTF? YOU HAVE ONE JOB!!! That was pretty traumatic, but baby was okay and we gently told her we were no longer in need of a night nanny. I have to be honest: the sleep was pretty rough early on. He would spend a few hours up each night and I often had no idea what to do with him around 2-5am. My husband was also saving his paternity leave so I tried not to bother him since he had to work the next day. It was pretty intense. I tried to establish an early bedtime for him, but he went to sleep around 11p for a long time! Just recently (close to/when he hit 3 months), he started falling asleep around 9. Early on, he would be up cluster-feeding for quite a few hours (e.g. 8p-11p/12a) but more recently he would do a longer stretch, waking up either at 1a or 3a. So most nights he’ll wake up 1-2 times. The first nap was also the first to fall into place, as it usually does. It’s the one I can actually set him down “drowsy but awake” for! At the moment, we are traveling (good-bye Snoo!) and have him in a Pack n Play. I have to say that he’s not loving it. Last night, he was up every 2 hours, and spent the bulk of the night in bed with me. I’m not sure if this is a Snoo transition issue, a travel/change of environment issue, or the start of the 4 month sleep regression, but I don’t like it.
  • Temperament: When we first brought him home, we were a bit concerned he would be colicky like Baby X. Turns out he was just a normal newborn who wanted to be held, cuddled and carried pretty much all day. With every need attended to/preempted, he’s happy as a peach. He likes tummy time, mat time, play time (songs and the occasional book when he gets his own) and of course still loves when we tote him around all day. So far, he’s a happy, go-lucky baby who can also entertain himself independently (for now, this mostly involves staring at something in the distance).
  • Feeding: Baby Z latched pretty easily. I had one of the nurses remind me of the appropriate position when they are little blobs and can’t hold up their heads, but he quickly got the hang of it. I don’t have him on any particular schedule at the moment. He should technically be eating every 3-4 hours, but sometimes it’s less. Of all the baby things, nursing has always been fairly easy for me. Yes, it was always painful in the beginning. I enrolled in a lactation class prior to the birth of my first, worked with lactation consultants in the hospital the first two times, and also had private lactation consultant visits after the first two were born. These steps allowed me to feel more comfortable nursing. And yes, I worried ALL all of the time whether they were getting enough to eat, especially my first. Was he colicky because he was hungry? Were those tears of starvation? Did he want to nurse all of the time because he wasn’t getting enough milk? I also always pumped just enough and was worried each time about how pumping at work would turn out. Yet I was able to nurse the first two for 15 months and pumped until they were 11 months, using up my freezer stash for months 12 and 13. We’ll see what happens with this guy. I’m a bit worried because I had 187 oz and 300 oz of milk saved up for my first and second, respectively, when I went back to work, but currently have only 55 oz with only a few weeks to go (poor third child!). But I am telling myself that the freezer stash really only helped me to stop pumping a bit earlier, so it isn’t the end of the world that his is so limited. After all, every lactation consultant I’ve spoken with has said you only need enough milk for your first day back (and this is true).
  • Developmental milestones: Baby Z was quick to roll from tummy to back. I know I sound like a delusional mom saying this, but he was doing it month one and still does it to this day. He’s flailing his arms around and kicking his legs much more now. He sees well, follows you around with his eyes, smiles and laughs, has coo-ing conversations, and has started to grip things and bring them to his mouth. Actually, everything is starting to wind up in his mouth – his hands, the carrier strap, teething toys, etc. He can also reach out with his hands to swipe things hanging above him on his playmat or on one of his chairs. His neck is pretty strong and I will often place him forward-facing in the carrier (if it’s not naptime) because he likes to observe the world. He’s actually starting to show interest in food already, which seems early to me, but I’m looking forward to introducing solids.

I honestly can’t believe he’s almost 4 months and am definitely patting myself on the back for getting through those tough first few months. Work is just around the corner (a story for another day), but I feel very fortunate to have had this time with him.

 

Bad news

This month has been hectic. It started with a lovely get-away (without kids!) for my husband and I. It was lovely. We were away for a week and were able to sleep 10-12 hours per day, finish both our conversations and our meals, lounge leisurely by the pool (under an umbrella, of course), walk along the beach, read, and simply be.

As always, I returned home with a desire to incorporate some of that into my daily life: taking a few minutes per day to just be together, reading more for fun, enjoying leisurely meals, exercising. Except we came home to a 1 year old and a 3 year old and two full-time jobs so none of the above happened.

It’s also a busy time. I’ve been taking advantage of my second-trimester energy to complete a few projects, including submitting plans for a minor home renovation. I’ve also had a pesky cough since our time away and though it would go away but it didn’t, and the coughing would often rob me of my energy and cause me to feel even more tired than usual. To top things off, my oldest came down with hand foot mouth disease (HFMD) and was home the entire week prior to a flight I was taking solo with both kids. He was in pain and cranky the entire week (apologies to all of the moms I counseled on HFMD by saying it was merely viral and would blow over) and, the worst part of all was that he wouldn’t sleep through the night! So the first few nights my husband and I stayed up with him. And then my youngest got a fever (but fortunately did not erupt into HFMD) and then HE wouldn’t sleep through the night.

So I set off with both kids in recovery ALONE on a 6 hour flight and it was by far the worst flight we’ve ever had. My kids have traveled a lot because even though we don’t live close to family, I think it’s so important for them to spend time with them. They are usually shockingly well-behaved. I come prepared, keep them entertained, and they generally keep their crying and tantrums to a minimum. But last week was a different story. Both kids were on the mend, I felt like crap from a combination of not sleeping as well as fighting off this cough (oh and being pregnant), and they wouldn’t nap! So we kept things pretty together until the last 30-45 minutes. And then when the plane landed, all hell broke loose. Both kids wanted to be carried but I only had two hands and had to carry the carry-on bags (we only had travel backpacks with us but it was a lot to juggle!). Then my oldest started throwing a tantrum about everything – he didn’t want to let me into the aisle to organize our bags, he didn’t want his brother to sit by the window, and on and on and on. Meanwhile, I’m frantically trying to organize everything while his little monkey of a brother is climbing over the seats. My oldest won’t move from his spot so I tell him “I’m going to pick you up and sit you down here so that I can grab everything” and do just that. He loses his **** and starts yelling “Mommy you HURT ME!”. Meanwhile, I’m dying.  As calmly as possible, I tell him it’s time to get off of the plane. A very nice lady helps with one of our bags, I carry my youngest off the plane, and my oldest begrudgingly drags his bag and follows behind, complaining all the way.

At the gate, I have to find and unfold our stroller, which was a waste of effort because neither kid will sit in it (but at least I can pile some bags on it). The oldest is crying and blocking people as they walk off of the plane while the youngest just wants to be held. I hightail it out of there with the oldest hitting me on my backpack and throwing the world’s greatest tantrum. We are the last people off the plane and the pilots are begrudgingly walking behind us because (I learned on another trip) they can’t leave anyone behind when they leave the plane. Awesome. And then, to top it all off, I have to walk approximately 20 minutes with one kid in my arms and one kid whining the whole way because we have landed at a huge airport, at possibly the furthest airline!

It was a total disaster. I saw my parents at the exit, handed the kids off to them, and then walked off to baggage claim to burst into tears. I could tell the security guard knew I was going to lose it because he let my parents follow me to the baggage claim to help out with the bags.

Until yesterday, I thought that was the worst thing that had happened. Then, my ob called me. Before I left, I had a few third trimester labs drawn. Apparently, one of those labs was toxoplasmosis. I had already had this checked in January (at 7 weeks) and both IgM and IgG were negative. For some reason, my ob rechecked it. She admitted that this was controversial – that many people don’t recommend rechecking due to low likelihood of infection in our area and false positives. But then she told me that I had a new positive (IgM, with IgG still negative). She wasn’t sure what to make of it. She had spoken to the high-risk obstetrics group at my hospital and they would follow up with me and likely have me return for an ultrasound, as well as labs, maybe an antibiotic, etc. She told me not to freak out so I promptly did just that – freaked out.

Toxoplasmosis!? That’s one of the terrible infections we learn about in medical school that can cause a slew of problems in newborns. WTF!? But I don’t own any cats…and I’m a vegetarian! I couldn’t believe it. I did what I always tell my patients not to do – turned to Dr. Google, and PubMed, and every person I know who is an obstetrician or infectious disease expert. I received a slew of responses: it’s probably nothing/a false positive, you definitely should not ignore this, you need serial ultrasound monitoring, they need to test the baby, there’s nothing you can do anyway because you’re 24 weeks along.

I’m also a bit annoyed at my ob. Why did she check it if it’s controversial? Her exact words were “I’ll probably change my practice after this”. And I am not entirely sure she knows exactly what to do at this time. She referred me to the high-risk ob, and that person called me, but I’m traveling and can’t be seen tomorrow, and she’s going to be out of town next week. The ID expert I spoke with told me to get labs ASAP, but the ob told me it wasn’t time-sensitive. Her exactly words were “I’m going to be blunt with you because you’re a doctor: if this is a true infection, there’s not much you can do at 24 weeks”. But shouldn’t it matter if it’s a true infection?

So I’m just waiting here, anticipating the worst. And it’s made me realize that I’m done having kids. I always thought I wanted a fourth, but pregnancy is too tenuous and stressful. I think about the experiences I’ve had with my kids – my pre-eclampsia scare with my first and him being in the NICU after birth (the briefest NICU stay ever, but seemed like the longest to me), my positive first-trimester screen with my second and having to see genetics for additional screening to rule out a chromosomal abnormality, and now this with my third. I pray that he will be healthy. That this is either a huge misunderstanding (false positive) or that he does not catch this infection. I’ll have an ultrasound in one week and hopefully will have some additional information at that time – and hopefully it’s all good news.