Monthly Archives: May 2016

Back to Work(?)

I’m going back to work on Wednesday.

Well, sort of.

The plan is for me to work half-days for the rest of the summer.  In June, for the four hours that I’m at work daily, my husband will take care of our son four days a week, and my mom will do it the fifth day.  In July, we switch to half-days at the university daycare.  In September, everything becomes full-time.

My logical brain is very happy with this plan.  There are a lot of very good things about it:

  • My husband will take on a more prominent role in the childcare.  Right now he is pretty definitely the secondary parent, and rarely cares for Soren when I’m not around; having primary caregiving responsibilities when I am not there for four hours a day will be a big step up in his relationship with his son.
  • Ditto for my mom (Nana).  She was a huge help in the early weeks, but hasn’t spent as much time around her grandson lately.  There’s no substitute for one-on-one time, and I’m so glad that she is able to help us out in this way and strengthen her relationship with her grandson.
  • Getting back to work is going to be good for my brain.  The few times I’ve done work or gone to the university to meet with students or colleagues, I’ve come back feeling refreshed, and caring for my son has been all the more fun and interactive because of it.
  • Giving my research program a boost with my time this summer will be good for my long-term job security.  I’m just about 2.5 years away from the crucial up-or-out tenure decision point, and research has been harder for me to maintain at a high level than teaching.  I love my job, I get a lot of personal satisfaction from it, and I know I make an impact on my students.  Also, it pays the bills, and more.  I want to keep my job in the long run.  Summer is the only time I can focus exclusively on research, and so this time is particularly important to help me do my job well.
  • Transitioning to part-time daycare when my son is just over four months old will mean that he gets care from people trained in early childhood development, and has a chance to ease into the daycare situation instead of suddenly going full-time when he’s six months old.
  • Since my schedule is completely up to me this summer, we can try things and change them if they don’t work.  If everyone is miserable with the plan, I can work less or not at all, and then we’ll have time to work out a new plan before September.
  • I can pay myself for my time out of a grant.  Me working even half-time this summer means about an extra $10k for our family, which more than pays for daycare and offsets the cost of the unpaid leave my husband is taking in June.  And if I don’t take summer salary this year, I might not be able to use up the summer salary I budgeted before the grant expires.  So the finances make sense for us.

My emotional brain is much less happy with the plan.  There are some negative thoughts that keep running around in my head:

  • My son is too little for me to go back to work.  He’ll be 14 weeks old when I start back part-time, which is more leave than most moms in the US get… but theoretically I could stay home full-time until he’s six months old.  What kind of mom would choose to go back to work before she absolutely has to?  This is mostly guilt, I think.
  • Being apart from my son feels physically painful — and I’ve never been apart from him for as long as four hours before.  Still, I know that it will be healthy for me to have a break from caring for him all day (while I love him to the ends of the Earth, taking care of an infant full-time is difficult work mentally and physically), and I know that learning to separate from him is something I will have to do eventually — better to do it gradually than all at once in September.
  • Then, there’s the bottle situation.  My son is not good at eating from bottles.  We’ve been working at it since he was six weeks old, and most days he just doesn’t seem to want to do it.  I will feel extremely guilty if I go off to work for four hours a day and come back to a screaming baby and a frazzled husband/mom because of the bottle situation.  I’ve heard horror stories from friends of babies who refused bottles for 8-hour daycare days for weeks before they finally caved.  I do not want to do that to my baby, or to my husband and mom.  The logical part of my brain points out that Soren is entirely physically capable of going without food for four hours even if he’s not happy about it, and it’s better for him to learn to take a bottle during four-hour days than during 8-hour days in the fall… but that’s going to be cold comfort to my stressed-out husband/mom in these early weeks if it’s as bad as I fear it’s going to be.  Maybe it won’t be, though?  The good news is that I’m only a 7-minute drive away, so if it gets too bad there’s always the option that my husband/mom can drive him to me (or once he’s in daycare, he’ll be a 10-minute walk from my office).  I’d rather nurse him than pump anyway!
  • Once we start him at daycare, the chances that he’ll get sick increase astronomically.  I’m dreading his first illness.  I will feel awful when he gets sick.  Holding off that inevitable first illness until he’s six months old instead of four months old sounds awfully appealing.

As I read this list now, I’m pretty confident that our plan is what’s going to work best for our family, and that the positives outweigh the negatives.  But the guilt I’m feeling right now is enormous.

Well, hopefully everything will go smoothly this week, and there will be mornings full of father-son bliss at home while I productively pound out papers and then come home to hang out with my smiling, cooing baby for the rest of the day.  I can dream, right?

Not My First Mother’s Day

I’m sure that anyone reading my blog is highly attuned to the fact that Mother’s Day is this Sunday.  Already, well-meaning people have started gushing about how this is my first Mother’s Day as a mother.

It’s not.

This Mother’s Day is very bittersweet.  My feelings are still quite fresh from last Mother’s Day, which was 8 long months after our daughter’s death and just a few weeks before we found out that I was pregnant with Soren.  My feelings are also still fresh from two Mother’s Days ago, when we were just about to start infertility treatment, again just a few weeks before we found out that I was pregnant with our daughter.  Those two painful Mother’s Days are very much in my mind as I also reflect on the joy that it has been to be Soren’s mother for the last 2.5 months — finally, mother to the living child that I dreamed of for so long.

This Mother’s Day, I send love and strength to the invisible mothers.  The mothers who have experienced miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant death.  The women who are mothers in their hearts as they toil through infertility tests and treatment.  I also send love and strength to the women who lost their own mothers far too soon, especially the women who will never experience the loving sandwich of having a living mother while also being a mother to a living child.  It’s a beautiful and wonderful time of life, and something that I will never, ever take for granted.

While this isn’t my first Mother’s Day, it’s by far my best Mother’s Day.  I am surrounded by love, and my love surrounds my newborn son.

Maternity Leave

Now that I’m 10 weeks into my maternity leave with Soren, I wanted to put down some thoughts about what leave from my tenure-track research job has been like.

I love my science, and I love teaching.  So I wondered how I’d feel about completely switching gears to caring for an infant full-time (while maybe squeezing in some science around the edges).  I was worried that I’d be bored, lonely, and isolated.  I was worried that I’d feel I’d made a huge mistake in becoming a parent.  I didn’t think that would be the case — after all, I’d been longing and working towards this goal for years — but I worried about it nonetheless. It reminds me of starting my job at a teaching-oriented liberal arts college.  I’d never taught a class of my own before — just TAed in grad school and done a bunch of outreach, plus taking classes on teaching science.  I was worried that once I started, I’d either hate teaching, or suck at it.  Neither turned out to be true, thankfully.  Well, despite desperately longing to be a parent, having never done it before I naturally worried that I’d either hate parenting, or suck at it.  Fortunately, none of my worries seem to have come to fruition.

I love spending time with my son.  He is endlessly fascinating to me, and he has changed and grown so much over the past 10 weeks — it seems like every day he does something new, or seems a little more aware, a little more like his own person.  And he is a truly wonderful baby.  I’ve mentioned before that I thought we were lucky, and with every passing day, I only feel that more strongly.  He seems to have this quiet curiosity about the world.  Every time I bring him out of the house, someone comments about how he just watches the world with his big eyes, and it’s true.  At home, he’ll be goofy and smiley and fuss when he’s bored, but when we’re out and about, he just wants to take it all in.  He’s amazing, and I’ve never been happier than these last 10 weeks of being his mom, full-time.

That said, no newborn is truly easy. Our struggles of the moment revolve around sleep, especially napping.  Last week I transitioned him from napping exclusively on people (usually me) to napping in his crib.  This works, to some extent — he will generally fall asleep in his crib, but only for about 45 minutes at a time, which doesn’t seem to be enough since he often wakes up fussy (and when he napped on people, he would occasionally go in for epic 2-3 hour naps and wake up smiling).  I’m not sure what to do about this… it’s possible that he’s just too young for crib-napping, but being napped on for 6+ hours a day was getting physically uncomfortable (with my now 14lb baby!), and I also just hope he’ll eventually get used to crib napping and learn how to join sleep cycles together without being manually soothed in between.  The main problem is that this experience also seems to have destabilized his night sleeping slightly — instead of the 6-8 hour chunk of time he had started to give us at night, he’s back to 3-4 hour chunks.  Not that this is terrible — it’s totally survivable.  I’m just worried that he seems to be regressing.  Or maybe this is just the 3-month sleep regression hitting a couple of weeks early?  Or maybe it’s part of the difficult reaction he had to his 2-month shots last week, which was the first night he stopped sleeping in long chunks?  Hard to say.  But I suspect every new parent worries endlessly about sleep, and this is the first real sleep issue we’ve encountered — and it’s not even that bad.

But, back to science and motherhood.  When I do find time to do a little work, to think about science, it breathes extra life into me.  I feel my brain stirring, and it feels really good.  I haven’t managed to do much work — at most, a couple hours a day, and usually more like half an hour — but the skills I’ve developed as a young faculty member of making progress in small chunks of time have served me well.  I wrote an entire new proposal in time for the once-a-year deadline for the large international facility that I use for my research, and revised and resubmitted another proposal that had been provisionally accepted last year but hadn’t managed to squeeze to the top of the queue.  I’m also almost finished revising and resubmitting a journal article that I submitted two weeks before my son was born — it’s a pretty straightforward set of corrections, so I expect that the article will be accepted before the end of my leave.  These things have made me feel really good.

And then there have been the funny intersections between work and parenthood.  My son, at 10 weeks old, has so far napped in the following places:

  • A lecture given by a famous astronaut
  • A pizza lunch for physics students
  • My department chair’s office

He has also nursed in two of those three places (hint: not my department chair’s office!).  I never imagined myself breastfeeding at professional activities, but hey, I’m the full-time caregiver of my infant.  When the baby’s hungry, it would be cruel to make him wait, and he’s not really at an age yet where I can do much to “tank him up” before events — if he’s not hungry, he doesn’t eat.  I haven’t gone to many professional events, but some of them are important for recruitment and professional visibility, and I enjoy them as well.  Being in a very male-dominated field, even at the undergraduate level at our university, it does feel slightly awkward to feed my baby at these events, but it helps that I know I’m backed up 100% by the other faculty in my department, who are all parents, most of them relatively young (even our chair’s kids are still middle-school age).  Although as the sole female professor, breastfeeding is a new thing in our department.  I suspect that it will become easier/less necessary as Soren grows, since he’ll eventually be in daycare and will be big enough to space out his feedings more.  And I also like to feel like I’m doing my part to help normalize breastfeeding to the students, who haven’t thought about these issues yet.  If it makes them uncomfortable, well… maybe they should think about why.

So, mostly our days are spent hanging around at home, snuggling, reading, playing, feeding, sleeping, and changing diaper after diaper after diaper.  But now that Soren is old enough to go out in public I’m starting to get back into my university life just a little, and it feels really good.  Overall, we are doing great together, and I’m looking forward to continuing to watch Soren grow.

And, because I can’t resist, here’s another picture.