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.



9 thoughts on “Maternity Leave

  1. My Perfect Breakdown

    He is so cute!!!! How is he already 14lbs?! Our little guy is just so little in comparison he’s consistently on the 3rd percentile for weight. 🙂
    I love that you are taking him out and introducing him to your passion and your career. I do the same with our little guy, he’s been to more then one meeting and he’s done great. I will admit, I think this is one of those situations where bottle feeding is bit easier, his feeding is very scheduled so I can somewhat plan around his feeding times and of course in male dominated meetings no-one cares if I pull out a bottle. 🙂

    1. lyra211 Post author

      Thanks, MPB! Yeah, tell me about it with the 14 lbs! Well, just like someone’s got to be in the 3rd percentile (like baby MPB!), someone else has got to be in the 99th percentile — which Soren is, for height at least. He’s in something like the 80th percentile for weight, which makes him only like 20th percentile on the weight-for-height charts. So, as his pediatrician said, he’s just really long and lean! Basically, he’s got the proportions of a typical 3- or 4-month old even though he’s only 2.5 months. That said, I know that breastfed babies tend to grow faster than formula-fed babies for the first 2-3 months, and then slower than formula-fed babies for the next several months, so it’s entirely likely that baby MPB will do some catching up over the next few months while Soren doesn’t change much at all. Which would be fine with me — he’s been in 6mo clothes since he was 6 weeks old, and I’d like him to stay in those clothes for a while!

      Yeah, it sounds like there are definitely advantages to formula feeding. As much as I love that breastfeeding is working for us, and how convenient it is (no preparation or bottle-washing!), it does mean that I’m basically tethered to my baby 24/7 (he’s not great at taking bottles yet). And feeding him in public is something of a political gamble — I 100% believe in my right to do it (and I know that that right is backed up by law), but at the same time I know that some people are uncomfortable with it, and I don’t exactly want to be making a statement every time I feed my kid. Most of the time it’s easier just to stay at home — but I also don’t want breastfeeding to make me into a recluse! No matter what your choice of feeding, there will always be people who are happy to tell you you’re doing it wrong (as you found on your blog this week!). I’m glad that we can both be secure in the knowledge that we are doing what is best for our babies and our families. 🙂

  2. theskyandback

    Have you thought about trying the swing as an intermediate step between sleeping on a person and sleeping in the crib? Lettie napped in a swing for 6 months and then we slowly transitioned her to a crib. I dunno, it might help lengthen the naps? And omg he is so cute! I want more pics!!!

    1. lyra211 Post author

      The swing is a good idea for sure. My husband tried it a couple of times with no dice, but I wonder if we didn’t work our way into it and try to be consistent with it enough for it to work. Might be time to revisit. (Thankfully, we got a hand-me-down swing from a friend, so not a wasted gadget!) The method of choice for today is introducing white noise, and working on drowsy-but-awake at naptime (I’ve been putting him down fully asleep, which I know is a no-no according to a lot of sleep experts). I’m a little scared of getting him to rely on the swing and just having to revisit stationary sleep in a few months, but if that’s what it takes for non-crappy naps, it might be worth it!

      1. theskyandback

        Oh lordy, to get Lettie in the swing we had to swaddle her, then shake her gently while putting her in the swing, then shake the swing gently as soon as she got in it, while simultaneously turning the swing on. I completely understand not wanting him to be reliant on moving sleep, but some babies need it. Lettie def did. But if you can get the white noise, etc to work and not have to resort to the swing then that would be awesome! Lettie still sleeps with white noise and she’s almost 4. We live in a tiny house in the city so it’s never quiet.

      2. lyra211 Post author

        Ha! We started the white noise because we live in the country and it’s too quiet, so every little thing wakes him up. Also, we have a dog who LOVES to announce anytime a car door closes in our driveway or in the driveways of the houses to either side of us. My husband earned his Super-Daddy-Dog-Whisperer badge yesterday when the dog was napping outside the door to the nursery during one of Soren’s naps, and my husband spotted the FedEx truck turning into our driveway to deliver a package. He went out into the hallway, draped himself over the dog, and shushed her enough to prevent barking both from the truck AND the knock on the door! What a guy! 🙂

  3. jwhitworth7

    Sounds like you are doing a great job of incorporating your job with your new mom routine! He’s so cute by the way! Ugh the sleeping switching! I dread putting Luke down for the night….I catch myself delaying as much as possible. He’s gotten better with naps but just like Soren sleeps best when someone is holding him. We are currently transitioning to the crib….blah and are in the midst of the 4 month sleep regression…blah! I figured if it’s gonna be bad lets get it all over with! Your little guy is growing like a weed!! Sounds like you guys are doing well!

    1. lyra211 Post author

      Blah, indeed! Sounds like rough times in your house! Don’t you wish that sleep was linear — that once you solved a problem, you could be confident that it would stay solved, and not create new ones? Honestly, Soren’s sleep issues aren’t even that bad, it’s mostly the unpredictability that stresses me out. When he wakes up at 1am for the third night in a row, I can’t go back to sleep because my mind is buzzing with “Was it something I did? Is there some way to fix it? Is this going to last forever?” — and by the time I’ve fallen asleep he’s up again at 4am! Wish I could just accept these things as they come, but alas, it is not my nature. 🙂


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