Saturday, July 21, 2012

Going Back to Work - First Time Mom Chronicles

I'd like to write a bunch of entries documenting the things that surprised me about or were major changes when becoming a first time mom, so I'm going to label those posts as the "First Time Mom Chronicles."

I thought that I’d go crazy staying home from work as a new mom. I knew that the first few weeks might be tough and that taking care of Hayden would take up the majority of my time; I even knew that I would miss out on quite a bit of sleep during that early period. With that knowledge, though, I assumed that after a few weeks I’d be working on my blog while watching the baby and keeping my house spotless (mind you, it wasn’t spotless before I had a baby!), and that soon after that I’d be pulling my hair out dying to get back to work for a reprieve from domesticity. My husband experienced that hair-pulling just before his four week paternity leave ended; he was ready.

We’d spent the past three weeks sleeping in shifts when I declared myself unable to sleep sitting up with a baby on my chest any longer. I was deathly afraid I’d fall into a deep sleep (not just the occasional snooze while he ate) while holding him in an unsafe position and so we decided to split the night up (this is a completely different post, really. Suffice to say, Hayden hated his bassinet). Chris took the early shift, sending me upstairs to nap (in between feeding sessions, that is, and at the time our little guy was eating every one to two hours) until he couldn’t stay awake any longer, and then I’d takeover from there. Our way of dealing with Hayden’s early days was far from conventional, I think, but again, that’s another post to be written at another time.

Anyway, my dear husband couldn’t wait to get back to work, if only because it would put some semblance of a schedule back into his life. He’d be able to sleep at night again, and would get a bit of a break to just be with himself during the day at work before coming home and helping out again in the evenings. I didn’t blame him one bit, but didn’t find myself in at all the same position. At that point I still had between four and eight weeks of maternity left available to me, but the mere thought of doing work other than strictly being Mommy already was giving me serious pangs of anxiety. Plus, I work an overnight shift and we were not planning to put Hayden in childcare, so the logistics regarding when I would ever sleep once I went back to work added to my ever-increasing angst.

Out and about with friends
This, like I mentioned before, was a major surprise to me. I’d always assumed that I’d get bored at home, that I’d need to work at least part time, but here I was wishing there was some plausible way that I could stay at home with my baby. I even started googling work at home jobs, but of course most of the ones that Google pops up with require some sort of up-front payment or are time-consuming scams. So, I just braced myself to return to work. To make my anxiety of leaving my baby at home even worse was the fact that I was going back to work on the overnight shift and we had no child care planned. Actually, I take that back. We had child care planned, it was just not outside child care. Chris would watch Hayden at night, while I was at work, and I would watch him during the day. For the few hours of overlap in between and when Hayden took his naps during the day, I would sleep. That was where my major secondary anxiety came in. I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to sleep enough, that I’d end up so deprived that I’d risk my son’s safety and my own health (I have an auto-immune disorder that is easily triggered into flare-ups), and that I’d fail at mothering, housekeeping, and work all at once. Plus, I worried that my marriage would suffer, that I’d lose time with my husband in exchange for catching up on sleep.

I’ve been back at work for about a month and a half now, and while I wish I could say it has been incredibly easy on all of us, it also hasn’t been nearly the nightmare that I expected and dreaded it to be. We’ve worked out a pretty good routine, the three of us. I get home from work at about 6am and after putting things away head straight to bed. Normally, I am asleep by 6:30. Hayden wakes up any time between 5:30 and 7:00 (normally towards the later end, thank goodness for my hubby!), and Chris gets up with him and takes him downstairs. The baby gets fed, changed, and Chris spends time with him until it is time for him to go to work, at which point he tries to get him to fall back to sleep and brings him upstairs to our bedroom in his Rock ‘n’Play (which, if I haven’t mentioned before, is a genius invention and needs to be given some sort of award). If he is asleep at that point, I normally don’t even wake up, sleeping until he wakes me. We normally head downstairs between 9 and 11, when I feed him, grab some cereal myself, and hangout for a bit before he takes a good morning nap (which usually lasts between an hour and two hours). Hayden does the majority of his daytime sleeping during the morning, which works out pretty well for me. If we have gone downstairs already, when he takes his morning nap I normally look at the mess around me and then lay down on the couch and nap with him. Lately, though, we’ve been indulging ourselves a bit and staying upstairs until the early afternoon. When he wakes up, I bring Hayden into bed with me, where I feed him, and then we cuddle and watch tv until he dozes back off, at which point I happily do the same.

Hayden hanging with his Grandpa
Our afternoons are a bit more active during my work week. If Chris has ridden his motorcycle to work and left us with the car, we may go to the mall or to Target just to walk around and get out for a bit, or I will take Hayden to my parents’ house while I go to physical therapy or other appointments. I love that Hayden gets these afternoons with his grandparents, and I know they love spending time with him, too, so that makes me happy. If Chris has taken the car (which happens more often lately with all of the rain we’ve been getting!), Hayden and I stay in and hang out, reading books and playing with the toys he now takes an interest in. He also is obsessed with cramming anything possible into his mouth; he even tried to eat his child-sized soccer ball the other day when we were taking photos for the England game to send to my in-laws! He is also becoming a bit more self-sufficient without being mobile yet, so I can put him down on his play mat for a bit some afternoons to get things done (although I usually choose baking or computer time over cleaning, I have to admit).

Chris comes home between 4 and 5, usually, at which point he assumes “daddy duty” and I pump before lying down before work. I try to get at least two or three hours in the evenings, but it is hard because I am always hating that I am missing time with my boys! I do try to nap as best I can, though, before pumping once more and heading out for work (I start my shift at 9:30). Normally around the time I am leaving, Chris is putting Hayden down for the night, so he gets a couple of hours to himself to either play his computer games or go to bed early if he is particularly tired.

Phew. That seems a lot more complicated than it actually feels when we are doing it. The nice thing is, my days off rotate so I do work some weekend nights. On those days, I get several hours more of uninterrupted sleep thanks to my amazing husband, and we get to spend a bit of time together as a family in the afternoons. I do wish the baby got out of the house more often during my work week, though, so on my days off I try to make sure we have at least one big outing. Lately we’ve been spending a lot of time wandering around the parks at Walt Disney World, meeting the characters and taking advantage of our annual passes.

Will this schedule work forever? Absolutely not. Hayden won’t always nap this much, and won’t tolerate a tired mama in the afternoons, and eventually the laundry and dust piles will completely take over the house. But, for now, it works for us, and that is enough for me. It means I don’t have to put my infant in day care, and it means I get to watch him grow up and spend time with him while still helping to pay our bills. The best thing about our crazy nutso schedule, though, is that we made it work. Since giving birth, I’ve learned that I can handle almost anything, and that I am capable of a lot more than I thought I was capable of before I became a mom.

It is amazingly corny, but being a mom has made me a much better version of myself.

How did you cope with going back to work after having your first baby? Did you have to adjust your schedule in a major way? How has it changed as your baby gets older?

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