We asked a friend to share her "Returnity" story, and what we got back was a beautiful, hilarious and real depiction of her moments during pregnancy, childbirth and mat leave. To give you some insight into her amazing personality, I was chatting with her about writing this blog post and she had to interrupt me with "Okay, brb Riley's screaming at the top of the stairs with no pants on because she wants to watch more Doc McStuffins...or as I like to call it, bed time."
If you don't know Sarah (pictured left below), she is funny, kind, a hard worker, and one of those people you always want to be around. She truly wants to help other people and is always willing to go the extra mile. Sarah lives in Baltimore with her wife Cat and beautiful daughter Riley, who was born May 2015. She's had a strong career in Advertising and most recently was Director of Ad Innovation at Oath until she decided to freelance as a Creative Consultant and Web Designer. Here is Sarah's story in her own words:
Mom to Riley
Freelance Creative Consultant and Web Designer
Maternity Leave: 14 weeks
There were so many moments in the process of pregnancy, childbirth and maternity leave that reminded me that while I might make plans, the world has it's own plans, and those plans usually win, and that's okay.
I had a lot of health issues while I was pregnant with my daughter. I had pre-eclampsia and was on bed rest for about 6 weeks before she was born 6 weeks early. Because of this, I had been working from the couch, which was a big change for me. I was used to traveling a lot, being around lots of people, and being very social. To go from that to literally sitting on the couch all day alone was really really hard for me.
While in that frame of mind, I jumped at the chance to go to one of our international offices immediately after my maternity leave was over. I signed up for it during one of those weeks on the couch before she was born, and thought - this will be great, I told myself. I would be totally ready by then. I would have been home with just me and her for months, I told myself.
Then she was born early and was in the NICU for over a week and a half; she was only 4 lbs and so so so tiny, and my milk hadn't come in. We were told that after she came home we weren't allowed to take her out anywhere until she was at least 2 months. This is because as a preemie, she could get very sick and any hospitalization would have big consequences.
So I hunkered down for 2 more months of solitary, this time with my beautiful little daughter, and was driving my wife crazy. She would come home and I would be like - WHAT IS HAPPENING IN THE OUTSIDE WORLD? No detail was too small. Someone said a joke at the water cooler? You better remember it.
The last month of maternity leave was better. We got to go on walks and have people over, but I was starting to regret signing up for the trip. Was I really going to leave this tiny human for a whole week? She was still so small and we were nursing. After maternity leave I had one week to get her settled into daycare before I went on my trip. I cried the whole week. Daycare was used to it but I wasn't, and I was freaking out. Everyone was telling me I should go on the trip and that it would be really good for me personally and professionally, but I was ready to cancel it, even though my mother in law was coming in to help the whole time I was gone.
Ultimately I went on the trip, and had a terrible first day. I had forgotten those little white circle membranes for my breast pump, and had to go for over 15+ hours without pumping. I was running all over London trying to find a store that would sell me the little membrane (how is it that such an integral piece of the machine isn't attached better?!), or a whole new pump for f-s sake, whatever I could get! I literally took the new European pump into the dressing room at the department store, and was on my hands and knees looking for an outlet so I could pump. Holy crap. When I finally fired that thing up, it sounded like a 737 flying right through the dressing room, I didn't care because it was such a sweet sweet relief.
Even though the trip started out stressful, it was actually a good thing for me. I was able to jump back in with both feet and really concentrate on getting back in the swing of things knowing that my baby was in good hands. I also got to see that my wife was very capable and she got some time to prove to herself that she could handle everything. By the time I got home, my wife had transitioned Riley into her own room, so we were able to sleep through the night without me waking up to every single noise she made while she slept. It ended up awesome.
THE DIFFICULTIES OF BEING A WORKING MOM
As I continued to get into the swing of things, I still found it really hard to find balance. I left my Advertising Director job to freelance and found this even harder because I wasn't going to an office every day. There are lots of days where I take my daughter to daycare and then come back home and work. There are a lot of people that assume that I would be staying at home with her now that I'm not "working." The problem is, now that I am working for myself, instead of going in to an office and coming home and leaving the work at the office, I am working all the time. The lines have blurred between work and home, and it's making it harder for me to balance being a mom with helping support my family.
I still have all the normal working mom/missing milestones/missing my kid/someone else is raising my kid type guilt. It feels like it's being compounded by being at my house most of the time buried in my computer, watching dishes pile up and having to look at them all day while I try to hit deadlines for clients. Then when Riley does come home, I have to choose between spending time with her and finishing that one last thing that is sitting right there on my computer on the counter.
There have been a bunch of times lately where she will say - "Mama, can I push just 1 button on your 'puter?" and I put her in my lap and let her push a few buttons (right now she's working on letters at school so I say a letter and she has to find it) and then put my 'puter away. I have to remember that the work will be there after she goes to bed but she's only going to be this little for a few months, and I don't want to miss it.
BUT ALSO WHY I LOVE BEING A "WORKING MOM"
If there is one thing I learned from being on bedrest and then maternity leave for so long , it was that I need social interaction or I lose my mind. I love my daughter with everything I have, but it is really nice to have adult time every day. That is actually one thing I'm finding difficult on this new journey of self employment - I'm alone in the house all day again. I have to find a co-working space or something soon so I see other people besides my family every day. I also know that the structure that daycare provides for my daughter is so much more... structured... than anything I would provide for her if I was stay at home momming, and it's been really good for her.
She changes so much every day that as soon as we establish a routine, we have to change it because she's bigger or smarter or needs different things. At school they are specifically trained to know what to do while we are figuring it out on the fly! haha I guess thats another constant from her whole life - it's okay to rely on experts and trust people to do things that they are good at. When she was in the NICU, I wanted to breastfeed but she was so early that I wasn't making any milk. She lost almost a pound (so almost down to 3 lbs total) and we started giving her formula and it was like - wait a minute, these people know what they are doing, formula is fine. Feed the baby. Their job is to keep tiny babies alive and help them grow. I'm going to defer to the experts. So, I guess I enjoy knowing that even if I don't know something, there is a community of people around me who also care about this tiny human that I can lean on, so it makes me feel like part of a larger whole, and that I'm never doing this completely alone.
CAREER VIEWS AFTER RILEY
My views about career and family are constantly in flux. Ultimately my wife and I want to become foster parents, so I'm trying to build a career that will allow for the flexibility to do that since her job has zero flexibility.
Until I had kids, I never really understood why people couldn't go out after work at the drop of a hat, or why drinking wasn't everyones idea of a great work activity. I think early stage tech companies that are started by young guys are going to cater to the kinds of things that young guys like - pizza, beer, partying, ping pong, etc. and I bought into that mold to fit in and try and move my career forward, which honestly, worked pretty well. By the time I left I was the Director of Ad Innovation at a major advertising company, and could have kept riding that train - but my priorities changed.
Right now I'm trying to build a life that satisfies my need to build things, change things, and help people; while also being able to play with my kid(s) and be the kind of mom I want to be. Easy? nope...but totally worth a try :-)
MY ADVICE FOR ALL WORKING MOMS
Just do the best you can do every day. When you are just starting back to work, the best that you can do might be dusting off your desk while crying and counting the minutes till you get to go pick up your baby. All while calling daycare 10 times throughout the day to make sure everything is okay. Congrats! You FREAKING DID IT!!!
You got through the day and everyone who has ever been through this understands what you are going through. Are the people that haven't giving you the side eye? They can all kiss your life building ass. They have no clue. You made a human from scratch. Give yourself a break and remember that you are literally doing the best thing you can think of to do in the moment. Is it always the right thing? Probably not. But, if you aim to do the best thing, you at least won't do the worst.