Earlier this year, two members of the CDPHP communications department welcomed new babies into the world. Natalia Burkart, public relations specialist, had a son, Griffin Joseph, in January 2018. John Fil, digital marketing strategist, also had a son named Jonathan Taras in March.
Though it was my (Natalia’s) second child and John’s first, we both learned a lot and we wanted to share it with the hope that it might help others of you out there preparing to go back to work after the birth of a baby.
We would love to be able to tell you that it’s going to be easy, but the truth is, being a full-time working mom – or dad – is HARD. You’ll hear from both of us about what helped, what didn’t, and hopefully you can take some of this advice and use it in your own way!
As I sat on the couch one day breastfeeding my son and watching an episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians (no judgment, please), Kim commented “One is one, two is twenty.” Kim, if you’re reading this, no words in the history of the English language have ever been truer. My second child, sweet baby Griffin, or “G” as we’ve affectionately come to call him, had a tougher start to life than most. I had originally planned to be off for 12 weeks like I had taken with my daughter, but about halfway through I realized I was going to need more time. I took two more weeks off (thank you paid family leave!) and it was a total blessing.
I went back to work at the end of April and now that I’m several months in I’d like to share what has kept me marginally sane:
I asked for help.
Ugh. Even writing those words makes my skin crawl. I have never been good at this. My mother constantly reminds me that one of my first Ukrainian words was “cama” or “myself.” I wanted to do everything on my own, my way, and the truth is – not much has changed!
So first, I asked my husband to pitch in more. He was already giving 100 percent, don’t get me wrong, but now I needed 150 percent. Because I didn’t ask for more help sooner, this all came to a head during a nasty argument. While I don’t recommend that approach, it did help us air some things that we’d been holding on to for way too long. We’re now sharing the evening responsibilities more equally – making dinner, cleaning up after dinner, preparing bottles and lunches for the following day, bath time, putting away laundry, etc. Whatever your arrangement at home looks like, ask your people – any people – for help. Even if some days are going great, others aren’t going to – and you should have the support you need to handle them.
Second, I hired a cleaning person. I know that this isn’t going to be possible for everyone, and I didn’t even think it would be for me, but turns out after looking at my finances I was willing to cut down on a few Amazon Prime orders and trips to Target to make this work. It has lowered my stress level significantly. And now instead of spending my weekends cleaning, I get to spend them with my kids. Big win in my book. Also, a cleaning person does not have to be a professional! Is there a teenager down the street looking for some extra cash? Super, ask them if they’d like to help you out a couple of times a month.
Lastly, I started saying “yes”. I said “yes” when my parents offered to order takeout and bring it over to give us a hand with the kids. I said “yes” when my amazing neighbors offered to have my daughter over to play outside while my husband was out of town and the baby napped. I say “yes” when my wonderful mother-in-law offers me lunch to bring to work. I’m learning to put my pride aside and accept the gift of help.
I made time for me.
When my son was about 6 weeks old, a colleague came over and asked how I was doing. I launched into a detailed account of all of the doctor’s appointments I was running G to and what Mila (my 4-year-old) was doing at school, until she gently touched my arm and said “No. I asked about you. Are you taking care of you?” It stopped me in my tracks. No. I was not taking care of me.
It has taken months since that conversation, but I can finally say I’m making a distinct effort to take better care of myself. For example, losing the baby weight this time around has been infinitely harder. When G was sick, I ate to comfort myself. When I went back to work, I ate whatever was quick and easy. I felt awful. This is still a work in progress, but I’m doing a better job of putting myself back at the top of my priority list. I have an exercise accountability partner. I treat myself to a pedicure or a drink out with friends here and there. It’s definitely a start.
I got better organized.
I’ve always considered myself to be fairly organized, but I needed to step up my game as a mom of two. One of the things that helped is setting up a command center in my home office. On Sunday nights, I review my calendar for that week and make sure I’m ready to tackle it head on. To keep our finances straight, I’ve used a handy app called Mint for years. It shows our account balances, recent transactions, and also has bill pay reminders. Genius!
I started packing my gym bag for an entire week. Now, I don’t have any excuses for not getting to our on-site CDPHP fitness center.
Sundays are also for grocery shopping. At this stage of life, cooking is more about survival than it is about culinary creativity, so we pretty much eat the same things every week – salads/wraps on Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, grilling on Wednesdays – you get the idea. This is boring but it’s working. One day I’ll return to making a mean osso buco. (Just kidding. I’ve never made that. But I could try!)
I accept my limitations.
Full disclosure – like so many things I’ve already told you, I am struggling with this one, too. I have had to repeat to myself “this, too, shall pass” more than I’ve ever had to in my life. That where my husband and I are in life right now is a phase and that spending the day on the couch snuggling the baby is something I’m going to long for in 10 years when he’s running out the door with barely a “bye, Mom!” to play with his friends.
Being a parent has been an incredible experience thus far, and I can truly say that one of the things that has made this time of new beginnings and transition easier for me, is the fact that my wife, Lauren, and I planned ahead.
Here’s what I mean:
I took preparing for baby classes.
I wanted to be as ready as possible for Jonathan’s arrival, so I took child preparedness classes. In these classes I learned about what to expect during delivery, about breastfeeding, and what to do if the baby is choking, among others. Lauren and I also toured the hospital and pre-registered so that all we had to worry about was checking in once the big moment came.
I checked out daycares WAY in advance.
Without close family nearby, Lauren and I knew right away that we’d need to put Jonathan in daycare once Lauren went back to work. We also knew after talking to many other parents that we should begin this process sooner rather than later. We interviewed several childcare providers and eventually were able to find one we really liked and that would have an opening for an infant when we needed one.
I can’t stress this point enough. I unfortunately heard from others that they had waited too long and ended up having to piecemeal their child’s care until a space became available. Not a position you want to be in with so many other stressors mixed in!
I took advantage of Paid Family Leave.
The Paid Family Leave Act was a huge advantage for our family. It enabled me to take more paid time off of work than I would have if I was just going to use my personal time to do so. It also helped to know that I could save my personal days for when Jonathan was sick or needed to go to the doctor – and unfortunately, as soon as he started daycare, there were A LOT of those times!
I enrolled in a dependent care flexible spending account.
Even though I work for a health plan, I still learned so many things when it came to changes that I could make to accommodate my growing family, including the availability of a dependent flexible spending account (FSA). I was able to set aside up to $5,000 tax-free dollars to reimburse myself for Jonathan’s daycare expenses.
You got this!
So to sum it all up? Plan ahead. Ask for the help. Care for yourself. And if life feels like you’ve just thrown a bunch of papers up in the air and are desperately trying to catch them before they fall, you are NOT alone.
However, if that feeling is accompanied by thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, please, please, please – reach out to someone. Postpartum depression is serious and the stress of returning to work can certainly exacerbate it. CDPHP has excellent resources to help moms navigate this challenging time, including a 24/7 crisis line that you can use to be connected to someone for help immediately – 1-888-320-9584.