My family and I are very fortunate. My husband and I are both college-educated and had the opportunity to start our professional, corporate careers during the post-Great-Recession economic boom. We each spent nearly a decade climbing that ladder before finding out we were expecting our first child. For a number of reasons, I was already considering becoming a stay-at-home mom as we looked forward to Louise being born in mid-2019. It had taken us longer than we expected to get pregnant, and I didn’t want to miss a moment of this new season of our life. I had been doing the same job for a couple years, leading to some boredom, and I was getting frustrated with what I viewed as office politics. I was ready for a change. But deciding to stay home still wasn’t a quick or easy decision for me.
My company offered substantial maternity leave for me to recover from childbirth and enjoy the first precious months with our daughter. I planned to go back to work when leave ended. It was a way to assess my own feelings about leaving Louise in daycare and to check my mindset about my professional career after a meaningful break from it.
We realized daycare wasn’t for us.
After months with Louise as my constant companion, I left her in the very capable hands of my husband who took some time off work to ease my transition. It would be his job over that week to introduce Louise to daycare, first for a couple hours, then closer to full days before he again returned to work full time. Often, James did drop off and I did pick up. At Louise’s age, pick up was the fun task because she was always happy to see us, but James bore the brunt of her tears at drop off. I closely tracked her days in the school’s parent app. The teachers would share her diaper changes, her naps, and occasionally pictures of how she was doing throughout the day.
At only a few months’ old, she should have been napping three times each day while at school, for an hour or more. After a couple weeks, Louise had not figured out how to sleep in the classroom crib. There was so much stimulation and excitement, even during the scheduled downtimes. She had naps for as short as 12 minutes, and often only one or two in the entire day. She would crash at home, and while the overnight sleeping got longer, I worried she was becoming chronically tired. Everyone said she would adjust, but after 6 weeks, she still hadn’t.
Pumping breastmilk is hard. Really hard.
Back at work, I was trying to get back into the office rhythm while providing all the sustenance Louise needed to keep growing well. She was taking three bottles per day at daycare, which meant I was trying to fill three bottles per workday. James and I also got into a nice routine early on where he would give her a bottle in the evenings as her bedtime feeding. It was a way for me to have some alone time and a chance for James to connect one-on-one with Louise. So I also pumped in the evenings at the same time to fill the next night’s bottle for James.
My back-to-work routine included pumping right when I got to the office, usually around 8:45, pumping again over my lunch break, and trying to find time around meetings to pump again in the afternoon around 3:30, before picking up Louise, heading home and pumping again that night at 7. I have to imagine it’s like this for many mothers trying to pump enough breastmilk to support their young child, but I was constantly worried about keeping up. Did I pump enough that session to fill the bottle? Did I get a little extra in the morning to make up for the late day pumping sessions that would inevitably come in low? If it wasn’t too little, then I was worried I had too much. Was I boosting my morning supply in a way that would drown Louise when she directly fed on the weekend? Looking back, I know I was lucky. My milk supply was fine. Lou grew exactly how she was supposed to. But it didn’t change how hard the effort was to be the sole food source, via indirect methods — more on why I wanted to breastfeed over formula in a future post. I mean no judgment of parents who make different choices or have to take a different approach, but it was important to me to breastfeed.
My company offered everything they could to make it a manageable experience. My boss was never concerned about my schedule or when I would disappear several times a day. The building had mother’s rooms with all the amenities — a fridge, a cushy chair with multiple tables, outlets, a sink, a mirror, and a storage cabinet. Other women shared encouraging words for each other on sticky notes on the mirror. Even with everything I needed, I felt like I was failing at doing one job or the other at any given time. I couldn’t get fully back into work projects when I was distracted by concerns about supply, scheduling, Lou’s sleep.
I tried to optimize where I could — putting reoccurring pumping blocks on my calendar to try to limit conflicting meetings, packing snacks and water to more easily stay nourished and hydrated. I had so many more privileges than other working moms and this period was completely exhausting. I didn’t know how I could continue for the 6+ more months I planned to breastfeed.
Then COVID-19 hit.
In March, my company declared that all associates who were able to should work from home. James also started working from home and we kept Lou home from daycare to try to limit any potential exposure. At first, with a young baby who slept as much as she was awake during the workday, it was the perfect arrangement. I could breastfeed directly instead of pumping. She wasn’t very mobile and could be happily contained with a toy while I multitasked during meetings. But, as babies do, she grew. She learned how to sit (and fall over), then how to crawl, then how to stand and cruise. She also started eating solids alongside breastmilk. Over the many months of COVID, like most parents, I was simultaneously doing two jobs at the same time.
My boss and coworkers were great about it. They adored seeing baby Lou on the video screen and understood that sometimes we weren’t going to be on video during meetings. Everyone got to see the nursery in great detail as my days turned into video calls sitting on the floor with Lou with my laptop propped up on the glider. Or only turning on video when it was my turn to talk from the middle of the baby’s play yard in our living room.
In some ways, working from home made it easier to continue my paid career while getting to see what life as a stay at home mom would be like. But doing both jobs took its toll on me. I was more tired than ever. The couple weeks where I had very urgent work projects alongside a newly crawling and solids-eating baby wrecked my stamina. Something had to give. After four months of both professional work and infant care, I noticed myself looking forward to one job much more than the other — while feeling the mom-guilt of trying to take a work call while swapping out toys for Louise to try to keep her quiet next to me.
We finally decided I would become a stay-at-home mom.
In anticipation of possibly making the decision to become a single income household, we did some financial planning. We wanted to make sure we could afford the necessities and enough of our wants to be able to continue to live a comfortable lifestyle. We are incredibly privileged that my husband’s income alone is enough to support our family. So over the summer, I gave notice to my company and stopped trying to do both jobs at the same time.
I took the first two weeks as a semi-vacation. I immediately took on the various house and childcare responsibilities to allow James to focus 100% of his workday on work, but I didn’t worry about optimizing for anything. The laundry got done; the dishes were washed; the baby ate, but when she napped, I relaxed, watching TV or napping some myself. I knew that I needed to take some time to rest and after that I knew I eventually wanted to start some kind of “side hustle” or projects (like this blog!).
It’s since been about two months. I’m the primary caregiver for Louise. I take care of the laundry, the dishes, prepping coffee each morning, most of the cooking. Lou still naps well (after a recent stint of not napping well), so that gives me some time each day for myself. James works from our master-bedroom-turned-office by day and Louise and I have the run of the rest of the house. Some days I get frustrated if Lou isn’t sleeping or eating well, but I’m so glad to have made this choice. I get to focus on our family and our home without the stress and strain of my professional career right now. Louise is happier for it. James is happier. And I’m happier for it.