Yesterday was Chris’s first day officially back at work. Granted, he did not go back into the office physically, but instead set up his work laptop and monitor at my usual workstation in the second bedroom of our apartment. To go into the office, he would be required to wear a mask and get tested for Covid every week, And the requirement to wear a mask in the office at all times was a deal breaker for him. On top of that, even if he were to go back into the office, he wanted to do that later to ease into the transition of being back at work.
I was bracing myself for this week because I knew that it was going to be a challenge to balance the baby’s feeding schedule along with my pumping schedule. Everything had to align almost perfectly in order to get both done, and both really did need to get done.
I was chatting with our night nurse about this last week and telling her that I was nervous about how I was going to manage both all by myself. She gave me a sympathetic look and said given that both the feeding schedule and the pumping schedule are happening every three hours, after diaper change, tummy time, feeding, burping, making sure the baby was upright for at least 15 to 20 minutes after a feed, and then setting up my pump and pumping milk, I would be lucky to have 30 minutes to myself, and that would be on a very, very good day. On really bad days, I may only have 10 to 15 minutes to myself, and that would likely not truly be for myself. That time would likely be spent preparing bottles, cleaning bottles, cleaning and prepping my pump parts, and stuffing food down my throat to make sure I had enough calories to produce enough breastmilk (I would also add here that I eat almost all my meals standing up while pumping now – breakfast, lunch, and most of the time even dinner). My night nurse was never one to sugarcoat things, and so she likes to keep it real.
Well, the first day was absolutely exhausting, and I am saying this as someone who is already exhausted with her husband doing almost all the bottle feeds and taking care of most logistical baby-related things for the last seven weeks. I had limited experience bottle feeding my baby, and so, I was not equipped to read her signs the way that Chris was. I do not always immediately recognize when she is still hungry or if she is truly full. She ended up wanting more food after getting burped and falling asleep at the first and the second feed. I obviously got frustrated because I needed to pump after both, and so I ended up trying to appease her by feeding her a little, or holding off her feeding, and it didn’t really work out. Chris would occasionally come out of the second bedroom and check in to see how things were going, especially when she was crying. And he could tell that I was frustrated and feeling overwhelmed already.
The second day was also rough, but a little bit more manageable than the first day. But Chris had already seemed to make the decision that he was probably going to go back on leave again. I asked him if it was because of some work situation in terms of re-structure that he had alluded to in the previous week, and he said that it was more because in just two days, he noticed how even more exhausted I looked at the end of each day, and this was not sustainable for my overall health and well-being.
I felt really bad and guilty. It was clear that I wasn’t managing well, but I said that I needed more time to adjust and to read the baby’s cues. Two days provided very sparse data. But it seems like he had already made up his mind. And I was not going to push back on him going back on leave. I really wanted and needed the support. And honestly, parenting is just more enjoyable when both of us are together.
But I did not just feel bad and guilty towards him; I felt a deep guilt about all of the other mothers out there in this country who have no support, whose husbands or partners barely even had one day or one week of family leave off. I felt bad about all of the mothers who only had a week or two off from work and immediately had to go back to work, still with postpartum bleeding, painful vaginal tears, pelvic pain, C-section scars — you name it. My partner had originally taken seven weeks off, and as a dad, that is quite a foreign and luxurious concept in this country — that a dad would take off that much time when his child was born. So even if he did continue to go back to work, I still would have been an outlier in this abysmal country that does not value family or child rearing; I would have been an extremely privileged and lucky outlier. And now that he is going back on leave, I know that we are in the less than 1% of the population who has this much privilege. I guess that is also what motherhood is about: always feeling bad and guilty about pretty much everything. That could be about not spending enough time with your children, not pumping enough milk for your children, going back to work, having more resources and help than other mothers, having more comfort than other others.
We are not only lucky because we both have so much more leave than the average American, but also because we are able to afford help in the form of our night nurse. Her support does not come cheap by any standard, but we are able to afford it, unlike so many families out there. There are people who are fortunate enough to have family nearby who can help out, and then there are the people who, like us, have no immediate family nearby and pay for the support. But then, there are the people who literally do it all on their own. And for the single moms… I don’t even know where to start. My heart hurts for these people, and at the same time, I have deep admiration and respect for them. I particularly feel for the mothers out there whose partners don’t have much or any leave when they have a child, and they literally have to do everything by themselves, day and night. It is not easy to have a child in this country, and it truly does take a village. And we are lucky and privileged to be able to pay for our mini village.