Languishing

This morning, the baby was much better when the nanny arrived. She seemed more like her normal self. She is starting to smile with the nanny and didn’t have any noticeable meltdown. I’m trying to give the nanny suggestions on things like how to hold or handle her to prevent the baby from crying or yelling out, which I’m sure our nanny is really thrilled about given what I’ve heard about nannies being annoyed when one of their parent bosses works from home and observing/critiquing everything. But hey, she signed up for this job knowing I’d be working from home full time, so she knew what she was getting herself into.

It’s my second week back “at work,” working from the second bedroom of our apartment, just a wall separating me from my baby. While I feel fine being in front of a computer and having meetings now, and my transition back to work has been a gradual one, I feel like I am languishing. I feel like I have zero motivation and work is just empty. It’s only the second week back at work, and I feel “meh” about it in the biggest “meh” way you can imagine. A few colleagues, including my boss, asked me if I was excited to be back, and I just said I felt okay. I wasn’t going to lie and feign enthusiasm about something that has been a hard mental transition for me. I’m so over the days of pretending to be someone at work who I am not. I never realized the transition mentally would be so hard, even if I had thought about it theoretically before. I just feel completely joyless doing my job. It’s not like I’m not doing the work I have or not responding to emails or Slack messages. I just feel a bit like a robot, doing these things because I have to rather than because I actually want to. I guess that’s the thing about “work:” not all of us are lucky enough to have a job where it doesn’t actually feel like work.

My colleague insisted I’d feel more “normal” about this in about two to three weeks, that I just had to give myself the time, patience, and grace to get back into the swing of things. I suppose that’s a fair suggestion. But I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t waiting for every work day to be over. I honestly rather go back to pumping milk around the clock than working at this point.

Back to work

It was my first day back at work today, which really meant I had to be at my computer in the second bedroom most of the day, and it was pretty quiet. I only had one meeting with my manager, and the rest of the day was spent doing compliance trainings, reading through new product material, and more trainings around product enablement and new roles and responsibilities. I had a few Slack messages with some colleagues, and that was really it. Given I didn’t have to go back into an actual workplace, it wasn’t as jarring as I thought it would be.

My manager told me that we’re likely having an offsite, either in San Francisco or Denver in August. It would be for about two days. So I immediately started thinking about breast milk transport logistics through the airport, on the plane, and at a hotel. And I immediately started feeling stress about it, especially given the horror stories I’ve read about from pumping moms going through TSA and dealing with clueless and ignorant flight attendants about baggage allowances. These are the things that I never thought much about when becoming a mom that I now have to think about just to feed my baby. What adventures await.

In a world pre-baby, the thought of traveling to San Francisco or Denver for work would have excited me and made me happy. More travel! More miles! More points! Status! Socializing! Now in a new life with a baby, I just feel wary and unsure.

The day before returning to work

It’s the day before returning to work, and I”m feeling pretty blegh today. We took the baby out to Central Park since it was warm and enjoyed the sun and grass, spent some time on the roof with her, and went to Target. I made steamed Cantonese ginger scallion barramundi, stir-fried gai lan, and rice for dinner. I set my alarm a little earlier to try to condition myself to wake up earlier to allow myself to not only pump and fully empty my breasts, but also go to the gym before work would begin. I’ve come to terms with going back to work: it is what it is. I wasn’t that excited to hear that I’ll have a new manager in a few weeks, as a new manager always introduces more uncertainty about everything, but I just have to wait to see how things unfold.

My friend was asking me how I was feeling, and I just said I felt whatever about it all. I’m not excited about going back to work, but I’m also not dreading it as much as I did about a month ago. It’s just the reality now. Our nanny will be starting soon, so we’ll need to find a new groove with her, as well. It’s a lot more “returning to normalcy,” whatever that means, just with a tiny baby to care for and think of now. I’m finally going to learn what it’s like to really be a working mom soon.

When lack of family nearby is felt

Chris is away staying at a hotel for the next two nights because his company is having their annual kick of here. And the company is requiring everyone to stay at a hotel even if they live in New York City because they wanted to create a Covid bubble to ensure that everyone remained safe. This is a little bit ridiculous when you think about it because when you have colleagues who are traveling from literally around the world who have not seen each other since before the pandemic, it is highly unlikely that you are going to prevent and police them from socializing with people that they know outside of work as well as each other outside of work events. And also, if you are at work events, you will be mingling with your colleagues, so how is that any different than mingling with them at a bar or at a restaurant? 

Needless to say, I was pretty annoyed at this… who decided on such a stupid and senseless set up? This also meant that I felt even more overwhelmed without him around, even though he had already gone back to work technically and was working from home. So we arranged for our night nurse to come three nights in a row, which we have never done before. In addition to that, my very good friend offered to come and stay overnight to help out with the baby’s daytime bottle feeds. 

I was grateful for my friend’s help. But it also made me even more cognizant of the fact that I have no family nearby to help when situations like this come up. And when you think about it, you can really only rely on your friends to help out this way just so many times before it becomes a bit tiring for them. For example, my friend was super eager to help out, especially because she had not seen me or the baby since the day after we came home from the hospital because she didn’t want us to get exposed to her potential exposure to Covid. And while she said she was happy to help with the first and second bottle feed, every subsequent bottle feed, you could tell that she was a little bit less excited each time and saw it as a bit of a chore.

I don’t blame her. It is a chore, especially when you have to do it 7-8 times a day. It’s not fun anymore and is just something that has to get done. It has diminishing marginal utility like most things that we enjoy. But that is life with a child – there are things that are not glamorous that you just have to get done for them to grow and be nourished.

And if you don’t have family or friends nearby, you’ll end up having to spend a lot of money on paid help. And well, we don’t have Jeff Bezos’s bank account size, so that ends up adding up… REALLY quickly.

“Baby bonding leave”

I am not quite sure why officially, modern companies of today call maternity and paternity leave “baby bonding leave.” It seems like it is a way for companies to make it sound like welcoming a child into your family is just all fun, games, smiles, coos. What it actually is that they do not want to acknowledge is a full-time job that is actually beyond a “full-time” job that we tend to think about, as in, a 40 to 50+ hour work week. Being a parent, especially to a newborn child, is a full-time job in its truest sense, as in a 24–7 job, with no breaks unless you have hired help or family nearby or a loving partner who believes in an egalitarian  parenting style and division of responsibilities. What family leave at companies should be called is “keep your baby alive and make sure she is growing adequately, or else.“ Because that is really what the first few months of life is like for a newborn child. Those are the responsibilities of the parents: to make sure that their child is eating enough to grow and that she does not die.

That sounds a little bit daunting and bleak, but that is actually true. For the first number of precious weeks of your child’s life, she is not going to be able to see beyond 8 to 10 inches away, and when she is able to “see,” she can only see outlines and blurry images. She is not going to be able to see your face full on. She is not going to be able to register different colors from the others. She will though, be able to differentiate different voices. Eventually, she will be able to see your face and see different colors and register different shapes, but that is not immediately. She is going to rely 100% on you for literally everything: food, shelter, changing her diapers and ensuring she is not soiled. She will even need you to hold up her head because her head will be too heavy for her to hold up with her weak neck that needs support for at least the first 2 to 3 months of her life. It makes you wonder how evolution made human babies so useless and helpless, especially when you compare them to other animals in the animal kingdom, some of whom are able to stand or even walk on their own immediately after exiting their mothers’ womb.

I just think it’s funny and a bit of an insult that baby bonding leave is called what it is called. We should all just be a little bit more honest and blunt and call it what it really is. It’s exhausting to sugarcoat reality.

The Dream Team strikes again

My calendar has been pretty clear since the middle of November at work, so it’s actually left me with a lot of time to catch up on cleaning things up for organizational purposes for customer work, as well as personal tasks I wanted to get done before Pookie Bear arrives. I was a little befuddled when a colleague on my team sent me a calendar invitation with our names titled: “Last 1:1.” That was weird, I thought. We’d only had maybe one or two 1:1s leading up to my leave since she’s covering for a handful of my accounts, so I thought it was strange. So then I did some investigative work and checked about 10 other team members’ calendars at the same time/date to see what they had. Welp, it looks like they all had a private invite on their calendar for the exact same time. These deceptive fools planned a surprise baby shower for me!

So I got into the Zoom late this afternoon and of course, there are about 15 other people in the Zoom other than the colleague who originally tried to dupe me, and they all laughed and said, “well, we REALLY need to talk about ALL your accounts RIGHT now in case you go into labor!” It was super touching; I was nearly in tears when I got on the video chat. Even virtually, I felt so overwhelmed with love and appreciation. At previous companies, somehow, I had always taken the responsibility of planning things like surprise baby or wedding showers, organizing cash pool gifts for those celebrating the next phase of their lives. It was something I enjoyed because a) I love surprises and b) I like organizing events that make people feel seen and appreciated. The look on their faces when the event is sprung up on them always gets me.

And now, a handful of colleagues I am close to got together to do this… for me. None of us have ever even met face to face given the pandemic, yet somehow, I have felt more loved, appreciated, and seen at this company than any other company before. We talked a lot about babies, partners, changing relationships, sleepless nights, #teamnosleep, and endless cuddles. And they sent me a really generous Amazon gift card, put together a virtual card of well wishes and parenting advice, and said more was on the way.

Pregnancy has really made me feel so grateful for so many things. I can’t even believe how overwhelmed with happiness and gratitude I’ve been all along the way, not only that things have gone so smoothly with everything from pregnancy symptoms to doctor’s appointments and test results to Pookie’s anatomy scans, but even just so overwhelmed with gratitude for the people in my life: my friends, each of whom has been there for me in some shape or form to support me through my IVF and pregnancy journey; my colleagues, who have always checked in on me regarding how I’m feeling, how pregnancy is going, and showered me with gifts to welcome Pookie Bear; my family, and yes, even my mom for being there for me and checking in on me, even when I may not have consciously wanted her to; the professionals ranging from the bond I’ve built with my therapist to my doctors/sonographers/nurses at the fertility clinic and my regular OB-GYN pracice and my doula; and of course, Chris, my rock who keeps me going strong regardless of what obstacles we’ve faced. I have had no shortage of support in some shape or form, and I just feel so blessed to have everything I have in my life.

And I know once Pookie arrives, she will have a similar web of support surrounding her.

Life-sized teddy bear

A number of packages arrived today, both expected and not expected. I tend to do most of my shopping for staples like skincare/cosmetics/clothes around Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and if I am buying Christmas/birthday gifts for friends or family, I usually use this time to take advantage of all the discounts and deals. What I was not expecting to be delivered today was a huge Amazon box that was gift wrapped and not from our baby registry.

When we opened the box, which was addressed to me, there was a large vacuum-sealed bag. It came with a gift note, which said it was from “the Dream Team.” The label said it was a 55-inch teddy bear… for Pookie. I couldn’t believe it; my team at work had sent me a life-sized teddy bear. I read the reviews, and this guy will need to be unzipped and re-fluffed to be in his full, optimal glory!

“DO NOT take it out of its packaging!” Chris exclaimed, bewildered that someone had sent us such a massively sized stuffed animal. “We have so much clutter! There is stuff everywhere now!”

I’d always wanted a life-sized stuffed animal, just for shits and giggles. In my dreams, it was a Totoro or Snoopy the size of me, but hey, this teddy bear will do. I cannot wait to see how Pookie looks next to this teddy bear in terms of size. It will be too cute.

When I am either being a jerk or other people are just deers with headlights

Since I’ve started working at the current company, I’ve been pretty happy with my colleagues for the most part. Of course, there are always selfish, dickish sales people and self-seeking individuals to look out for, but overall, I’d say it’s been a breath of fresh air, especially considering I came from a place that reeked of stereotypical office politics and backstabbing at its finest. But recently, I’ve noticed that some of the newest hires are not the brightest bulbs, and it’s not because they are not “getting it” right away; it’s more because when new information is presented to them, instead of confidently digesting the new information, they clearly freak out over the video chat and start panicking. Multiple times in the last few days talking with new people, it’s like I was working with deers with headlights, and the freak out sessions were painfully obvious even over Zoom. I can’t even imagine how frustrating this would have been if it were in person.

My general belief about people in customer facing roles is that at minimum, you need to be able to be pleasant, friendly, firm, and exude confidence even when you aren’t even sure what you are talking about. Confidence makes people trust you, and trust is really important with customers. If you are not confident and freak out over little things you don’t understand, customers aren’t stupid; they will pick up on it and call you out for it.

So I’m not sure if I’m just feeling a little impatient because I am slowly preparing to step away from my day to day duties to go out on maternity leave, or if I am just being a jerk in my thoughts. I am definitely patient and kind when I speak with these individuals, and to catch myself, I always smile and take a breath before I speak. I need to pause before I speak, otherwise I know I will end up saying something I will regret.

Old colleagues meetup

Yesterday afternoon, I met up with two colleagues from my last company. One of them is originally from New York but has spent the last five years living in San Francisco, so she was out here to see family and hang out. The second one is a New York native and someone I was quite close to while working at the last company. We were on a texting basis when working together about all the dirt at the last place, yet I knew that once we no longer worked together, we’d have little to nothing in common. The visiting ex-colleague reached out to organize a coffee meetup, so we got some drinks and brought them back to my rooftop and chatted for about an hour. It really wasn’t that long because one of them needed to head back to Queens for dinner, and well, the other reason was that we really don’t have much in common anymore. Sadly, it didn’t really feel that natural to be interacting with them, and it felt a little forced at times. It’s not that I think they are bad people, as I definitely do not think that at all. It’s more that we’re not really people who could ever be friends outside of work. Sometimes, that’s just the way it is with certain people. Once you take away the one thing you used to complain about and commiserate on together, it’s kind of over for you all. It’s always a bit of a gamble seeing former colleagues when they are no longer your colleagues because the one thing you had in common, work, is no longer a commonality anymore. I knew we didn’t have much in common in the way of hobbies or life interests in general, but at least we caught up on each other’s lives, respective work, and how that was all going. And with the pandemic’s end not really being in sight, we talked about how we coped with that and how our families managed, as well.

It was a good attempt, but oh well. You can’t always remain friends with former colleagues even if you were really close while working together. C’est la vie.

Working as a parent

As long as I’m at the company where I am currently employed, I will never have to go into an office and work a traditional 9-5 or 9-6. I will never have to deal with pumping breast milk in a mother’s room or bathroom between meetings at work. I will never have to post on a Slack channel that I’ll be out for a baby’s appointment for whatever hours of the day. Given the pandemic and the general nature of working from home during this period, this is quite a privilege I have. I remember my mom marveling at the idea of a mother’s room at my last workplace: “we never had that when I was working!” So she never had the option to pump milk for Ed or me; we just had to have formula after she went back to work after eight weeks of maternity leave.

I recognize how lucky I am to work from home and have the flexible schedule I have. My boss, who has a 6-year-old daughter, shuts down her computer to pick her daughter up from daycare at 4pm on the dot every single day, and she doesn’t check email again until about 9pm in the evenings, likely after her daughter is already in bed. We have other colleagues who shut down at 3pm each day, and no one ever blinks an eye at it. It feels good to know that parents are accommodated well at my organization, at least as far as I can see.

I’m having a chat with our benefits team about my leave next week and am curious to see what they will say is required from a paperwork standpoint. In the U.S., regardless of what company you are employed at, this process is rarely fun or enjoyable.