Hi Ho, Hi Ho- Back to Work I Go!

Baby at Work

The funny thing about being given 12 weeks of maternity leave, paid, is that it means there’s a job I should return to. I actually found myself back at my desk two weeks early in order to save the last two weeks of leave for going home when my husband’s unit takes leave.

When I envisioned having a child over the last 3 years I imagined I would be in a position where I was freelancing as a writer and able to stay home. When I envisioned having a child eight months ago, I thought I would just quit. I was so in denial about the fact I would have to go back to work, I neglected to sign my son up for daycare on Post until after he was born in February, which means he is on a waiting list until August. I ended up locating a daycare off-Post. I didn’t have much of an impression except that it smelled faintly of bleach which was comforting for me. The staff was just a bit ghetto, but I couldn’t see how that would matter. I was relieved to have found childcare but could not get over adding an hour of travel to my day.

I became fixated on keeping my baby home with me as I grew more maternal. I felt I could provide care working from home but knew I wouldn’t be available on demand. I went to a babysitting website to pay for an account and look through applicants who had passed background checks. I didn’t really know what I was doing and ultimately decided to pick someone I would like to hang out with. Unfortunately, those girls didn’t respond. I ended up extending an offer to a rather pesky 18-year old newlywed of not even two months, that had just moved here with her soldier from Oregon. She had messaged me a dozen times. I met her at a Starbucks and handed her my child. While not completely natural, she seemed competent. I offered her the opportunity to watch my child for the following two weeks. You can listen to me tell this story here.

One the first day, she showed up promptly and had even asked if I wanted anything from Starbucks. Shortly after she arrived, I got the sense she wasn’t used to coffee in the morning. Slightly annoyed, I avoided that bathroom. The rest of the day went off fine. I wasn’t taking calls for my customer service job that day and was able to observe her with my son. I had no complaints.

I was back to taking calls on her second day. Baby was fussy, but things were going well until I heard her in the nursery say, “why won’t you be quiet???” I couldn’t get off the call I was on fast enough. I hurried into the nursery to rescue my porcelain newborn angel. “If you feel overwhelmed, just come and get me… Never shake the baby.” Despite being functioning adults, we had been told not to shake our baby several times since he was born. I was definitely going to pass that warning on to an 18-year old. Every break or lull in my day had been spent looking after my son and I was exhausted that night. I understood the saying “a mother’s work is never done.”

The next day she did not show up because her dog was attacked. Spencer was able to come back from work for the morning to take care of the baby, but I was on my own after 1:00. There was about an hour of unsuccessfully playing the “mute” game before I was able to take my son to a friend’s house nearby.

When the nanny returned on the fourth day, I was sympathetic to her ordeal the day before. Given how desperate she was to work for $200 a week, I figured she couldn’t afford the $3500 hospital bill.

She arrived early and asked if she could use the bathroom. After an extended visit she emerged into the living room with book in hand. Irritated that she once again didn’t poop at home, I handed to her my child so I could get ready for work. As I walked passed the bathroom, I noticed I didn’t pick up the bath mat I put down when I shower. Not wanting it to be walked on with shoes, I went in to drape it back over the tub. As I walked out, I looked down and noticed something horrifying.

This was like the point in a horror movie where you realize the killer is IN. THE. HOUSE.

The sink was completely dry! I didn’t know what to do! Was it my fault because I hadn’t specified “must wash hands after using the bathroom and shower daily” on the job posting? (She had been a little ripe earlier in the week.) I went back and forth between keeping the peace for the day and demanding my minimum standards for my child because I was afraid of being confrontational. It would have been a little different if I hadn’t thought she made a bowel movement– still trifling but not as much of a health hazard. Finally, I found my resolve as a woman. I traipsed into the living room and scooped up my baby. I said, “I noticed the sink was dry, can you wash your hands for me?”

We did not recover from that incident. I did not trust her after that and I was stressed out. I couldn’t trust her judgement as an 18-year old, and I was mad at myself for not picking up on her deficiencies earlier. I could not decide what to make of the stress I felt. As a mom, if I was feeling stressed like that, was it intuition I should act on? But what would I do about childcare? I talked myself into making it through the last week.

But the situation resolved itself when she didn’t show up or answer her phone the next day. What a relief. I’m sure she had felt unwelcomed since I’m terrible at hiding my emotions and was too embarrassed to show up. Fortunately, my husband was off.

The following day we attended a cookout of a friend of a friend’s. Shortly after I walked in, the friend took Brooks from me because she had met him a couple weeks prior. She was one of those women that has her own kids and loves babies in general. Her movements were deft, and my son took to her right away. After a couple hours I asked her if she would watch my son the following week until I found someone else. She agreed. I played it cool but texted my mom immediately.

Babysitter

It has been three weeks and I could not be happier. Brooks is honestly in better hands than if I were taking care of him myself. And having him out of the house while I am working is less stressful for me . She also lives on Post so I usually go see Brooks during little 40-minute lunch break. The only challenge has been pumping, but so far we have not run out of milk nor have my nipples fallen off.

So I’m a working mom now. And my husband is a soldier dad which means he has been gone for days at a time training these last couple months. On the first week of work I was impacted by my son was getting 10 hours less of me on top of not seeing his dad at all. Given the transient nature of being in the Army, I understand why many military spouses may choose not to work. I also understand how taking care of my own child seems like a better use of my time than working. It seems I’m always rushing and busy because I have to adhere to a work schedule on top of my other workload. My husband wordlessly shoulders the load when he is home but his workday starts at 6 am. At the same time, even though I don’t care for my job I am grateful to have time where I’m focused on something completely separate from family and responsibility. Money aside, I understand why some women want to work and some women want to be stay-at-home moms.

Milk in spectra bottles

I don’t see this situation being sustainable for me because I need more personal time. I’m at the point where I’m dreading getting my hair done this weekend because of the time suck it is on a Saturday. I could be cleaning, grocery shopping, or letting my husband go to the gym instead of sitting under a dryer with my hair beyond dry feeling guilty, boobs aching and black women materializing into the stylist’s chair just when I think it’s my turn. I had to hire someone to clean my house (lowkey a life dream) a couple weeks ago before in-laws came because I just could not. There just isn’t enough time to be everything I want.

At this point, I have to choose between money and time and I am learning money can cost more than it is worth. I’m paying money to replace myself because I don’t have the time.

There is still one thing I have not decided: do I send the babysitter the money for the few days she did work? Or do I require her to be an adult and ask for it? Do I leave her a review on the website or let the fact she has to remember for the rest of her life that someone had to ask her to wash her hands be her guiding light?

With this child I have been given great responsibility, but they forgot to pack the instructions…

 

Welcome to Parenthood!

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sondra houghton photography

 

I walk out of the master bathroom, in a diaper, with milk streaming out of both of my breasts. My husband rushes and grabs the baby from my mom. I sit on the bed and nurse my son on the right while my husband starts the breast pump on the left. This is parenthood. This is Day 3.

Day 1

With every ounce of strength in me I push a baby’s head out of my body and the rest of him follows, at 12:32 am on February 4th. He cries immediately in spite of the meconium that came out when my water broke. I thank God for that. My child is healthy and surprisingly large. The baby nurse checks his blood sugar as soon as she can.

For the next hour and a half I shake uncontrollably while a very stressed-looking resident doctor stitches me up and repeatedly comments on how terrible the laceration is. I didn’t have an epidural so she’s ineffectively using lidocaine. The child is finally weighed in at 10 pounds! I pass out in the bathroom due to blood loss.

During the day my husband feeds me my meals while I nurse or hold the baby. I still feel light-headed and drowsy and keep falling asleep. Later I receive two blood transfusions. I watch the SuperBowl while my husband sleeps. I wake him up for the half time show, but he falls asleep again.

Day 3

We are ready to leave but have to wait for the pediatrician to come perform the circumcision. Yesterday pediatricians seemed to be coming by every 20 minutes, but today the nurse has to call for one. My husband and I have discussed this choice for months, but the decision came down to last night when I called my brother to help me be rational. I cried when they took my son and I cry when they bring him back but he is happier than when he left.

We finally head home at 2:00.

Day 4

I don’t fall asleep until 7 am because we can’t get the baby situated in the bassinet. Despite the fact I know the womb is very different from this environment, it’s a complete surprise to me baby might not be totally comfortable on his own in a bassinet.

Day 5

I feel overwhelmed. Having a newborn hasn’t been challenging with my mom and my husband at home, but being so broken down has been hard. I had looked forward to giving birth because I assumed my pregnancy problems would go away since, you know, I wouldn’t be pregnant. I am disappointed to find my hands are still swollen, my carpal tunnel is worse, my pelvis still hurts, it’s still hard to stand up, and apparently I’m still snoring. On top of that, 10-pound babies don’t simply exit the body without leaving a mark. I’ve got stitches for days… and hemorrhoids. Where a week ago I was beautiful and interesting, heavily pregnant, today I am deflated and not at all vibrant. And my white baby looks nothing like me. I have the baby blues.

In the evening I feel a sharp pain as I sit. I start to cry out of frustration and ask my husband to go to the bedroom with me, away from my mom. I cry and explain all the aforementioned grievances, and I tell my husband I miss him because we are only Mommy and Daddy right now. And my mom has been here for 10 days. I miss snuggling on the couch. I miss cuddling in bed. I miss joking around, and obviously having sex. Instead, I’m wearing an actual diaper, and I’m afraid things won’t go back. My husband is, for maybe the first time, incredibly sympathetic. He validates my feeling and makes the right faces and sounds to soothe me. He suggests I need to be patient and volunteers to help me take the multiple prescriptions I was sent home with. And through logic he assures me things will “go back” after the wounds have healed.

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Day 6

After fearfully co-sleeping for the last 3 nights, we have the baby snoozing peacefully in a swaddle suit in the rock n’ play, for the win.

Day 7

If I ever get breast implants, they will be the size of these beautiful, currently engorged breasts. I’ve been an A all my life.

Day 9

My baby makes me feel sad. I feel guilty for creating a child and giving him a womb, then ripping him from it to deal with us and all this gravity and time nonsense. I’m sad I don’t feel as attached as I expected. I question if I really needed to have a child. My husband says he was in love right when baby was born. He doesn’t understand why I have these feelings. I acknowledge these thoughts are irrational…

Day 10

I can’t imagine someone else caring for my child full-time and at this point it won’t happen. I learn that childcare on the Army post won’t be available until August. I return to work in May. I should start my search off Post, but I’m unmotivated because I don’t want to think about working again. If my work performance was mediocre before, look out!

Day 11

I need a break from breastfeeding! I’m tired of my bra being wet all the time. This little nursing pad does not help. The baby eats almost every hour. This is too much!

Day 12

My mom knocks on our door at 7 am, waking me up to take her to the airport. I am surprised I have slept so late and realize the baby didn’t wake up for my turn to feed. On the way, I tell my mom not to cry and the sensation will probably pass. I am sad too.

Later, Spencer and I take our baby for his two-week check-up. He weighs 10 pounds and 12 ounces. The doctor tells me our baby’s stomach should hold about an ounce and a half of fluid. Our son drank a 4-ounce bottle last night so my husband and I smirk at each other.

The baby fusses the entire day, presumably because he misses my mom.

Day 13

Spencer returns from the airport with his mother. She is instantly in love.

Day 15

My baby doesn’t make me feel sad anymore. I love being the one to breastfeed him. I love when he sucks feverishly. I love the sounds he makes as he gulps and sighs with his eyes half-closed from pleasure. It gives me heart eyes. I think about how I made him and how he has laid claim to my breasts, which were made for him.

Day 16

My husband is stressed. He isn’t sleeping well since he is alert if our son is making any level of noise. He has taken on a lot. He has a lot of responsibilities with a newborn, an impaired spouse, and loads of laundry; he hasn’t been alone in weeks, American ice skaters keep falling during their Olympic events, and he hasn’t had sex in a month. I shouldn’t be surprised he is edgy.

Day 18

I am in love with my baby.

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Day 20

My mother-in-law cries as she leaves. I’m sad too. I’m sad everyone has to miss large chunks of our son growing up. We want go home this summer but I don’t know if I will have enough vacation days to make the trip. I think about and don’t think about when Spencer leaves for the field or something and I have to take care of the baby myself.

Day 22

This is the first day of our last week of Spencer’s leave: 2 weeks for paternity, and 2 weeks of post-deployment. We are excited to be alone and be parents on our own.

Our son refuses to rest in the Rock n’ Play. We decide to co-sleep. Here we go again…

The Boys Are Deployed

bootsonbedI don’t want my husband to deploy. I want my husband to deploy. My husband is about to deploy. His battalion has been gone for a while now and he will be joining them soon.
Am I sad? Not on the outside- or the inside really. In my brain, it’s a sad situation; in my mind, there is no use in crying about it.
I have been trying to articulate my feelings on this for weeks because they are complex. Feelings about being away from my spouse are the simplest. Feelings of not wanting him to stay are hardest to express.
When my husband leaves, it will just be me, endlessly taking calls, not cleaning up after myself, doing hobbies. I am hundreds of miles from friends and family with no vacation days left. I’ve tried to make new friends, but no one is ever close enough. It will be lonely.
On the other hand, I have it better than the other ladies. I don’t have kids. I’m older and have actually lived on my own in a city away from home. I am highly capable of reaching out to others. I’m equipped for this. For that reason, it is hard for me to feel sorry for myself when dozens of other women are enduring this same thing with a fifth of the survival skills. I’ll be alright. I’ll write more, eat better, and save money. I have no doubt I will find something to do with myself.

My plan is to find things to work on. Immediately, I should be taking a four-week statistics class. Oh, I decided to move forward with a masters degree, so I’ll have that to focus on as well. I may try Paleo again, which I tried when he went to Basic Training and lost 15 pounds! There is also that novel I started writing last year that I would be proud to complete. I have enough things to do that I see this separation as an opportunity rather than a pause.

That isn’t why I don’t want my husband to stay though. The rest of the Spencer’s battalion left a couple months ago. He didn’t leave because he was on medical profile after having vision correction surgery. There was a moment when his leadership told him they wanted him to stay behind as the point person during the deployment. I felt frustrated by this. Not just because the plan kept changing. I was frustrated because I didn’t want him to miss out on the opportunity. I didn’t want him to be the old dude in the battalion that still hasn’t deployed. I didn’t want him to be that one guy in a group that doesn’t get the joke because “you had to be there.” I didn’t want to spend the next nine months knowing my husband was wishing he were somewhere else, but that’s not what made my eyes sting.
While I was still unhappy with my career in St. Louis, there was at least the illusion of opportunity and the reality of money. You already know what the reality of my career prospects is here, so the consolation is the success of my husband’s career. If he doesn’t deploy, then he’s “behind.” I’m behind. This whole time I have watched opportunities be taken away from him and my career stall and roll backward. What made me tear up was that overwhelming feeling that if he has to miss out on something else, my professional sacrifice will be for absolutely nothing. It will be for his spun wheels, broken plans, late nights, and deep-seeded frustration, compliments of the Army.

So of course I want him to stay, but it is important that he goes. And he is going. True soldiers join the military to go through hardship. And I understand the danger and reconciled it when I decided to become a military spouse, that’s why fear is not a part of this discussion. We didn’t come to the land of chain restaurants for the chain restaurants. We are here because the one thing my husband knows more than anything is that he wants to be a soldier.

7 Ways to Be a Good Spouse (At Bad Times)

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In November Spencer and I celebrated our two-year anniversary, and the retrospective portion of that was a lot different than the year prior. They can have 2016, it was rough for us. I had sat down then and tried to write a reflective post, but it just was not coming together. It was hard to sort through everything and make it interesting and upbeat. Right now I’m in a unicorn phase where I am obsessed with my husband and what he’s doing and wearing and he can’t get in a fight with me, so I wouldn’t want to convey otherwise. I decided that better than describing what BS we went through, I would skip straight to the lessons I learned from it.

  1. Be still as things neither you nor your spouse have control over frustrate the crap out of you.

The Army is number one for putting couples in the position of complete inconvenience with no one to hold accountable. When Spencer made it home from being dropped from Ranger School for no good reason, we had problems. This was January. He was getting moved to a different Division because of it and I was stressed about coming up on a year of unemployment. It was tense in our house for the first time. Then this summer, I was working full time and he was trying to deal with lack of job satisfaction and things got tense in a different way. Six months later I’m working from home, he’s working a different detail and the most tension we seem to experience is when he steps in water I didn’t dry up after refilling the Brita. I am saying that circumstances change, and don’t expect the issues or patches you are going through for a time to be your forever.

  1. State your grievances as clearly as possible and provide detailed instructions to help your spouse stop pissing you off, while maintaining an optimistic attitude.

This past year was one of transition. I was disappointed that it was not intuitive for Spencer to decide to sweep once he saw food piled under the cabinets. Unfortunately I conveyed my exasperation when I asked for his help, which offended him because I was in effect punishing him for something he had no clue was an expectation. This situation reiterated in many different forms. My advice to anyone would be to state your complaint and solution calmly and in good faith. If your request is not received after attempts on three separate occasions, feel free to pop off.

  1. Reevaluate your priorities to determine if the expectations that are stressing you really need to be on your list.

I tried to keep my house as clean as it had been before I started working 40 hours a week. I was wearing myself out going to the gym, cooking, going to work, and then coming home to spend all my free time cleaning at a snail’s pace because I was tired. I had to let go of my expectations for a clean kitchen. I had maintained certain standards because I felt those were my duties, but my husband wasn’t helping out without being asked because those were not things he cared about. I had the choice to let it be something I cared less about. On the other end of this, if you still care about something like the house being really clean, consider hiring someone to help you and alleviate some stress in your life. Yes, I know people can’t afford stuff like that and suggesting it makes me sound high maintenance, which I am.

  1. Find someone else to talk to.

My husband is not a talkative person, but I don’t think his reticence excuses him from having a conversation with me about my day or whatever is affecting me at the moment. Regardless of what his skills were, a listening face is what I needed in those moments and as a consequence, his inability to provide that was another fault added to my list. My advice to others is to again moderate your expectations of the other person, and figure out if you really need to talk or if you really want attention. There are ways to get attention without requiring him to be an excellent active listener when he is stressed too. If you really need to talk, recruit a friend and don’t let your spouse frustrate you by not being eager. Counselors are great for an opportunity to talk through something. Unfortunately I was unable to see mine at that time because of said job.

  1. Keep doing it (SEX).

I can’t make a list about being a good spouse without speaking on sex. This isn’t anything I learned from the past year, but it is important to keep viewing the sex as an aspect of the marriage to be maintained. It is easy not to be interested in sex when there are issues, but neglecting it will only make things worse. Requiring no words, sex may be the only way you communicate that is the same language. Sex helps to relieve stress and to reconnect as one.

  1. Keep it legal.

Don’t be looking to any other person or thing to fulfill the needs that should be met by your spouse. I know I just said to talk to someone else, but that’s for when you need to work through something. Don’t turn to another bank account to make you feel secure, or another man to make you feel desired, or even worse, vices to get you through. Things like those feel like remedies but rob the oneness of your marriage. Stay focused, and keep working at being the right person and helping your spouse be the right person.

  1. Pray for yourself and your spouse/Pursue personal development.

I think back over the struggles and still have trouble finding solutions other than what I chose in the moment. The only thing I can really pinpoint is that I should have committed to praying for myself and my spouse and fasted to really petition God for help. The solutions I came up with weren’t anywhere close to that, ie: not cooking for a week. I know everyone is not a Christian, so my advice is to be invested in your own well-being to center yourself for dealing with what comes and do the same for your spouse.

Being newlyweds, this year was the first time I had encountered a ‘system error’ in my marriage. As things changed, I wondered if things had always been off and I was just now becoming disillusioned. I found myself saying to my spouse “It’s like you don’t understand that marriages can end,” when I was fighting with him to do the work it takes to maintain ‘us.’ No, divorce never crossed my mind; we weren’t anywhere near that, but since I didn’t realize we were going through a trial, I felt we might be in the early stages of demise. I now know THIS TOO SHALL PASS. And, it takes time to grow and gains skills from new challenges. Be faithful  be steadfast in the work it takes and you will come out on the other side, holding hands, still leeching Netflix from your parents on a rainy day, simpatico once again.

2017 Baby!

 

Moving into 2017 is like the excitement of opening Facebook and seeing that you have more than ten notifications. Unlike Facebook, I refuse to let 2017 be just another game request.

I am 28 years old. Not yet 30 or panicking about being 30, and also not still trying to figure out what the heck I’m supposed to be doing for once. I am excited about my opportunities over the next year. One year ago, I was applying for jobs at chain stores and hoping my husband didn’t end up in some worse situation after being dropped from Ranger School. I never heard back from any of the obscure places I applied to except the prestigious one I am employed with now, and my husband is fine; often on the cusp of being stressed out, but overall fine.

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This year I will lose that five pounds, except after the holidays it’s ten. I will sell baked stuff with the help of my brand new Kitchenaid Mixer I received for Christmas! (Look at God!) I will blog consistently. And I will try to learn to pop and lock. I am excited about the fact that our next vacation is this year, and that will be in New Orleans, or in Gulf Shores with the in-laws. But what is most exciting about 2017 is that this is when we are supposed to try to have a baaabbyyy!

The start line is many months away, but I am cross-eyed with pleasure at even the prospect. I know having a baby isn’t as easy as staying in for one well-timed evening- I am very aware of that, but for me, sometimes anticipation is the best part. I fully expect my husband to pull out on the deal at the last minute, but I’ll just be disappointed then instead of tempering my excitement now.

I have wanted to have a baby since approximately November 22, 2014, which is the date of my wedding… So I have just been waiting for the past two years; the past 12 years really. When I was in high school, I really wanted a baby. No, I wasn’t sexually active in high school, but I was obsessed with the idea of being pregnant and having a baby. Then in 11th grade I had to take home Baby ThinkItOver. I realized having a baby wouldn’t be primarily fun and games as I repeatedly woke up in the night to feed and change the thing like a zombie. That was when I thought it over.

 

Despite having no sex in high school, as a black female I was proud that I graduated without becoming pregnant. I was again proud of myself for the same thing when I graduated college. I wasn’t having sex then either. Since I have become of age to actually support a child, my feelings about it have evolved; primarily from possible to impossible to actually do it in a healthy way and not be poor. I am past that and finally gave in to my desire against rationality last spring accepting that I would just have to wait for Spencer to be ready.

In September I thought I could influence him by not bringing up having a baby for one entire month. I was basically successful at it, but with no gain- he still wasn’t interested discussing a baby. He had already said when he would be ready one year prior. Then, we fast forward to December where I feel ambivalent about having a child at all. Ambivalent means fluctuating in commitment one way or another. I could have just said that in the first place, but I need to elevate our collective vocabulary.

I was ambivalent because I finally felt I had something to look forward to in terms of personal goals and hobbies so I wasn’t fixated on the imminence of having a child. I had previously merely been focused on making it to an existential break-even point and a baby represented a significant, positive change. Fortunately I am not that desperate anymore.

To my surprise, our holiday travels tipped the scales. No one said it, but I think everyone in our families is lowkey dying for us to have a child. It’s like we have been at this stasis since all us children became adults. My sister-in-law is finally out of college and so begins the mundanity of adulthood for the last of us. The youngest cousin on his side is driving. There needs to be a baby to add intrigue and everyone knows that. She could get married, or my brother can get married, but regardless, we won’t be related to those persons, so we need a baby.

While I am excited about the things 2017 has in store, I plan to be patient. It’s the climb, people. I hope others can find the optimism I have unearthed in the wake of the busted trashbag of a year we just had. We have nowhere to go but up!  I should also mention that there is a possible deployment in the books for 2017. If that precludes us from fulfilling our familial duties this year, I will still live. Previously the prospect of having to wait another year and be THIRTY, nearly brought me to tears, but now I am strong enough to realize that was irrational and to appreciate the additional time to just “do me.”