"My Whole Life Feels Like It Revolves Around My Boobs Right Now"

Much of the parenting conversation has centered on the notion of having it all, but anyone who has even some of it knows that it’s less about “having” and more about “doing.” Going to work, caring for your kids, fitting in friends and fitness — it’s a lot to do. In our series Mother's Day, we ask some of the most highly functioning parents we know exactly what they fit into a typical day, and how the hell they do it.

For Karen*, 31, an archivist in Kansas City, MO, time management is the name of the game. At work, she handles sensitive documents and extremely exacting requests, and has to track her activities in six-minute increments (can you even?!). If her twice-daily pumping sessions exceed 15 minutes of break time, she has to start using her personal leave. Needless to say, she’s got her schedule down. We, on the other hand, are exhausted after reading it.
Parenting with: My husband, Jake, 33, a software engineer.
My alarm goes off. About one second later, the baby starts babbling in his room. I wait it out for five minutes, pee, grab my phone, and head to the nursery, where I breast-feed him while checking email, Facebook, texts, and then change and dress the baby. This all takes about 40 minutes, then I drop him in the Pack 'n Play in my room and spend 10 to 20 minutes getting myself dressed for the day.

Knowing that my boobs and pumping shape a lot of my work life, my work apparel is whatever is quick to put on, doesn’t get in the way when pumping, and is easy when it comes to laundry. I cram so much into the morning and evening, I often prioritize other things over showering. I was low maintenance pre-baby, but if it is at all possible, I am even more so now.
I grab Ben and head downstairs, give him some Cheerios in his high chair, feed the dog and let him outside, fill bottles with defrosted breast milk and label them for daycare, re-assemble all pump parts, and stock pump bag; around this time, husband gets up and gets dressed.

I let the dog in and get him set for the day, pack up baby, and get our seemingly endless number of bags loaded in the car; Jake comes down and we all leave together. We live in the suburbs, but both work downtown, so we’ve got a commute, which we do together to save money on gas and parking. It’s also our time to talk about work, friends, life, or just be in the same place together, even if no one is talking. This takes the pressure off one of us to do all the drop-offs and pick-ups.
We drop baby off at daycare tag-team style: I enter the door code, put bottles in the fridge, write up the daily sheet, and get items stored in his cubby; Jake signs in on the computer, unloads the baby, and stows the carrier; we both chat briefly with the teacher and head out to work.

Often, Ben's at daycare 9.5 to 10.5 hours during the day. We pay $273 a week with an annual $100 fee to keep our spot. This happens to be the most expensive location in our area (which we aren’t super pumped about), but we both feel confident about our kid's safety and well-being there — you cannot put a price on having a sense of trust in your child’s daycare.

Pre-baby, I was a go-getter who took it all on, put up with anything, and sometimes struggled with work-life balance. I am still a leader in the office, but now I say 'no.'

Arrive at work, sign in, check phone to make sure there are no missed calls from daycare (just in case), check calendar and plan ideal day’s activities, check email, voicemail, etc., and get to business. My job is 60% research and reference, answering extremely specific and often obscure questions about American history at a moment’s notice; 30% records-based projects, preservation, and processing; and 10% administrative.

I’ve noticed an interesting shift in myself since returning to work. Pre-baby, I was a go-getter who took it all on, put up with anything and everything, and sometimes struggled with work-life balance. I am still a leader in the office, but now I say “no” and set limits; I produce at high rates, but won’t give up time with baby to make that happen; and have a much easier time managing others and providing feedback without taking it to heart. My sense of self isn’t so heavily based on my role in the office now. My role as a mom has placed home life and happiness outside of work at a much higher priority level.
Pump (I have to fit set-up, pumping, and clean-up into a 15-minute “break” or use leave time). I’m down to two pumping sessions at work, which has been a nice change. I still feel like my work day revolves around my boobs (hell, my whole life feels like it revolves around my boobs right now), but my day feels much less rigid than it did when I was using half of my lunch break to pump a third time. I look at pics of Ben, read personal email, check Facebook, follow up on health-insurance claims for his delivery and NICU stay (which are still in progress, 10-plus months later), make pediatrician appointments, and handle any other mom stuff, while on my pumping “breaks.”

I have to be on and focused from when the alarm sounds to when baby finally goes to sleep.

I do feel like being a mom is putting me in a tough position at work. I tend to be the parent who takes Ben to appointments, so I have to request off more than I did previously. Also, when he has rough nights, I can’t just shut down or slack off for the day — my job requires me to be ready at any moment to assist researchers with complex issues, tackle challenging work with weighty legal ramifications, and sometimes navigate a 15-foot ladder carrying 50-pound boxes. Some days, my work is extremely mentally and physically taxing, and I don’t have the chance to opt out, because baby was sick or woke up five times during the night. But I also can’t opt out of mommy duties at home just because the work day was frustrating or tiring. I have to be on and focused from when the alarm sounds to when baby finally goes to sleep. Plus, pregnancy brain was real and I don’t feel like I'm back firing at all pistons yet, even 10 months in.

After pumping, it’s back to my email, voicemail, faxes (yep, we still use those), and I reassess my strategy for the afternoon.
I take a half-hour for lunch, which is whatever I cobbled together the night before. I’m all about pre-packaged items, like crackers and yogurt, but I try to throw in some fruit or veggies that are easy to pack up. I will not give up lunch, no matter how involved my work day may get — knowing that I am having a hard time staying connected to my friends outside work, I rely on that time to keep up with my colleagues on a personal level. My officemate calls me a “flaming extrovert,” so lunch gives me something of a social outlet.
Pump session No. 2; same 15-minutes-or-else situation. Luckily, there is an open office that I can use (along with one other mother), and we can leave our pumps set up during the day. Our HQ on the East Coast has hospital-grade pumps (way more efficient), sinks, recliners, and refrigerators, which would be amazing to have. We’re jealous, but we’re not complaining, because our space is comfortable, clean, and private. I’m so happy that breast-feeding generally has gone well for Ben and me, and pumping forces me to take breaks during the day. That said, I will not miss pumping. Not one bit.
I wrap up at work and enter my day’s activities into a spreadsheet (our time is accounted for in 6-minute increments). I pick up Jake, then we head to daycare to get Ben.

I feel torn about sending him to daycare. I think he is well cared for, learning and experiencing lots, and is enjoying his little daycare buddies. I just hate having him spend so much of his day away from my husband and me. He’s often wiped at the end of the day and falls asleep in the car, which makes it even more tough, because neither of us feels like we are getting quality time with him. At home, we almost immediately dive into his nighttime routine. I also got spoiled with five-and-a-half months of maternity leave, so I got a taste of the ups and downs of being home with baby all day, every day. I loved my time with him and wouldn’t have traded it for anything. Having had that time, though, it makes me want more.
Once home, I unpack our bags, store pumped milk and pull frozen milk to start defrosting for next day’s bottles, take pump apart, change out of work clothes, and check the daycare’s notes to see what they need more of (diapers, wipes, change of clothes, etc). Two to three days a week, Jake uses this time to go to the gym.
I cook and serve Ben’s dinner; bathe him, change him into his pajamas; and sing songs, rock, and nurse him until he’s drowsy. Meanwhile, Jake cooks our dinner. After about an hour, I put the baby down and come out of his room. Then, my husband and I eat. The best parenting hack in our house is just sticking to the schedule: It doesn’t have to be rigid, but if everything happens in its window, life is good.
I wash baby bottles and pump parts, load dishwasher, pack lunch, and begin re-packing our bags for the next day. At 8:30, I’ll settle in to watch TV on my own or with Jake, and consider taking a shower (sometimes I actually take one). This is when I’ll get in touch with friends to try to make plans, call my mom, play with the dog, or tidy up. At 10:30, I hit the hay.
Sometimes, Ben wakes for a 15-minute period and nurses before returning to sleep; other times, he sleeps through.

You have to look big picture and try your best. Know that your baby is okay and you are okay.

How did you and your partner divide the duties in this way?
Breast-feeding has dictated a good portion of our scheduling, because I have to allow extra time to get baby fed and situated before I can address myself for the day. The original plan when I returned to work after maternity leave was that Jake would take care of our dog in the morning, but that slowly shifted to me and has just kind of stuck. I tend to be more detail-oriented, so I’ve defaulted into the position of organizer for getting us out the door.

I do wish he’d get up in the morning and help instead of sleeping for an extra hour while I scramble around. He is an amazing husband and father (I can’t say enough about how impressed and proud I am that he’s ours — he carries the load in so many areas), but in the morning, I just look at him with disdain and think, Get up! Get UP! GET UP!

Finish this sentence: I absolutely can’t do it without...
Vegging out in front of the TV at some point during the day. I just need a little time to not be in charge of anyone and not have to think about ANYTHING. There isn’t much right now that I do truly for myself, but I do try to make sure I get time to wind down, sneak chocolate from my secret stash, or wander Target for an hour or so when I just need to get away from home.

What do working moms NEED to know?
There is no preparing for the pressures of being a mom of an infant and an employee. There is no way to accurately describe it in words. It can be a tough transition, but you have to look big picture and try your best. Know that your baby is okay and you are okay.

Also, for breast-feeding moms, pumping sucks. It just does. BUT you can do it. You’ll stress about how much you are pumping, how much you need to be pumping, how long you need to pump in one day, how much you need to pump in one week, how long you’ll pump before weaning, and on, and on, and on. It’s okay. Just focus on what you can control and find sources of support in your work and home life.
How do you feel about your body now and how is that different from your self-image pre-baby?
I feel like I’ve always had a positive body image, but I hate the way clothes fit me now. I haven’t settled into my post-baby style and nothing EVER fits right. Ever. I’ve been the exact same weight since a week after Ben was born (which is actually less than pre-baby), but my body is a different shape every few weeks — everything just keeps shifting around!

What postpartum symptoms have you had to deal with?
Honestly, the worst thing post-delivery was the weeks of sore legs. I was apparently holding my knees up with Hulk strength! I had a last-minute epidural to buy some time, because I was delivering five weeks early out of town and my husband was flooring it across the state to be there in time. The epidural was our last-ditch effort to halt the baby, by easing my desire to push. It worked! The epidural was amazing, but I had ZERO gauge on how hard I was holding onto my legs during delivery — and boy, did they ache afterwards.

When did you first have sex after childbirth and what is intimacy like for you now?
We waited for seven to eight weeks before having sex. My husband was extremely turned on by seeing me as a new mom, so our level of intimacy during the no-sex period was actually higher than it had been for...years! We were much more physical during that time than we are even now. I wanted to wait until after I went to my six-week appointment to confirm everything was healing correctly and had been on birth control again for at least a week before we even considered doing anything down there. Our sex life hasn’t actually changed too much since pre-kid, but it is significantly quieter. DO NOT WAKE THE BABY!

Ed. note: If you're wondering if the time limitation on Karen's pumping breaks is legal, it is. The U.S. Department of Labor only specifies that employees should be granted "a reasonable amount of break time" in which to pump. "Reasonable," of course, being subjective. And Karen lives in Missouri, a state that specifies in its laws about breast-feeding in public that it should be done "with discretion." It's no wonder this kind of thing is still happening.

*Names have been changed.

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