By Jessica Marie Baumgartner, Missouri, USA
Just another Saturday morning. The sun rose on a golden dawn. The birds wouldn’t quiet, and my sweet 7 month old’s teeth had kept him up all night. My day “off work.”
His little whimper pulled me out of bed. My husband twitched but I knew there was no way his eyes could possibly open for another hour or two.
I stumbled into the baby’s room. Tears glistened on his rosy cheeks, but the second he saw me he erupted with happy coos.
“You’re lucky I’m a morning person.” I carried him out of his crib and got him changed.
He demanded cuddles, clinging to me with a warm embrace as soon as I picked him up again. He patted my back as if to say, “Sorry Mom, my mouth just really hurt.”
I nuzzled him to me and sat in the rocking chair to read to him while he suckled. The relaxing sensation of feeding him made everything worth it. I work outside the home. So, when the baby couldn’t sleep, I wanted to feed and cuddle him while I could.
Struggling with mom guilt
The feelings of guilt are that much stronger because I had been a stay-at-home mom for his two older sisters. I still need to nurture my babies. No matter what roles life pushes me into, I refuse to compromise my maternal bonds. Raising children while working a full-time job is demanding and heartbreaking at times, but balance is possible.
My first two breastfed baby love stories
Nothing will ever convince me that raising children is anything other than a full-time job. Breastfeeding alone can take up so much time in the early months that it should be considered a professional sport! My children did get a few bottles on occasion, but I filled those with fresh-squeezed human milk. I knew that what I fed them would affect their bodies for the rest of their lives.
My eldest had an appetite like a horse. She developed perfect rolls and dimples all over her little body.
Her sister was her polar opposite. She had a rough vaginal delivery that left her with a broken collar bone and a relentless case of thrush. She struggled to get comfortable and rarely wanted to eat. Her stomach couldn’t handle much. I knew it was irrational, but every time she turned away from my breast, I felt like she was rejecting me, not my milk.
Getting through that proved how dedicated I could be. I did anything I could to get her to eat. I even pretended to nurse myself at times—a practice that is not only as awkward as it sounds but will get you squirted in the eye! It made her laugh and that was all that mattered. The laughter opened her mouth enough to slip a nipple in and get her started.
She grew healthier and is now a strong little girl. She and her sister love my stories. They encouraged my writing more than anyone else over the years.
From stay-at-home mom to career mom
When my eldest was 5 and my second 3 years old, I landed a job offer to write full-time. The schedule offered flexibility and a standard Monday through Friday day shift with vacation time. The thought of leaving my children to go back to work scared me. It was too soon, but I couldn’t turn down the opportunity.
I discussed it with my kids. They expressed their fears and hopes, but my eldest still encouraged me on. “Maybe you’ll be a best-selling author!” she beamed.
“Maybe.” I smiled. “But that takes time.”
We accepted the changes. They were no longer nursing, needed me less and I loved writing.
Negotiating work-at-home privileges
Then I had my youngest child, a son. This baby came out smiling. He had bright orange hair which was nothing like ours, and a unique personality which I adored. The first six weeks of his life were filled with all the physical annoyances: the aches, the swelling, the drastic shifts in mood and physical appearance. None of that mattered, though; this little man brought us so much joy that I reveled in each tiny cry.
I desperately logged into my computer whenever he slept, searching for any work-from-home jobs that would have me. Finding none, before my maternity leave ended, I went to the office to convince my employer that I could write for the company at home. He sat and listened. He nodded and empathized, but in the end said, “I understand the demands of parenting, but I need you here to talk with the others and really make sure that everything you write is where it needs to be.”
I wanted to cry and scream at once. Instead, I politely thanked him and returned home to absorb every moment of freedom with my family before my maternity leave ended.
Day one at work, minus baby
When the big return-to-work day came, I imagined some Hollywood scene: children crying, my husband begging me not to go. Instead, we had breakfast together, I fed the baby, and then I left with our new strategy locked in my brain. I’ll come home and feed him on my lunch break.
My husband constantly messaged me throughout the day. We worked opposite schedules so we could be home to care for the children. He sent pictures and videos while I was away. By lunchtime, I raced home and took comfort in the freedom of living close enough to spend my hour-long break with my family. The girls sat with me during their brother’s feeding, and we talked about what we wanted to do when my shift ended.
The new routine empowered me. I could love my kids and my work. I found a broader sense-of-purpose.
It created a slew of new obstacles too. The baby developed separation anxiety. As soon as I brushed my hair every morning, the tears came. The alarm sounded. He wailed and reached for me. Once he could crawl, I had a small person attached to my leg.
My heart filled with such love knowing I mattered that much to him, but it burst when I left. I suffered as much as he did. I had to designate a stuffed animal for him as a mommy-replacement. It became our routine. I roared and handed him his plush dinosaur as he laughed. He still cried sometimes but hugging his toy comforted him when I walked out the front door.
We had to follow a strict routine around the house during the week or no one got any sleep. My son wanted to eat every hour on the hour for months. To keep up with him I pumped milk during short breaks at work.
Pumping and other amazing feats
Breast pumps might not be a problem for some women, but I hate those things. It’s like putting your boobs in a funnel and waiting to be sucked dry. It offered none of the precious moments that feeding my son did, but I accepted the discomfort to balance my home and work life.
Having a full-time job and three kids was pandemonium. Breastfeeding a baby in that mess was insanity. My house became a zoo and my office, the circus. I worked for two hours, then pumped as much milk as I could. I worked for two more hours, then drove home to feed my son. Once back at the office I worked for two more hours, then pumped. After that I finished out the workday before speeding home to feed my baby.
Once my son’s stomach was filled, those of us not subsisting off a breast milk diet finally sat down and ate dinner together. This went on for a year.
Fast forward to the present
It went fast. I still don’t even know how I did it. Today, I continue sharing my lunch breaks at home, but with less urgency now that my son has weaned. My husband helps with the cooking and cleaning throughout the week, and my weekends are spent pretending that I’m an old-fashioned homemaker. I bake with the kids, help them with school, cheer them on during their extracurricular activities, and we take short trips.
I don’t want to say, “I have it all,” because I’m exhausted by the end of every day and sometimes before it even begins. But I’m not a martyr either. I’m just a mom who loves her family and her job. It’s not easy balancing the two, but with a lot of hard work and discipline I am able to enjoy a life with the rewards of a vocation and a loving family. If I could someday work from home that would probably ease a lot of the stress, but for now I am focused on enjoying the present.