There was a time when only two categories were used to identify mothers—you were either a working mom or a stay-at-home mom. There have always been outliers but there’s one category quickly becoming a new normal: the work-from-home moms.
I’m one of them. I started working from home in 2013 when I left my day job to pursue my graphic design business full-time. I was tired of the daily commute and I wanted more freedom with my time. In the back of my mind, I also saw it as my preparation to become a work-from-home mom someday. I love my job and I also want to be with my child the whole day. It wasn’t an either/or for me. I had to figure out how to make both coexist.
My husband and I run our household with our joint incomes. Giving one of them up was not possible even if I felt the pangs to give up work and take care of our baby full time.
During the early days with a newborn, I didn’t want to think about work at all. I was drowning as I got used to taking care of a baby, not sleeping, and recovering from pushing a baby out of me. When you run your own design practice, you get to dictate how long of a maternity leave you get to have.
I’m very grateful I got around three months of a break. There’s a catch to it, though. If you don’t set aside a financial cushion for the leave (and we didn’t), money will only come in if you put in the work. Time wasn’t on our side and my husband couldn’t handle the financial yoke on his own any longer. Plus, being a designer is too much a part of my DNA; I was beginning to miss it.
This was my plan of attack for getting back into the grind:
#1 Figure out the caregiver situation
Some super mamas need not worry about this because they’re more than capable of taking care of the baby, the house, and the business. Domestic skills were never my forte and I needed help with some chores. I’m also the sort that needs to be able to focus to get my tasks done.
As much as I want to stay home as long as I can, there are times where I need to leave the apartment to go to client meetings and do errands. We live in a studio apartment (read: no space!) so we decided to hire a stay-out nanny. We like this set-up because this allows my husband and I to be the primary caregivers again at night. We interviewed our nanny while I was still pregnant and she reported for work when my baby turned two weeks old.
#2 Train your caregiver
It’s important to show how your helper how she can aid you. My daughter still takes two long naps while the nanny is here and it’s during this time when the latter can launder baby clothes, prepare lunch, and tidy up the apartment. Our nanny also gives my baby girl a bath and takes her up to the roof deck for fresh air and sunshine. Most importantly, she also takes care of feeding the baby while I’m working. I taught her how to thaw my frozen breast milk and put them in bottles for our baby girl’s feeds. I also taught her (and our baby’s anxious grandmothers) to resist the urge to give all the milk at every instance of crying and to try different ways to calm her down first.
#3 Figure out the feeding situation
Formula-fed babies have a more straightforward feeding process but for breastfeeding mothers, preparing a milk stash for work can be a daunting effort. Even purchasing a pump and getting used to it will take some work. When your baby still feeds from you every one to three hours, it’s hard figuring out when to squeeze in the additional time to pump out milk. I would usually choose sleep over a pump session. Moms who can exclusively pump are an extraordinary breed of amazing beings, I can tell you that.
When my baby hit two months though, I had to get on building the milk stash. Since the nanny is with me for eight hours every day, I had to figure out the amount of milk I should be leaving for the day. I texted my lactation consultant and came up with my figure (seven ounces a day). Next step was deciding how much of a stash I really needed.
I’m not one of those moms that overproduce milk. I’m the Goldilocks kind, the one that only produces the “just right” amount. I would freak out upon seeing pictures of freezers filled to the brim with frozen breast milk. When I started pumping, I could only get one ounce from each boob per session.
I realized, however, that I didn’t see myself traveling without our baby and if there should be an emergency, I could probably ask for milk from the super cow mommas. So I gave myself the reasonable goal of storing seven bags of milk (around 50 ounces) by my first day back at work. My humble milk stash has allowed me to attend weddings and go on dates with my husband. That’s already enough for me.
I’d fill up a bag every two days and in one month I was able to reach my quota. As I got used to pumping, my output gradually started increasing. Don’t be disheartened, one-ouncers!
#4 Accept that it will never be the same
Count on a baby to disrupt all semblances of equilibrium you manage to cultivate. Before having my daughter, I didn’t have big prices to pay if I didn’t finish my work before the nanny leaves each day. I could just break for dinner then continue working throughout the night, then get up in the morning, shower, and head off to present to my client.
These days, my husband and I learned to take shifts at night whenever we had to keep working. One has to prep dinner while the other holds the baby. One holds the baby while the other finishes up a presentation or lesson plan. Then come the unexpected snags. I once had to bring nanny and baby to a meeting during a week when my breast pump charger broke. When my daughter was a week old, her dad needed to supervise a whole day video shoot and needed a full night’s rest. She and I spent the night with my mother-in-law while her dad slept in his business partner’s house.
Life doesn’t slow down for anyone, most especially for parents. We still have to deal with filing taxes, renewing business permits, doing the groceries, lining up at the bank, going to the doctor, paying LTO fines…you get the picture.
But the wondrous thing about parenting is that you suddenly develop tunnel vision for the things that really matter to you. Your time becomes so finite that it’s not uncommon to find yourself answering the deeper questions about life. What am I living for? What fulfills me? What sacrifices am I willing to make for the bigger picture? What example do I want to model for my child?
Working from home, at least for me, allows me to accommodate some of those answers. It’s all a new mom can hope for.