Friday, July 8, 2011

For the love of Joe Friday

Not really but do you remember (those of you who were around in the 60's and 70's), the opening monologue of the show Dragnet.  A very serious and sober sounding Joe Friday would come on and say something like:
The story you are about to see is true, the names have been changed to protect the innocent. 

Well this blog post is kind of a story in similar fashion but instead I am going to use my own little monologue delivered with my own flowery style -- True story.  No joke.  Here goes:

A friend of mine was recently at a work function.  Lots of CEO types in a very she-she hotel ballroom.  Little silver trays of the teeniest tiniest food being passed around with champagne flowing freely.  This was the company's annual do for its employees.  It just so happened that this party coincided with a course which the company was giving to some of its employees from other locations, so they were invited to join in the fun.  So my friend was hanging with some of her colleagues, they were talking, joking around and just generally gossiping about the other attendees enjoying the atmosphere when something caught their eye.  It was a young woman with a baby in a baby Bjorn (for all you non mommies - one of those baby hands free carriers that you can put your small infant in  and carry them around while they peacefully sleep for hours). - I loved my Baby Bjorn and also the big wrap around thingy that they use in India that someone bought me, I loved that because I could wash it.  After a while the Baby Bjorn was covered in baby puke and I was too embarrassed to use it in front of people, that wrap around thingy became my hero).  When Maya was a small-colicky-projectile-vomiting-on-a-regular-basis and I was a completely clueless new mother, these carrier thingies were the closest things I could get to a guarantee that Maya would settle down and sleep.

As usual, I digress.  I am back now.

Anyhoo my friend sees this woman carrying a baby in the Baby Bjorn at this party which was a strange sight.  The party itself was pretty casual, lots of linen jackets and trousers and girls in little dresses that were sedate enough to wear to a meeting but with the right accessories (bigger earrings here, glittery shawl there) could go into a pretty decent evening wear.  This was definitely an adults only party.  It wasn't the company weenie roast in the park.  Food was served on silver serving trays and there wasn't a chicken nugget in sight.

At first my friend was sure that this woman stumbled into the wrong party  and that she really meant to be at the Shanberg-Mankowitz baby shower in Ballroom D.  Then she thought, maybe it was one of the hotel employees, but that didn't seem logical as she was not wearing a white starched shirt and crisp black pants and there was no name tag.  So, nope, not an employee.  My friend and her work friends asked one another if they knew who that person was and nobody did.  And they were about to write her off as some random chick and go on with their observations-bordering-just-a-hair-this-side-of-catty. And just at that moment they saw another quasi-friend, I have no idea what her name is, but in my mind her name is Alice, my friend pulled Alice into her soiree within a soiree and asked if she knew who the woman with the baby was?  And my friend was told that it was someone from another office who had come in for the course that the company was offering and the company invited all the people participating in the course to join in the party and her baby was so young that she brought the baby and her husband along so as not to be separated completely from her little bundle of joy.  At this moment in the story I was impressed with this woman's dedication to both her career and her child.  This baby looked to my friend to be about 2 months old and let's be honest, if someone would have offered me a business trip when Maya was that age, I would have scooted my ass to the airport faster than you can say spit-up.  I would have gone just for the ability to sleep uninterrupted and to order room service.

Then Alice dropped it.  She said that this woman was in this course and 3 times a day her husband came to the course with the baby so she could nurse it.

Um, sorry what was that again?  Her husband brought the baby to her three times per day in the middle of work so she could breast feed.

Now I am all for finding creative ways of combining working and motherhood.  Mothers often (even if it is by choice) have to sacrifice their careers for motherhood or vice versa.  Even if most women do this graciously and don't regret it, it is a limiting choice.  On the other hand, as a working mother, who has a career (at least I think it is a career, some days I think it is just a job), I often feel myself that I have so much on my plate and two very different priorities that I end up doing neither as well as I should.  When I should be focusing on work, my attention is pulled home and when I should be focused on home there is invariably some work crisis, deadline or project looming.   Such is the dilemma of the working mother. It's a delicate balance.  We have been fortunate enough to have live in help and that has given me an enormous comfort, less guilt and pressure.  For the last 2 months we have been in between nannies and that has certainly turned the heat up on the stove.  I am now counting the days until our new au pair arrives (14).  What I am trying to say combining both is a tricky and intricate dance and one where as a woman you almost always feel like you are stepping on your partner's feet.

I do feel very fortunate that I live in a country that really tries to promote work-life balance (that has its downsides, but that is a post for another day).  In the Netherlands, the labor laws are very favorable toward part-time work.  When Maya was born I took my 4 month long maternity leave, was able to take an additional 2 months unpaid leave (and could have taken an additional 6 months) and when I went back to work I was easily able to work 4 days per week.  Yes, I have a great employer, but the laws here also do a lot for that.  Maya is 7 and I have worked 4 days per week since then.  Many women work 3 days per week.  Also when I went back to work I was still breast feeding.  By law in the Netherlands your employer has to allow a nursing mother reasonable time off during the day for her to express her breast milk) and a room with a lock on it for privacy in order to do it.  So twice a day when I first went back to work, I went to the little room (which was very comfortable) and hooked up my breast pump and did my thing.  When I went to work we put Maya in daycare and I instructed them to feed Maya formula unless she absolutely refused.  I breast fed Maya nearly exclusively for her first 6 months but in order to have 30 friggin minutes to myself a day give Leo a chance to bond with Maya I used to give her one bottle feeding in the evening after her bath.  So Maya never had a problem switching between formula and breast milk.  I loved breast feeding and the very special time between mother and baby at that time.  I was very happy when Maya was born that breast feeding came pretty natural.  My milk flowed like the Nile and I never had pain or soreness or any problems.  I found breast feeding easier than lugging bottles and formula around, always wondering if you brought enough.  With all the mountains of shit you need to carry when you have a baby (the stroller, the diapers, the bottles, blankets, strollers, thing that made womb sounds, pacifiers, stuffed animals, changing pad, wipes, washcloths, the stroller cover, clothing for every eventuality),  I was glad to have one less thing to stuff into my overloaded diaper bag.

But when I went back to work I was determined not to be one of those mothers who is pumping all the time and insisting that her child can only have breast milk.  Yes I believed in the health benefits of breast milk and was very grateful that I was able to have the experience of nursing my baby girl.  But I remember saying to Leo when we talked about it, saying that when the baby came, I would try it but if both Maya and I didn't take to it pretty quick, I was not going to waste time feeling awful about it, I would switch to formula and no big deal.  And I always saw formula as no big deal,so I kept it around.  Having formula was like the promise of freedom.  Even though I hardly spent any time away from Maya in her first six months of life, Maya being able to drink from the breast or formula spelled the possibility of being able to go out and do something totally for myself.  And in those first few precious months, baby screaming, baby not sleeping, baby spitting up, baby crying, crying, crying, crying and me not being able to figure out how to soothe her, that promise of freedom helped me keep my sanity.

Before I had Maya I always loved seeing a small baby crying their head off but one cuddle from their mother would bring such calm, security and serenity.  I couldn't wait to be that person for my baby.  It didn't really happen though as it did in my fantasies.  Maya was a normal baby but calming her was a mystery in those first especially 2 months of her life.  Often nothing I did would soothe her and she would often only relax out of sheer exhaustion.  I'll admit I was a bit jealous of my mother in law.  Maya could be screaming bloody murder and my mother in law just had a way with her.  She's pick her up, stroke her belly and Maya's world would fall completely into place.  I tried to imitate my mother in law but it never seemed to work for me in the same way.  Luckily after a while things calmed down, and that one Leo bottle feeding a day helped me stay calm in a period where there was no control, no routine, nothing but me strolling around in my pajamas with my little, sweet baby hoping she would sleep long enough so I could put her in her stroller, wheel her into the bathroom so I could take a shower and wash my hair.

But I was happy that I had the opportunity to express my milk at work.  I did it not so much for the milk (although I did store it in the freezer) but more just to keep my milk flowing well so that I could easily nurse Maya in the mornings and evenings.  After about a month though I stopped expressing because my milk always kind of adjusted naturally to Maya's nursing rhythm and after a month or so my milk production kind of reset itself, after a few weeks my milk only came in at night and in the morning and during the day I was mostly fine.

Even so (I went so far off on a tangent I almost forgot about my rant, almost).  While I am all for facilitating working motherhood, there is a bridge too far.  Going abroad with a young infant to participate in a course and having your husband bring your baby 3 times per day to breastfeed him or her in my mind is over the top.  Maybe it is no different than expressing your milk but I just think express your milk and let your husband take care of the baby and feed it your breast milk out of a bottle.  I mean nursing there at the office is not a great bonding opportunity because the course is going on without you when you are gone so you are under pressure to get back so you are not really spending quality time with your baby.   The place my friend works is a pretty high brow place, how appropriate is it that you are strolling around with some baby during business hours. Couldn't she could have waited to do the course until her baby was a bit older?

On the one hand I think I am one of the most judgmental bitches out there (actually I don't think that, I know it), but I do think, live and let live.  What do I really care what this woman does?  I don't.  But I manage a team of people at my own office, many of whom are working mothers.  I wonder what I would say if one of them asked me if it was okay for their baby to come to the office 3 times a day to be fed?

Of course I am living in a socialist country and it is the Netherlands so I am quite sure I'd have to look into what the laws are and have a couple talks with HR about how to approach it but I do think there is a line.  And based on how I  pontificated now, I am pretty sure I know where that line is.

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