Having It All

AFTER years of working late, putting extra pressure on myself to do better, secretly trying to outdo my colleagues and calculating which moves would help me get ahead – I’ve given it all up. It’s been two weeks since I worked my last shift on the newsdesk, two weeks since I logged in, two weeks since I agonised over what would make the front page, two weeks since I sat around a table at a meeting, and two weeks since I went in to the office.

I’ve not shared stories with workmates about the weekend, I’ve not worn my court shoes, I’ve not joined in any group email banter laughing about some aspect of our job, and I’ve not lowered my voice while making a cup of tea and gossiping with another journo.

Since the Little Mister was four months old, I’ve only been working two days a week. But by resigning, I’ve given up something more than the paychecks.

Of course I agonised over quitting. I don’t quit. After years of manouevring, I was finally moving along the path I had planned, and I was making my way along it nicely. Of course, I thought before he was born, I could have it all.

When he was four months and I went back to the office, it hit us all hard. For two days a week, he went on hunger strike. Every week. He screamed at Tony. A lot. His weight kept dropping until he nearly fell of the chart and Plunket made us keep going back for weigh ins. He started waking every two hours through the night, my hungry baby.

My entire week was consumed by trying to express enough milk to leave for him. We all got more and more tired and stressed. But it never felt like we weren’t coping. We were all, I still believe, getting so much out of it.

Tony was able, twice a week, to look after his four month old son completely on his own. He got him to eat (eventually), he got him to nap, he bathed him, played with him, put him to sleep, sang songs with him, shared precious cuddles, and was the best dad in the world.

He became the Little Mister’s favourite person. Our little boy was so lucky to get this amazing one-on-one time – and they learnt so much about each other while I wasn’t there. I got to keep on moving along that work path I’d been carving out, and I loved it. Even though I was exhausted, I so enjoyed those two days of being among adults in that other world.

Still, on those mornings before work, I had to perform a feat that surpassed winning the Krypton Factor just to make it on time. Planning ahead and taking packed lunch and dinner to the office had never been so hard as in these months when we seemed to have no time to cook, or eat – unless it was takeaway or toast. I would try desperately to feed the Little Mister up before I left incase he decided to go without for the next nine hours. His naps were carefully orchestrated so he’d be due a very long one when Tony took over.

Tony would get home (or meet me at work) at a speed faster than lightning and each week we performed the miracle of getting out of the door by 12.36pm. There was the odd stretch of the truth that ensured he had Friday afternoon off, we called in favours, played sympathy cards, and did whatever it took for me to get to work without us putting the Little Mister in daycare.

I fed him in the work car park, in the health nurse’s room, in the empty office on our floor because I was running out of time to get the newslist done. Tony walked around and around Wellington with him so he would stop crying and sleep through his hunger. I spent the shift planning when I’d get a chance to express, carried sterilised equipment round in my handbag, always made sure the unused fridge was plugged in, and was careful to hold my bag upright in the taxi home. I experienced infections, discomfort, pain that only a working, breastfeeding woman can know.

Finally, logistically, it got too hard. If we didn’t want to do daycare, and if Tony was to keep studying and needing those working hours, we couldn’t keep on. Even when the Little Mister finally realised formula would fill him up in a way his shattered mama was getting less and less able to do, even when he started sleeping a little better, we couldn’t keep on with this life.

I don’t feel like I’ve quit wanting it all. Maybe right now my definition of “it all” has changed. In these two weeks, he’s suddenly gone down to one wake up at night. He’s started crawling. He’s lengthened his naps to two decent stints. We’re in our routine, seven days a week. I’m not checking work emails on my phone while feeding him at night. I’m not glued to the headlines at what also seems to be storytime most nights. Is it making a difference?

I love my new working week, which is spent doing my very best for the Little Mister. I do miss my old working week, but when he’s a little older, I think we will find a way to marry the two. Somehow.

I have given up what I’d worked for. But part of that is because we’ve decided to move to London and be with our family there so they can share these special years with us.

I no longer believe you can have it all, at least not the “all” I once wanted. The “all” has now shifted – and I’m still not quite sure what it is. When I figure that out, maybe then I’ll figure out a way of having something close to it.

A Heartbreaking Victory

For more than a month, we have tried to coax the Little Mister to drink formula. So when he took 80mls tonight in a bottle held by me, I wasn’t prepared for my heart to break a little.

We first tried to give Milin formula shortly after I went back to work, at four months. I couldn’t express enough to leave for the two days I was out, and had been completely unprepared for how hard it would be to work, express, and feed him on demand every two hours at night. So for the last six weeks, the Little Mister has effectively gone on hunger strike whenever I have been at work. Lips pursed, back arched, neck at an extreme angle turned away from the bottle, he has made his feelings about formula clear. Until this last week or so.

It started with him finally taking it from Tony, when he was starving. Then, he was taking it without tears. And then tonight, because he was fussy and grizzling (I think the teething adventure is starting), I thought I would try it. For the first time, Milin, in my arms, took the bottle I offered him. He took the entire 80mls without so much as pausing for air. All of it was formula from a tin.

Afterwards, eyes closed, cherub face a picture of bliss, arms floppy, the Little Mister fell asleep in my arms. I laid him in his cot and cried. I felt like he didn’t need me anymore. Before he took that bottle from me, I had felt that I was special. Only I had the food he wanted. If he cried, he needed me and all his woes would ease. It was our time.

“He’s going to do things without us all his life” Tony said. I know. But I wasn’t prepared for him to start now.

Milin has never been an easy feeder. Like many new mums, establishing feeding was difficult – but we got there. I was so proud of him, and of us. We both learnt what to do. I hadn’t understood how hard feeding would continue to be, but even though it was, I realise now I loved doing it. It was probably partly through feeding that our bond was formed, and that I discovered how much I loved this tiny squirming bundle who was mine and needed me above all else.

The pressure to breastfeed is so powerful in New Zealand. Even deciding to introduce formula had been hard for us. The World Health Organisation supports exclusive breast feeding for six months. Here, that is viewed as a minimum. As a new mother already under so much strain, I know I wasn’t alone in feeling that if I couldn’t also breast feed I had failed.

In the end, our decision to introduce formula was tied to my return to work. But I can’t also help hoping it will help the Little Mister go to bed with a fuller tummy. As a working mum, I’m carrying around enough guilt already – I’m not going to add to it because I’m feeding my baby formula. But, tonight, with a heavier heart, I will go to sleep feeling a little sadness over a time with Milin I won’t get back. That is, unless he refuses the formula again tomorrow.

The Big G (Guilt)

While I was pregnant with Milin, I had a feeling that once he was born certain emotions would be magnified. I expected, for example, to feel responsibility more intensely. And I do. I thought my experience of fear would be greater. It still is. (I’m constantly terrified of doing this whole parenting thing wrong.) But what I was not prepared for was the guilt.

I have been working two days a week since Milin was four months old. Undoubtedly, the first day back was the hardest. I worried constantly. Was he taking the bottle? (He was.) How many mls had he drunk? (Not enough.) Was he staying awake for too long? (He was.) Was he getting day sleeps in his cot? (Not enough.) But, despite the worry, I knew that he was with his favourite person, his dad. I knew he was happy. And I knew Tony would be fine.

I had expected to worry –  and constant updates, photos sent by text, and numerous phone calls helped to ease my nerves. Yet what almost overwhelmed me was the feeling of guilt. Guilt that I should not have left my Little Mister.

Most evenings that I have been at work, I get home and Milin is asleep. Sometimes he is swaddled up snuggly and taking up a tiny portion of space at the bottom of his cot, with his bunny by his side. Sometimes, he is in Tony’s arms, and they might both be sleeping, exhausted from simply making it through another day.

But I have come home and felt my heart break into pieces as I turned the key in the door and heard him screaming. Poor hungry Milin, in his father’s arms, waiting while the milk was warmed. If I had been home he wouldn’t have had to wait.

I know you have to leave them one day. But I wonder if I did it too soon. Milin looks for me when I am gone. Now he is more aware of his world he tries to starve himself, knowing I will come home in the evening. Tony is the best dad in the world. But sometimes, when Milin gets hungry, or when he wakes up suddenly, he just wants his mum. And sometimes, I’m not there.

I asked a colleague, working full time with slightly older children, how she did it. She said it didn’t get easier.

I can’t imagine not working. I have worked hard to be doing what I enjoy, and the buzz of doing it drives me to want to do it more. It also helps pay the bills. Is that selfish?

When I returned to work part time, I was in no way prepared for how hard two days a week would be. I am learning to cope with the constant tiredness. Tony and I are getting better at juggling the logistics. Expressing is hardly convincing me that women’s liberation was a good thing – but Milin will surely one day take formula. All these things will get easier.

The Little Mister loves hanging out with his dad. Tony makes him laugh, he plays the guitar, he reads him stories with more voices and jokes in them than I can think of, he pulls funny faces. But sometimes, I’m simply not there to hold Milin close to me and kiss him. When it comes to the guilt, there is no answer.