Last Week of Maternity Leave…

So this is it.

I am nearing the end of the last week of what my Dear Husband refers to as my “paid holiday”. Come Monday morning I shall be, once again, one of the thousands of cold, sleepy workers making their way to their place of employment. I am going back to work.

Lots of people (ok, a few…) have been asking me how I feel about returning to full-time work. It is complex (just for a change…). I really enjoy my work; yes I may have the occassional off-day and have a good moan, but in general I am extremely lucky. I have an interesting job, a great boss, nice offices and work with a team of truly dedicated professionals. What’s not to like? Well…

  1. My working day is 09.00 – 18.00. My commute is around 45 minutes each way, so I tend to be out the door as the kids are getting ready for school/daycare (Dear Husband takes them as he is a freelancer and so has much more flexibility) and don’t get back until around 19.00, when the kids are having their dinner (or are about to). This leaves me with about half an hour to cuddle/talk/play with them before they have to start getting ready for bed. Great…
  2. The above scenario is on a good day. Sometimes I have to get in earlier that 09.00 and very often I have to stay later than 18.00. Sometimes much, much later. Before I went on maternity leave with Son #2 in April last year, there were whole days when I barely saw the kids at all. Utterly depressing.
  3. Because of my working hours (and so that Dear Husband can also work) we have to have the kids in full-time daycare. Dear Daughter is in school from 08.15 – 12.15 (13.15 on Fridays) and then she goes to the daycare facility where Son #1 and (as of Monday) Son #2 are looked after until 18.00, when Dear Husband picks them up. This is a looooong day for kids their ages (5 years, 3 years and 8 months). Granted, it is mostly play for the boys, but still…
  4. I miss out on so much to do with the kids; so many milestones. I might not be the first person to see Son #2 crawl or walk or say his first proper word. Son #1 might finally learn to speak in whole sentences while talking with his carer, not me or his father. Dear Daughter might learn to tie her shoelaces or lose her first milktooth at school or daycare. Oh, the guilt!

But that, the guilt, is what makes me really angry (**WARNING: I am getting on my soapbox**).

Why are working mothers made to feel guilty (and we are, it is not entirely self-imposed) about being working mothers? No-one has ever made working fathers feel guilty! No-one in the history of mankind has ever stared open-mouthed as a father mentions that he will be going back to work after the birth of his child. It has always been taken for granted. But I regularly have (mostly other women) stare at me slack-jawed and goggle-eyed, disapproval seeping from their every pore, when I say that I am going to be going back to work full-time.

It only gets worse if I mention that I am actually quite looking forward to it (quite apart from the fact that mine is the stable, regular income so I bloody well *have* to go back to work!)

But I wonder, does it really have to be a case of “miss out or give up” when it comes to motherhood and employment? Are there really no alternatives out there? Is it really so socially and economically impossible to change? There are so many highly educated, professional women who have been forced (one way or another) to choose in this seemingly either/or situation. And it doesn’t matter which option you pick, you are still wrong and you still end up feeling frustrated and guilty. If you do go back to work, you are a terrible mother. If you don’t, then you are wasting your education.

Answers on a postcard please…A solution before Monday would be lovely, thanks.



Welcoming #3 to our family

Belle, Alex & Tom

The picture above was taken this past summer, around June, about a month after we welcomed Thomas, our third child and second boy (yes, the one on the bottom left of the picture in the brown and pink pyjamas is a boy…) to our family. It is, so far, one of my absolute favourites.

We did not plan on having three children. In fact, we never really “planned” having children at all. Our prevailing attitude was, “well, if it happens it happens; if it doesn’t…oh well.” Looking back on it, I think this was some kind of in-built safety mechanism, just in case it didn’t happen. But it did. And then didn’t. I had a miscarriage.

I don’t really intend this post to be an in-depth analysis of my feelings/wallow-fest about what happened, and I think it can be summed up with the following words: devestation, guilt, acceptance (kind of).

The one positive outcome of the whole sorry mess was that it really focused us on our feelings regarding a family and we both realised that we did want one. Really, really badly. After a good period of mourning and finally not really thinking about it as much, I felt sick. I didn’t want to eat (most unusual, to quote Audrey) and then one day at work I nearly fainted. These symptoms felt somewhat familiar, so off I popped to the chemists and bought a pregnancy test. Positive! Woohoo!

I had a fantastic pregnancy. So much so that I am almost ashamed at how easy it was. Apart from the first three months, when I felt constantly sea-sick and got frequent migraines (for which I could not take a thing…ugh), everything went very well. And if you discount the heart-wrenching moment at the first scan when they could not find a foetus and thought it might be ectopic. A weekend of absolutely self-pitying hysteria followed, but the scan on the Monday morning showed up a little peanut-shaped blob and the blood results confirmed that everything was viable and good to go. I put on very little weight during the pregnancy (but I did pile it on afterwards…) and had a super-easy labour and birth. Yes, I didn’t even get stretchmarks! Cow, I hear you mutter…

Well, Fate got me back by making me physically unable to breastfeed and after a week or so of utterly traumatic attempts to do so, which had both me and Darling Daughter screaming (me from pain, her from hunger), I decided to pump. This aleviated (somewhat) the maternal guilt I was feeling about not being able to breastfeed, but was a bit of a logistical bugger.

When you can breastfeed, you have a portable, ready to go source of food. When you pump, you are chained to the pump. I was pumping every 2 – 3 hours and if I didn’t get myself hooked up at the regularly appointed time…SPLOOSH! My top would look like I’d just poured water over my chest for no apparent reason. I was a human double-action water pistol. Niagra Falls had nothing on me! After the first tiny, teensy amounts, I was soon pumping so much milk that our fridge and freezer were full. Then, after 3 months, I dried up. Not sure why really, but it meant having to switch over to baby formula. It took a while to find one that she would keep down or that would not make her totally constipated and in an early warning indication of things to come, she settled on the most expensive and least available brand possible. Let’s put it this way: we had to make monthly/bi-monthly trips over the border to Aachen in Germany just to buy her milk formula!

Fast forward. We had a wonderful little girl and were a happy little family. Everything was just fine. And then when Darling Daughter was 18 months old we found out I was pregnant again. Feelings of surprised joy were tempered slightly by some doubts. Did I really want two children? What if they fought? What if they did not like each other? If the new one is a girl, will there be jealousy issues? What if she has my colouring (predominantly brown) as opposed to Darling Daughter (blonde hair, blue eyes) and it causes issues? Oh the stuff that swills around in my head sometimes…

I had another really easy pregnancy. We found out that #2 was going to be a boy, which we were really happy about (and which alleviated some of my worries). He arrived after another easy birth on exactly the same day as his sister (just in a different month). And any fears I may have had that they might not get on or that Darling Daughter might be jealous of the new baby were allayed about 3 minutes after she arrived for her first visit. Upon seeing the baby in his cot, she pointed at it and then proceeded to climb up into his cot with him! They are very close still, which doesn’t mean that they don’t fight, oh they do, but they are a definite unit. And each is as pretty as the other…I have never seen longer eyelashes on a boy!

We moved to Germany last Summer. I started my new job and we started settling into our new home and new life and then…TA DAAAAA! I was pregnant again. The timing was less than perfect. I was still in my probation period at work (and in Germany you can be let go from your job without any reason being given, when you are still in your probation period) and our house is tiny. We sleep in what used to be a kind of Drawing Room and the kids have the only bedroom. The bathroom is approximately the size of a broom cupboard and the kitchen is minute. How in the name of heck were we going to fit five people into this place? And can we cope with such a large family? Kids are expensive, do we have the resources to make sure that none of them miss out on the important things? Some of these are questions that still require answers…but we are managing (just about) so far.

Well, this pregnancy was not quite so easy. Again, during the first three months I had the migraines and the sea-sickness, but added to that I was constantly tired. Shattered. Done in. I would crawl home from work, say hi to the kids and my husband and then fall asleep on the sofa (at around 7.30pm!!). My lower back has always been a bit of a problem and while it did hurt me occassionally during the other pregnancies, this time around it constantly hurt. Everything from a never-ending dull ache to outright stabbing pains whenever I moved. And the swelling! Oh my, in the last month or so I said goodbye to my ankles. My legs, ankles and feet swelled up so much that I felt like one of the HaaHoos from In The Night Garden! Add to that the almost constant heartburn and you get the picture: third time around was definitely harder.

Son #2 arrived with little fuss on 18 May this year. The reason I suffered so much from back pain became apparent when they laid him on the weighing scales: 4kg 590g!!! And he was 57cm, a veritable giant of a baby! He is another blondie with pale blue eyes (I am now convinced that genetics is a fraud; I thought dark hair and eye colours were supposed to be dominant?!?) and is such a happy, laid back little guy. Massive, but happy.

So how is it with three? Well, crowded. Sometimes I feel like there is not enough of me to go around equally. We had to buy a bigger car (a petrol-guzzling seven-seater…fun to park…). Money is tighter. But so far, it is not as bad as I sometimes feared it would be. Logistics is the key. But we are still learning and it will always be a learning activity; its not as if anyone ever graduates as a Parent, is it?

If there are any other parents of three children out there who can give me some tips and pointers, I would be most grateful!