Turning a New Leaf After Mat Leave

As I anticipate my return to work amidst Fall’s cooler mornings and cozy evenings, it feels like the closing of one chapter and starting of another–despite how taxing and complex the handoff may be.

I always feel a wave of nostalgia this time of year, especially since three years ago I became a mother for the first time–experiencing Matrescence firsthand–and one year ago when I learned I’d go through it for a second time.

Reflecting back on the baby and toddler milestones that whizzed past us over the course of the past four sleep-deprived months, I now feel a sense of pride of what ensued.

Here’s a typical “work week” by the numbers, as a temporary stay-at-home mom (and aspiring Chief Household Officer):

  • 14 hours of breastfeeding per week, typically every 2-3 hours around the clock
  • 45 ounces of pumped milk per week, typically while multitasking one-handed thanks to my pocket-size Spectra S9
  • About 15 bottle feedings per week from the aforementioned supply, plus more than 400 ounces of supplemental formula (until we got hit by silent reflux, nixing dairy)

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  • Nearly 1,000 diapers, from teeny-tiny Pampers Swaddlers to my favorite super-soft and sustainable Bambo Nature, where we grew up to size 3
  • Countless hours of eye contact and smiles, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cobbled-together dinners, and bedtime stories

All together, these helped double the size of our once 7-pounder, while his older brother started preschool and became a “threenager” before our eyes.

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I squeezed in self-care through the help of my village, technology and conversations with a group of Mama Makers & Shakers who appeared at the most clandestine times:

And then there are the memories that don’t have a number attached to them, but are immeasurable in the way they’ve brought our family closer.

Together, the four of us have continued to ride the rollercoaster of emotions that started when life caught us by surprise on the last day of May. Both boys keep us on our toes, but when the chaos settles, the sweetest moments are revealed.

While I’m still not sleeping, I don’t have a freezer stash, and I can’t tell you what the next six months will bring, I will embrace the unpredictability.

I won’t feel like I’ve stepped away from my career, but rather enhanced it by overcoming non-stop challenges over the last four months.

This time around, I won’t strive to be super mom, but will remind myself to stay present and do my best for the moment.

When Life Catches You By Surprise

Today is the original due date of our now 3.5-week old baby. His early arrival and the transition for our whole family have kept us on our toes ever since.

When I became a mother for the first time with my oldest, and then a working mother, life changed dramatically. Little did I know that baby number two would completely rock our world again, in his own unique ways.

Here’s what I did (and didn’t) expect while expecting, and what’s surprised us most now that he’s here:

The third trimester was faster and more intense the second time

Around the mid-point of my pregnancy, I started to sense that this baby might run ahead of schedule. He was measuring a week ahead at his 20-week anatomy scan and the technician and doctors all made comments about active he was, making it hard to measure him as he did flips and somersaults for the camera.

Right at the start of the third trimester, the doctor confirmed he was already head down, which was no surprise to me. I was having strong Braxton Hicks, which I didn’t have until the very end of my first pregnancy.

(I also learned that if you’re dehydrated, contractions can quickly turn into something more serious. It still seems to be a little known secret of just how important drinking water is during pregnancy.)

I carried on, preparing at work for the countdown to my planned start of maternity leave, and enjoying our final moments in the family routines that we had become accustomed to. We took lots of evening walks and I savored bedtime snuggles with my toddler, anticipating those moments would be harder to come by after the baby’s arrival.

However, I was growing increasingly slow on those walks and often felt too tired to read more than a couple of books before bedtime. (I would liberally edit our big brother-in-training’s favorite “hospital book” aka Babies Don’t Eat Pizza: A Big Kids’ Book About Baby Brothers and Baby Sisters.)

At my 35-week appointment, I was already 3.5cm dilated and 80% effaced, so the doctor predicted a couple of more weeks at most.

Little did I know, I’d be back in L&D 9 days later with contractions, another 1.5 cm dilated, and no signs of stopping.

Just because we’ve done it before, doesn’t mean it’s easier this time

When we found out we were having another boy, my first thought after laughing at our luck, was that we had everything we needed so it would be easy. From clothes to baby gear, and eventually less hormonal teenage years, I felt like we were all set.

Then I delivered a “late pre-term” baby at 36 weeks + 4 days, and everything changed.

That morning I had taken our first born to school, feeling like it might be my last time for a while. I took one more conference call and then walked into the family birth center to get checked out. While sitting there chugging water, I went from 4.5 cm to 6 cm, at which point they decided to admit me.

The labor itself was about as comfortable and peaceful as you can get. I repeated the low-dose epidural that had worked well with my first delivery, and sat around waiting to progress.

Meanwhile, we started to wise up to what it might mean to have a baby almost a month early. Despite reassurance from nurses and doctors that had preemies of their own who are now thriving 20-somethings, we didn’t know what to expect other than the immediate goal of delivering a 5-pounder.

Well, our little guy arrived at 9:26 p.m. on May 31 at a whopping 7 pounds, with a head full of thick black hair. All over again, we were instantly in love and mesmerized to finally meet him after all this time.

He passed all the tests they run for things like breathing, blood sugar and temperature regulation. He was sleepy during feedings, so the nurses encouraged me to try hand-expressing — but I quickly turned to my old friend Medela and a syringe to make it easier.

We were released from the hospital on schedule, and made an appointment to return to the doctor 48 hours later to check for jaundice. The doctor’s main concern at that visit was his weight, which had dropped down to 6 lbs 6 oz, so my new goal was to make sure he was eating enough.

Out came my brand new pocket-sized breast pump, bottles that claimed to be the next best thing to mom and a whole lot of math to figure out how often to pump, how long the milk could stay at room temperature, and how long before I had to toss a bottle he had started. (All while sleep deprived, since he was eating every 1-2 hours around the clock.)

It wasn’t until 5 days later that our instincts told us that his coloring didn’t look right, so we requested a blood test. Our suspicions were confirmed with a phone call that I don’t wish upon anyone, telling us our 6-day-old newborn had to be re-admitted to the hospital. His bilirubin levels had spiked and he needed blue-light phototherapy to flush out the jaundice.

One of the hardest parts of that dizzying moment was fighting back tears while telling our toddler that we needed him to be a big boy, and get back in the car to head to the hospital, right after he had walked in the door from school. This is one of the many reasons we’re so grateful to live near his grandparents.

I grabbed all the bottles I had pumped and some basic necessities, and we rushed out the door. What followed were two days and two nights of sitting in a hospital room while our tiny, lethargic 6-pounder lay under a blue light with a mask on for hours at a time.

My mission during that hazy hospital stay was simple: get him to eat and fill as many diapers as possible. I bottle-fed him under the light, and passed the hours by scheduling out feedings, pumping, and hand-washing bottles and pump parts, over and over again. The nurses came in every hour or so to check how much he was eating and what his diapers weighed.

He passed his final blood test with flying colors, and we celebrated with our much more alert baby. We came home and started to settle back into what felt like the beginning of a new routine for our expanded family.

Our whole family is changing, together

The four of us are operating on little sleep, so we can instantly go from happy to sad or angry in a flash. We’re all being challenged and pushing up against each others’ boundaries.

The stressful moments have been peppered in with plenty of happy times too, like visits from the grandparents, starting out weekends crowded together in bed, and sitting at the kitchen table enjoying daddy’s new dinner creations.

Some of what we’ve experienced has been pretty textbook, including the potty training regression and acting out by our toddler to get attention.

What I didn’t expect was being hit by a ton of bricks when I couldn’t be available to my first born for routine things like helping him get dressed or putting him to bed. I was a puddle of tears the first night home, but now my heart swells watching father-son bonding take its place.

While we’ve dedicated so much time and attention to helping our newborn gain weight and keep the jaundice at bay, our now 2 3/4 year old is blossoming before our eyes.

His vocabulary has doubled again, as he uses full sentences, asks questions and energetically narrates what we’re all doing. He’s obsessed with how things work, and can use his age-appropriate screwdriver surprisingly well.

Friends told me he would seem like a giant next to his tiny little brother — which is exactly what he looked like when he came to the hospital to meet him — but what I didn’t expect is how quickly he would take to his newfound independence. He loves to be a helper, too.

We’re learning, all over again, to prioritize what’s best for the moment

The first time around, it took me a lot longer to surrender to the changes brought on by parenthood. We basically added a child to the lifestyle we had created in an urban setting, and I attempted to keep my foot on the gas pedal at work.

It wasn’t until I realized I was putting too much pressure on myself to be super mom, right around the same time that we began house hunting in the burbs, that we realized how much change was inevitable.

This time, just under a month of two kids under our belt, we are turning everything upside to create the life that’s best for right now. We’re even flirting with the idea of getting a minivan.

Through more doctors appointments and lab visits than seem possible in 27 days’ time, we’ve learned to advocate for our family when something doesn’t feel right, even when we’re told otherwise. We’re mama bear and papa bear on steroids.

And while I’m looking forward to reconnecting with working mamas and mompreneurs to tell their stories, I’m currently in awe of moms who stay home full-time.

(The prospect of being outnumbered for more than a few minutes at a time was terrifying at first, until I reminded myself of what I’m capable of managing in the workplace.)

I’m so grateful for the village of parents who’ve been through this before us, and amazed by those who’ve dealt with much more.

In hindsight, finding diapers and clothes that fit (a la Chrissy Teigen) and pumping around the clock are the least of our worries.

Thankfully, the couple of hours that we get to enjoy “wake time” with our sleepy little guy are growing in number each day.

Even though this month is a blur, we’re living this new life one moment at a time.

Mama Shaker: Jennifer Jordan, Aeroflow Healthcare

When Jennifer Jordan returned from maternity leave back to her business development role at Aeroflow Healthcare, she set a goal to continue breastfeeding for the remaining eight months of her son’s first year.

Realizing that “being a mother made me the subject matter expert,” Jennifer identified an opportunity to create a new division at Aeroflow to make it easier for women to meet their own breastfeeding goals.

“Luck, opportunity and hard work came together,” she says. And in 2013, Jennifer became director of Mom and Baby at Aeroflow Healthcare.

While pumping is a non-negotiable for any mom returning to the workplace, the Aeroflow Breastpumps team is on a mission to make it accessible — and reimbursable — for more women in all walks of life.

Only the Best for Baby

Jennifer’s team searches for quality breast pump manufacturers to partner with, like Medela whose products are manufactured in the United States, Canada and Switzerland, and packaged in the U.S.

During my first pregnancy, I chose Medela’s Pump in Style since it got the highest reviews and the bottles were BPA-free. I rigged it with a portable battery to make pumping on-the-go somewhat easier, sported a poncho or nursing cover, and carried my precious cargo around in an insulated lunch bag and cooler.

This time around, I may opt for the Sonata, Medela’s first smart pump, since it’s designed to be quieter, and comes with a portable battery and mobile app. I’m also excited to add the much more discreet Freemie hands-free pumping to the mix, and perhaps a sleeker-looking Petunia Pickle Bottom Tote too.

How This Mama Makes it Work

Jennifer believes as mothers that we’re our greatest critic, and proudly describes herself as “perfectly imperfect.”

By finding a way to channel her passion at Aeroflow, she’s also discovered the formula to being the best mom and wife she can.

“I’m a better mother because I work,” she says, encouraging moms to embrace whatever balance is right for them.

For Jennifer, that means a daily ritual with her son on the drive to school every morning. They have what she calls “our special time together” to talk and prepare for the day.

Women Helping Women Succeed

Jennifer’s advice for other entrepreneurial moms is to trust your instincts, live your truth and your passion, and surround yourself with powerful women you can learn from.

“Put 100 percent into each and every moment,” she says.