Being a new mother and working for someone else is like a tragicomic Groundhog Day I’ve yet to figure out. Good luck to Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo who went back to full workday two weeks after giving birth. I hope never to run into her child in a dark alleyway as he may suffer from a humanity-failure related condition in the future.
Much of the advice for working, nursing mums is just laughable. The first year of a baby’s life you are basically a cow, eating, feeding, sleeping and stroller surfing at the park/mall. Until you stop breastfeeding there’s not much more you can do. But people want to mess with your mothering. Here are some gems I’ve come across.
– Express while at work (ask your boss for a suitable private room to express).
Can I ‘express’ what I think of this ‘advice’? Breastfeeding is a complex skill and a tradition that should be nurtured and managed from generation to generation. It is not just a hand pumping exercise but an important bonding time between you and your child. Firstly breast milk contains important live enzymes which are best delivered breast to mouth not fridge to mouth. The baby’s mouth stimulates your milk supply. As soon as you switch to a pump even if it’s a chugging double hospital grade pump (which you’ll feel really comfortable using knowing your colleagues are on the other side of an MDF wall) it’s the beginning of the end of breastfeeding. Expressing in my own less than clean office, with the door wedged closed and my boobs hanging out was not one of the highlights of my work-life balance. I’m sure that’s how I got an infection in my breast.
– Ask for flexitime.
What the hell is flexitime? A way for employers and mothers to feel less horrible about the fact that a new baby is without his mother 4 days a week? Research shows no-one will respond to, stimulate and calm a child like the mother so to give your child to someone else for most of the week is not striking a balance it’s just inferior care.
– Let the housework go
But unless you want social services to take away your child the laundry still has to be done, the trash emptied, dishes washed, food bought and cooked and the floor wiped clean so actually you can’t let the housework go. Not helpful.
– Sleep training
There’s very little you can do to sleep train a child who is teething, who has thrown off their covers and is cold, who is thirsty or upset, who has a cold and who just really doesn’t want to sleep alone. Some children sleep very easily, some don’t – it’s a lottery. Unless you want to find your child banging his head against the cot bars for comfort like a Romanian orphan you will have to pick him up when he cries most nights. Co-sleeping can help or make things worse and much co-sleeping safety advice ‘try not to sleep heavily’ is just ridiculous.
– Ask to work from home
Noone really believes you’re working properly from home by the way – not even you. Working from home is better than taking your child to the office but still doesn’t solve the issue of paying due attention to your child in the crucial first year, especially if you’re nursing and need to catnap during the day.
In conclusion, I do know some lovely women who have high-flying careers and adorable kids. I don’t know how or what it took. I worked myself during my oldest son’s first two years – it was so hard and kind of fruitless looking back. Somehow we as women find a way through our tears and our laughter and any residual problems our children have as a result of us doing what we have to do. In the UK there is adequate maternity leave which helps get a mother through the tough first year. Nigeria is a hybrid society with a very child friendly traditional culture on one side and then a very hyper industrial culture on the other. ‘Progress’ means there’s a trend away from family help towards Western style nurseries, but without the training, regulation and accountability. Most are full of cheap plastic toys of unknown provenance and friendly nannies who speak very little English because they’ve just arrived from some village. A 24 hour nursery recently opened in Lagos which seems all kinds of wrong! Nigeria is a country making rapid strides to catch up with its destiny. Women are a big part of that but when you have a career you sacrifice your time with you children. There’s no balance.