Recently at Mommytrack'd, Leslie Morgan-Steiner wrote about companies offering to let new moms bring their babies on the job. And for the thousandth time, I wondered if I ever would've been able to pull that one off.
Most of the companies offer the option only for the first several months of life, while infants are relatively quiet and sedentary. However, talk to new parents and it’s clear that those months provide invaluable time to bond with baby, maximize breastfeeding, and figure out the family’s unique work-life balancing act in a more rational, measured fashion than “Maternity-leave-is-over-what-am-I-going-to-do?”
And I thought to myself how that first few months back to work felt. Here's an excerpt from my first week back to work, back in 2004:
Well, it's my first week back working for the man. Here are the things I am learning this week: 1) There is a special, eighth level of hell especially reserved for new mothers who have to leave their young babies at daycare. I used to smile sweetly when a new mom would tell me she cried every day for a week when she had to leave her little angel at daycare for the first time. I thought it would feel like when I have to board Sybil at the vet's when we go home for Christmas. I did not realize it would feel more like someone had borrowed one of my limbs for a few hours and told me to function like a normal, smiling human being without it while my heart crawled into my little toe and cried.
Oh, right. I wanted to die.
Would taking my daughter to work with me have helped? Mentally? Physically? I wasn't breastfeeding her any more at that point -- breastfeeding and me didn't really ever go hand-in-hand -- but I know that's one key area in which many new mothers would benefit immensely from taking their babies to work. The other key area? Emotional salve.
Maybe. Or would having your baby there, all cute and sweet, be even worse than forcing your attention onto whatever task is at hand?
There are so many things to consider. What's your baby's personality? Is she quiet? Needy? Like to be held a lot? What's your job? Clearly this isn't going to work if you run the fry machine, which makes the whole discussion privileged, at best. Bringing a baby to work would never work for any dangerous or extremely manual job.
Then there's the question of who else is in your office -- because it would probably be an office, even if you worked in the medical sector. How would your co-workers feel about a baby's presence?
And then finally -- for me -- there's a question of focus. I've always had fairly technical/writing jobs that required my complete attention for blocks of time. Minimizing distractions is always one of my biggest challenges and the reason I work better from home in the first place. At three months of age, my daughter was rocking out a lot of the time, and I can't imagine her being in any sort of condition to come to work with me IN AN OFFICE.
Small business owners have been bringing babies to work for years -- child care providers, accountants, store owners. I could totally see it working if you had the sort of job where you could start and stop and had a quiet spot in the back where you could bring a bassinet and a bouncy seat and some stuff to keep baby quiet and happy for short blocks of time while you interacted with clients or the public. It would be tough, but working parenthood is tough. Also, you'd be in charge, so you could surround yourself with people comfortable with a family-friendly policy.
It's certainly a topic that gives me pause. I know I was miserable when I had to return to work. I spent several hours a day thinking about my baby and how much I hated being at work. (There *may* have been some undiagnosed post-partum depression going on -- I have no guesses about how other women handled it inside except for bloggers who have shared their stories.) I know if my employer had offered me the chance to bring my girl to work, I would've done it in a heartbeat. And I would've found a way to make it work, even if it killed me.
And ... it might've killed me.
Family-friendly work policy isn't a new topic, though it's experienced a recent resurgence in interest. Back in 2005, this advice was given on the Berkeley Parents Network:
I did bring my first born to work when he was 4 months old and describe it as ''one of the dumbest things I've ever done''. Cons: My productivity went way down. I ended up working longer days and going in on weekends (leaving baby with daddy), all to complete 30 hours of work a week at a very laid-back non-profit organization. I couldn't concentrate on either task - being a mom or doing my job. My boss started getting complaints from another department regarding ''noise and disruption'' (he was a very quiet baby!), which made me even more anxious. When it came time to look for a nanny, I couldn't do it properly, being at work most of the time. Pros: Being able to nurse my baby.
That's not a lot of pros. However, like with everything in parenting, it's different strokes for different folks. Lori K. Long wrote at Family Friendly Work:
I probably did it more often when they were babies, but it was something that was still a bit challenging. I found that having at least a day or two to concentrate on work while the kids were in capable hands allowed me to stay on top of what I needed to get done, without stressing too much. On the flip side, the opportunity to spend more time with my kids made it much easier to be a working mom.
The more I think about women bringing their babies to work -- because, really, would a man? -- I get all riled up about America's ridiculous lack of maternity leave. Over at Fem2.0, statistics continue to make me want to throw up in my mouth. Here are just two -- please click over and read the whole list.
In 1960 only 10% of mothers worked and only 10% were unmarried. Today 70% of mothers work and 40% of mothers are unmarried.
That's a lot of people. That's a lot of babies. And then she hits you with the money quote:
The US, along with only three other countries—Liberia, Papua New Guinea, and Swaziland—have no paid maternity leave.
I believe she means industrialized countries. However, seriously? As I was researching this article, I kept reading comment after comment from British and Australian and Canadian mothers recoiling in horror at America's policies. Talking about all these decisions they didn't have to make, because their countries provided for longer leave, and in some cases, paid leave.
Maybe bringing the baby to work isn't the right answer. Maybe it's yet another workaround for broken policy that squeezes the parents of 70 percent of the minor children in America. I didn't want to bring my baby to work. I wanted the chance to be her primary caregiver until she could at least sit up on the daycare floor without me worrying some older baby would step on her and squish her little not-yet-closed-up skull. I wanted the chance to adjust to all the huge changes in my life without having to meet crushing deadlines, just for a few more months. I wanted a chance to breathe, collect myself and get my feet underneath my newly foreign body, to figure out sleep schedules and feeding schedules and my raging hormones so that I could actually contribute when I returned to my job, instead of spending hours crying in the bathroom staring at my baby's photo because, when I am honest with myself, I wasn't ready to go back.
My daughter and me, the day before I went back to work.
In the past five years, I've been ready to be back. I love my current job. I'm excited every day about my current job, and I'm teaching my daughter that you can indeed love your work. I'm happy with my life. But damn if it didn't take a little adjusting to, and in an age when we make so many things easier for ourselves, why does America insist on making this greatest of life changes so soul-crushingly hard?
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