I seem to have fallen into a strange in between life. I’m supposed to be back at work, and for all intents and purposes I am, but my work has decided that they can’t really accommodate a breastfeeding mother, so I’ve been told to work from home when I don’t have meetings.
It means I sort of feel like I’m back at work, but I sort of still feel like I’m on maternity leave because I’m at home like before. My friend sent me flowers to commiserate my first week at work and I felt like a bit of a fraud! But lovely flowers!
It means I’ve pulled back a bit from the SAHM / maternity leave group of people as I was going back to work, and yet I’m not really back at work yet because I’m still at home a lot of the time, so it’s a sort of limbo.
My slightly grey mood is probably also a result of staying up late to watch the General Election last night – I feel like my brain is in a bit of a fog! (For those not in the UK, we had an election and there’s now a hung parliament which means nobody won with enough majority to govern on their own – so there’s change ahead.)
So I’m spending the majority of my time since being back at work, working from home. Of course I’m thrilled to spend more time with baby B, and Dog, and T. T thought he was going to be a single dad for a while but that hasn’t really happened. I did go into work to meet my boss and so T took B for the day to see his parents.
I met with my boss and he confirmed he wanted me to work on some internal stuff for a while, but because of the whole pumping thing I ended up leaving early and so T wasn’t home from his parents’ place so I felt kind of emotional to be wandering around by myself knowing my baby wasn’t at home. On the plus side I got to spend a bit of time with Dog, who probably feels a bit neglected by me lately (although I think he enjoys not being grabbed and cuddled all the time as I think he found it annoying!).
So after the meeting with HR, they arranged a pumping room for me at work, which I duly used when I went to meet my boss. They actually banned me from using the disabled bathroom so that’s one thing. Which I can cope with, as it wasn’t particularly pleasant. However the pumping room is not exactly ideal either. I felt during the HR meeting (with three people) it was kind of trying to force me to accept the solution, which was that they make a meeting room slightly private for me but I have to give them 24hrs notice and I also have to tell them the exact times I want to pump on any given day. Anyone who’s pumped knows that’s not an ideal situation but I accepted it and I tried it when I went to meet my boss. For reference, the legal obligations are here: http://www.acas.org.uk/media/pdf/b/s/Acas-guide-on-accommodating-breastfeeding-in-the-workplace.pdf
The room they’ve given me is a small teleconference room. It’s actually fine size wise. It has a desk which means at least I didn’t have to put anything on the floor. And a power socket as the pump I have (Medela Swing Maxi) is a battery eater otherwise – it takes 6 AAA batteries for 1.5hrs pumping which is like three sessions! The problem with the room is that they don’t have a lock and it also has a big window (partly frosted opaque) which needs covering up. So their solution is to use 2 pieces of flipchart paper and to put a sign on the door saying not to come in, and then give me a doorstop to wedge in so people can’t open the door easily should they choose to ignore the sign! All this stuff needs taking down and reinstating in between sessions!
Anyway, I decided I would ask for a morning session just after I arrived at the office and then a lunchtime session. I’d leave early so didn’t do a late afternoon session. The whole thing worked okay, but I just get so much less milk during pumping at work than I do when I’m at home.
I managed 2oz each session when I tend to get around 4oz or more from each side when I pump at home in the early evening. It took longer too. It just felt like a lot of work and hassle to do but then I guess I hadn’t done a full day’s work and also I haven’t done it at that time each day, so my body isn’t used to it then (and when I’m home with B, he doesn’t drink so much during the day).
What I’m finding difficult about it is that if I’m partly working from home then I don’t really get into a routine with it. If I’m home with B then I’m not pumping as he just gets it from source, although I often try and do a pumping session in the evening to stock up so T can give him one bottle a day.
Obviously when he’s at nursery he’ll need more than that, so I’m just trying to figure out when I’m going to pump to supply that. I’m feeling a bit confused by the whole thing because of the lack of routine that I thought I’d have when I went back to work.
I’m glad to be back at work in a way, in that everyone at my work is very nice. I’m kind of concerned about it because I don’t feel that I have enough to do right now, and maybe people find it weird I’d complain about not having enough work, but I sort of feel like if I’m going back and foregoing more maternity leave, I should be busy and doing well so I can get promoted etc etc!
I just feel a bit torn between lives right now, but I suppose that’s normal. And I’m very lucky my job is allowing me all the working from home time. I guess they’ve kind of had their hand forced because they can’t accommodate the breastfeeding, but I still seem to get on well with my boss so I’m hopeful we can continue to have a good relationship. I guess I just want it to be worth going back to work. I don’t want to miss out on B for nothing.
Also, I think the going back to work has precipitated a change in my relationship with the local mums. Over the past few weeks I was kind of getting a little frustrated with them, because they cancel things at the last minute and don’t commit to things. I think maybe we are just different sorts of people but when I make an arrangement to meet up, I expect it to go ahead unless someone’s sick or something. Nowadays they seem less keen to meet up – maybe they just hate me! But also I find they only confirm stuff at the last minute or they cancel stuff the day before.
Maybe it’s because my time off was more precious to me that I more wanted confirmation of what we were doing, but anyway, it has gotten to the stage where I kind of feel like we are not on the same page. The two mums I was most friendly with are more friendly with each other, as they live really close. And one of them especially is kind of making a bid to be one of the leaders of the local mums… This is the one I used to hang out with a lot.
She tends to cancel stuff at the last minute and I just feel that she’s gotten a better offer. I’m fairly laid back but after a few times I started finding it annoying. She’s also very competitive in terms of sending updates on what her baby’s doing, and buying stuff for the baby, and I’m just not into it.
I think the main thing that happens as the babies get older is that you realise that you all have different parenting styles and maybe that means you have less in common than you thought. I really felt like I got on with them all but everything with them seems a bit more high stress, with routines and so on. We haven’t had much trouble with B because we just kind of go with the flow. I never try and put him to bed early, and I guess we are what you’d call attachment parents, we co sleep and babywear, so he’s not really a big crier and he’s just generally an easy baby.
I say this not to sound smug but more to illustrate that we aren’t very organised parents or set in our ways… He just hangs out with us and we haven’t changed our routines too much. We still go to bed late and because we are off, we get up pretty late too. It means we don’t get up at 5am like the other mums seem to do. (I’m so glad as I can’t cope with 5am wake ups.) I think maybe they think I’m lazy or something because we don’t have all these fixed things we do, and I can’t relate to the constant stress they seem to have.
Some people don’t even seem to enjoy having a baby – it’s like they are obsessed with trying to escape on a night out. I don’t feel I’m missing out at all – perhaps because I never thought we’d get to be parents. I don’t think that makes me a better person; just a different one. But anyway, I sense a distance growing between us.
Because T and I have both been off I’ve had a different experience too – they do a lot of mum stuff but I don’t do much of it as I feel it would be mean not to include T when he’s off too. It makes you realise how much parental stuff is left to the mums. I also can’t understand why mothers complain about it because it’s great. Maybe it’s great where we are in London, but there’s so much to do that socially you really wouldn’t suffer being a mum, unless like me you are going back to work. There’s stuff for mums and babies every single day. And loads of places you can go, and classes and so on. I actually feel exhausted just thinking about what some of them do. I think even if I was alone at home I’d want days where I just relax at home!
So overall, I think I feel a bit like going back to work has been an anticlimax. Right now I’m not fully back at work and I’m not at home on maternity leave any more, so I’m sort of stuck between two worlds. I don’t think I’m depressed or anything, but my mood has been a bit down over the past week, because of the whole back to work thing and then feeling like I’m half and half.
I’m the sort of person who likes to go in 100% on things, and the problem is right now I’m spread thinly between both. I need to figure out how to be happy with the balance.
Quite honestly I wish I could stay at home full time with B, but it’s not possible financially. And I should be grateful that I have a job with a sympathetic company which will allow me to work from home and relax a bit and still get a good salary! Maybe when we’ve moved house – hopefully next month – I will be able to relax into the new reality.
Aka what to do when your company hasn’t quite figured out how to accommodate the breastfeeding laws… Plus pictures!
Yesterday I had my first day in the office. It wasn’t quite a full day – I only had one meeting so I left early. I was catching up with a new manager in my team who may well end up being my (sub team) manager. My boss had said don’t bother coming in until we meet on Tuesday, and to work from home, but I said I’d try and meet this new manager as I wanted to use the time wisely and I really don’t have much (any!) work to do at home.
The new manager is a woman (rare in my industry!). I actually interviewed her even though she’s about two grades above me. My boss tends to send me to do the cultural / female interview! As I love my company and so they usually want to work there after I’ve talked with them! (I wasn’t the deciding factor. More of an add on so a woman interviewing wouldn’t see only men!)
Anyway. It was kind of illuminating. For one thing, I got much more of an insight into the company’s stance on pumping for breastfeeding mothers. Turns out nobody has asked for it before! I suppose the law only came in relatively recently.
The Equality Act 2010 states that it is illegal to discriminate against breastfeeding mothers. In practice this means that employers need to provide a room with a lockable door for breastfeeding and ideally with a power socket. It also means people can’t prevent you from feeding in shops and cafés, etc.
Most clients have a suitable space in the shape of a meeting room or a first aid room. But our base office doesn’t. It’s not that fancy an office as we are a client facing business so most people who work at the company are usually out on client site. I had suggested to HR and the office manager that I could use one of the small meeting rooms and they could stick some paper over the window. But there’s no lock on the door…
The HR woman (probably the first HR woman I’ve gotten on with so well!) was super apologetic and said that she’s told my boss they couldn’t accommodate breastfeeding mothers in that office so I should be allowed to work from home! The office manager agreed and she’s seven months pregnant and said she wouldn’t stand for it!
For my meeting, the first meeting in over four months, I had a good catch up with the new manager. She’s in her 50s and has kids and seemed relatively sympathetic. She said I definitely shouldn’t work longer hours than contractual hours, which was refreshing. (Official working hours are 9-5 but nobody ever works this. But I would have to leave at 5 or soon after to get back in time to pick up B from nursery, once he’s there all day.)
The kind of weird thing was that she said she’d gone back at 6 weeks each time she had a baby as she had to, being the main breadwinner*. And she said she didn’t need to pump at work. Apparently her breasts just adjusted and didn’t leak milk or whatever and she fed her kids when she was at home. (*I am too but didn’t feel the need to say this! But it’s the reason I am going back to work instead of being a SAHM which I would love to be.)
Now it’s a fairly recent development but B is kind of showing signs of moving towards reverse cycle feeding. He has a big feed or two at night and less during the day. So I thought in time this might happen, especially as B has been really bottle resistant. (We have tried giving him one small bottle of expressed milk a day and he typically takes 1-2oz under sufferance! And I mean sufferance! Screaming!)
However when I was out yesterday, he ended up taking way more than usual from T via the bottle. Almost 5oz in 3 bottles! When he seems only to snack during the day lately and he always resists the one bottle a day we try to give him, so this was unexpected. I was thinking maybe 1-2oz not almost 5. I don’t know if he was comforting with the bottle but he’s pretty good at self soothing with his thumb now he’s realised where it is!
So to provide for a day like that in expressed milk, I would most likely have to express during the work day. Currently I express in the early evening when I’m at home, but I feed him a little bit during the day so it makes sense that I’d have to pump at least once during the day to provide that for the next day. Today I pumped once at work and once at home. But if I do the pumping when I’m back at work, I would really rather do it at work as I want to spend the time at home re-bonding with my son, not pumping.
I think what this woman was saying was that her kids had formula when she went back to work. This is not what B is used to, and until today he wouldn’t even take more than 2oz under sufferance. I am really reluctant to give him formula given this is the only thing my body managed to get right! It’s all very well this manager woman saying she didn’t need to express milk, but I currently do!
The thing that really annoyed me a bit was apparently she said this to my boss when he asked her, as she’s The Other Woman in the team. (“I didn’t need to express milk so she shouldn’t really need to and so you don’t really need a room for it.” Paraphrase.) Err that’s not how it works, honey! B is exclusively breastfed and he’s drinking/ feeding during the day – so I need to pump. Whether they like it or not. It’s protected by law!
It kind of gets my goat when women are not all sisterhood-like about these things. It does us a disservice when there’s always one woman going “Don’t make allowances for women because I didn’t need them and I was fine!” I mean, she was nice and all but perhaps a bit old school in that way of showing how kick ass she is, how she didn’t need breastfeeding laws and whatnot. I appreciate previous generations had it harder, but why should we not want positive change?
My boss – who I’ve always adored in a work way and get on really well with – is apparently really stressed in general due to our targets and reorganisation and is really p*ssed off that this is one more thing that needs to be accommodated, and that our office doesn’t have the facility. (Now since I’ve been away four months they’ve built a whole new canteen so I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect one small locking private room with power source!) It was definitely a bit demoralising to hear he’s not happy although the manager lady and HR assured me it’s not personal and he still likes me.
I felt a bit upset as I was kind of a bit of teacher’s pet before I left and I don’t really want that to change! I feel like I’ve made a massive effort coming back so soon (most women here take a year) and they didn’t pay me for maternity leave so the least they could do is appreciate my effort! So I have to wait and see what he has in mind for me to work on, when we meet on Tuesday. We shall see.
Anyway, I figured since I had brought all my pumping stuff I should give it a go. They had no room so I went in the disabled bathroom. I felt like I was well prepared with all my pumping gear and no idea!
Turns out that it is pretty horrible to pump in the disabled loo… Having done it once, I can totally see why HR didn’t recommend it. It was really difficult and it made me realise how much you depend on oxytocin and feeling relaxed to get the milk flowing! Suffice to say standing around in the disabled loo is not conducive to those warm smushy feelings!
Anyway, without further ado I give you: My day in pictures! This captures the full horror of pumping in the disabled bathroom… An experience I’d rather not repeat!
I left Baby B sleeping after feeding, around 08:00. You can see Tiger from our babymoon in the corner of his cot. It felt so hard to leave him. His little chubby legs!
My work outfit. It’s a Friday so I wore jeans! I’m a bit bad in that I often wear black jeans because I kinda think they just look like trousers anyway. My Sarah Wells pumping bag is in the bottom left corner. Check out the disabled loo! It’s nice and big but…
My Sarah Wells bag contains the Pumparoo (which you buy separately). If there is one thing I’d recommend pumping mums get, it’s the Pumparoo. Quite aside from the fact it’s in one of my favourite naval motifs, it is super handy for occasions just like this. It is a fabric bag which has a large waterproof zipped compartment and a smaller zipped compartment, plus a clip on/off “staging mat” (see next pic) and it folds up small when not in use. The idea is you can put your used pump parts in the office fridge in between pump sessions and you don’t need to sterilise more than once a day.
The staging mat clips off the side with poppers and has one waterproof side. It means you have a clean surface to put your pump parts on. Believe me if you’re in a public bathroom you need this!
At home I am very relaxed and I don’t have any issue getting milk out most of the time. At work, people were waking past and there was lots of noise and it took ages to get half of what I usually get. I tend to get 8-10oz in 15 min and at work I did 4.5oz in half an hour. It was a bit demoralising. But also I don’t know if my body’s used to making milk in the evening which is when I usually pump. So maybe I’m not used to milk making at lunchtime! B usually eats just little snacks during the day.
It wasn’t much fun during this time as initially nothing was coming out and also people were making loads of noise outside the bathroom. I kept wondering if someone would be rattling the door handle trying to get in or wondering if I was depriving an actual disabled person from using the bathroom. (There aren’t any in our office as far as I know.)
It was pretty difficult and uncomfortable in the end. The disabled loo has no seat so I had to perch on the edge of the toilet seat, or stand up. I could hear people going past and it just didn’t get me in the zone. I kept worrying someone would come in. Turns out having a lock is important! But also knowing someone won’t try to get in is also important!
Anyone who has breastfed or pumped knows that you have to release oxytocin (“the love hormone”) to release the milk. When you’re with your baby, you naturally release it. When you’re pumping, you need to think of your baby. The pump bag even has a little pocket to put a picture of your baby in for that very purpose.
When I left home that morning – I realised I’d forgotten the blasted ice blocks! The Sarah Wells pump bag has a section that is separate from the rest of the bag which acts as a cool bag.
So what was I to do with all my hard earned milk?
Well, my office provides free soft drinks…
So tomorrow (Wednesday 31 May, 2017) is meant to be my final day of maternity leave. Actually Monday 22 was meant to be my first day back at work, but I took annual leave to eke it out until the beginning of June. Somehow that seemed easier.
My boss had told me he didn’t want me to go back to my previous client and to go to our base office instead. It’s 1hr away instead of half an hour so not ideal, but hopefully I’ll be back on a client soon. (My last client was a bit… interesting, and probably doesn’t warrant me working on them full time.)
So I was calling around HR and the office manager to see if they’d get me a room for pumping (as per UK law for breastfeeding mothers). The office manager told me she had told my boss they don’t have anything suitable and so I should work from home!!
Now ordinarily I’d think this is a great idea but realistically it’s just not going to work. The whole point of me going back to work is to get back to my career and do a good job and hopefully get promoted. Much as I’d like to sit around in the sun at home, my job is based on client work or being in the base office and other than occasional wfh Fridays it’s not really practical to spend all your time at home.
I said I was totally willing to give it a go in our office. There’s a small videoconference room / phone booth I could use but there’s no lock on the door so they’d have to put a sign on (“Do not enter under any circumstances”) and there’s the small matter of papering over the window, but I was willing to try it.
Thing is, this is a job that pays more than I’ve ever been paid and it’s miles better than my old one (no obvious misogyny/ possible racism for starters!) so I want to try and do well at it and keep it!
Anyway the office manager was completely against it and told my boss that it was unacceptable. (I think the law is in the UK that they need to give you a private room with a lockable door and power source… that’s not a disabled bathroom. Or something.) I said I didn’t mind trying it. As I said, realistically my job is not one you can do from home in the long term so I need to try and do something that works in the longer term.
So my boss calls me and says he doesn’t want me to come into the office yet as he doesn’t think we can accommodate the pumping… so to work from home for my first few days until I meet him on Tuesday! I think he’s afraid I’ll sue them or something.
So that’s three days I get back. I mean, I’m not sure how I can really work from home other than checking my emails… and maybe do an online course or something… but really. Not much work to do.
It’s a strange feeling as I’d psyched myself up to start work in two days on Thursday and now I don’t have to go in until Tuesday. But to an office that’s an hour away rather than half an hour. With no pregnancy bump to use to get a seat! Ah well… We shall see.
Some photos… mainly of food!
So… a few days reprieve! I’ll take it!