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How do I stay on track with my goals after I have this kid?
March 4, 2014 12:00 PM   Subscribe

How did you find ways to have a great family, and to keep trucking along with what you need to do to fulfill yourself professionally, especially when that professional work is really tough (but rewarding?) In other words, how do I keep myself from just drooling over strollers all day?

Hello! After a long time of trying, in just a few weeks we will have our own child. Yay! This is the best thing ever. At the same time, my professional life is at a real make or break moment. I have a chance to do this huge creative project that will be big and hard, and require lots of travel and determination. It will really stretch my skills in that really painful but awesome way. There is a real risk of utter and embarrassing failure involved. I also have a few side job ideas that could also be really exciting. AND we're moving just a few months after the kid is born. So yeah, a lot's going on.

How do I not give up on this thing? How do I keep doing the tough work? The more I think about it, the more it just seems impossible, and then I can't seem to mobilize myself to do anything. I'll just think about breastfeeding at the same time I have to travel to a different country and want to cry. At the same time, I don't want to look back on this moment in my career and think that I just gave it all up. (I have a REALLY supportive partner, btw, so that's not a problem.)

I really want to start thinking about this BEFORE we have our child so I can have a game plan. (And yes, I know planning before a kid is laughable, but I mean more "psychological preparation" than actual planning, though I'll probably try to do some of that as well.) Any advice?

Thanks!
posted by caoimhe to Work & Money (19 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
You are about to give birth, and that's wonderful! The next few months are going to be a blur, between post-pregnancy hormones and sleep deprivation, I'm not sure how an exciting, hard job, with international travel, comes into play. I'm not even going to touch the breastfeeding part of this.

Something will have to give, and you need to really think about what that might be. Will you give up breastfeeding so that your partner can take care of the baby while you travel? Will you go back to work early, leaving the baby in the care of your partner or a nanny?

You can make anything work, but you will have to sacrifice something in return.

Frankly, I believe that your baby will only be a baby once, and he/she deserves his parents in his life as much as is feasible.

Opportunities to advance your career will always come along, especially if you are open to them. Now may not be the best time to make that push.

You have bigger fish to fry.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:05 PM on March 4 [7 favorites]


A lot is going to depend on your partner. Is your partner capable of being the main parent while you travel? Do you have family or close friends in the area who will help your partner? Do you have awesome day care lined up?
posted by mareli at 12:24 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


I don't know anything about having kids, but I do know that when big, dramatic things in my life have happened-things that either shook my world or upended it altogether- the mistake I have most consistently made is to try to push through it, quickly, using all of my willpower, in a way that ultimately burns me out and ensures that I'm dealing with the consequences for much longer than I would have been if I'd simply taken the time that I needed right from the start.

Having a baby is a wonderful thing, obviously, but if you are concerned about the effect it will have on your career (a total reasonable fear, and one I would completely share!) I think the last thing you should do is start worrying, on the day after the birth, if you are letting things slip and then to start anxiously pushing yourself to, idk, catch up on emails or get a jump on brainstorming ideas for a new project. If you do that, I think you will could easily find yourself drained and behind and completely torn about balancing work and baby a year from now, or longer.

Instead, take the opportunity, now, to figure out exactly how much time you are going to spend on baby and only baby; how much time you're going to allow yourself to be back at work but maybe a little checked out/wiped (which I think is a likely thing to anticipate) and when you want to make this big career push. Then stick to your schedule, even if on any given day when you're supposed to be cuddling the baby, you think you could send an email or two. You might feel lazy or unproductive in the moment, but that's not your job right then - your job is to build and conserve energy and strength for later.

Congratulations on your new baby! And also, just a heads up, my sense from reading a lot of these questions is that there will be a wave of answers trying to convince you of the absolute exhaustion and complete absorption that having a baby entails, which is useful info, but which also sometimes (in my experience) has to be leavened with the real-world knowledge that having a baby and having a successful career are not, in practice, mutually exclusive endeavors.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 12:24 PM on March 4


It is not impossible! i know more than one woman who has done it. It was *really* hard, though, and there were many tears and frustrations. But their careers were every bit as essential to their happiness as the kids were, so they made it happen.

I think what you need to be prepared for is the tears-and-frustrations part. Because you can, in fact, do everything, but you cannot do everything, perfectly, all of the time.

If your job has no margin for error, then your kid experience is going to have to pick up the slack. It's totally okay to be okay with this, btw. An entire generation of kids grew up without breastfeeding or babywearing or organic kale smoothies and we're fine. Maybe it means you guys get a full time nanny really soon after the baby arrives. Maybe it means you don't breastfeed, or you only breastfeed for a little while, or you pump, or whatever. Maybe it means you go back to work, do the traveling, and have a lot of skype dates with your kiddo for awhile. (Remember: when dads do this nobody says peep. Because everyone knows the kids will survive one parent's occasional work-related absence. They just conveniently forget when that parent is a woman.)

IF there is a way to scale back on the job and ramp up later, then yes, do that, knowing that your career arc will be imperfect. You will face frustrations and possibly end up further behind than you even planned. But if you feel you could get back on track in a time frame that is acceptable to you, then this is where you place the slack. Some jobs really don't have that, though.

Third factor: physicality. As much as you may want to do everything 100% all the time, you may come up against the basic limits of your actual body. Be ready for this to be the deciding factor, despite all your careful planning.

You'll make fine decisions and you will cope with the consequences of your decisions. Trust your self and your partner, get your partner on board with every phase. And remember to check back in with yourself, in case you find your mind has changed down the line.
posted by like_a_friend at 12:26 PM on March 4 [9 favorites]


1. Forget about side projects. If you must have other priorities besides the baby, keep them to essentials: big work project + move.

2. Get LOTS and LOTS of help in every way possible. Have low-maintenance family come and stay with you for long periods of time to help take care of you and the baby. Hire a nanny well in advance. Hire a housecleaner. Get a food delivery service. Not only outsource everything possible, but also have people around to help you with everyday life.

3. Take care of yourself. Reserve at least a little time each day to rest and have time to yourself. When you feel stressed, stop and rest.

4. Build some slack into your schedule so that if it turns out you need extra time to recuperate from childbirth, or the baby needs medical attention, or something else unexpected happens, you're not freaking out about work too. And have a Plan B in case you find yourself unable to focus on work as much as you'd like, whether it's training a backup person or finding an intermediate stopping point for your project.

5. Don't breastfeed. It's incredibly physically draining and also logistically difficult if you're not constantly with your baby.
posted by chickenmagazine at 12:50 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]


I had a baby a month ago. Three months before I was due, I considered really pushing myself to finish a huge creative/professional project. I asked a mom-friend in the same field for advice. She told me that if I wanted to do it, I could. But she also told me that if I wanted to be "just a mom" for a little while, that was okay, too.

At the time, I rolled my eyes. But then, the tail end of my third trimester got really rough physically and my productivity took a nose dive. And then I had my daughter, and...

And it's been like my cells have been put back into place in a slightly different order. It's not just that I am sleepy and a bit raw from feeding my incredible baby every hour. It's that my interests and priorities and motivations have all subtly shifted. I'm lucky in that my field is one where I can, more or less, let my creative output change with me. I am no longer even interested in the creative project I was working on during my pregnancy (and I suspect I would find it hard to fake it). I'm on to other, different things. Things I never anticipated.

And progress is slow. Because I spend a lot of time comforting and feeding my baby, but also just looking at her and enjoying her. And it doesn't feel like time wasted, at all. In fact, it feels like the most important thing I've ever done.

Once, I would have rolled my eyes at women like me. Maybe its hormonal. Maybe its terrible that I'm leaning out at all, but...it doesn't feel like it. It feels good, centering. Like I finally have my priorities straight.

I don't want to scare you, but parenthood will change you, and your goals with it. And that's okay. It's good and it's normal. Don't be too hard on yourself to maintain normality after you give birth. There will probably be a new normal.

And that's okay.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:53 PM on March 4 [9 favorites]


I'll just think about breastfeeding at the same time I have to travel to a different country and want to cry.

And also, erm, I'm not sure about the timing involved but its been hard for me to figure out the logistics of going to the dentist (and I have a supportive partner, too). I'm not sure this is at all realistic. Breastfeeding is kind of a full time job, but one where days off kind of aren't a thing (hours? Maybe. Sure. But there really is no vacation from it, because you will be either pumping, feeding the baby, or putting your supply at risk.) You might want to reconsider this aspect, if you can.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:02 PM on March 4 [7 favorites]


Honestly, the question you're asking and its details-inside are EXTREMELY different beasts. "How can I stay focused on work in general after I'm a mom" is radically different than "How can I give birth to and raise a breastfed baby, do a major career-making project including international travel, and pack and move my household, all within the space of a few months?"

People seem to be responding to the first question. And I would have very encouraging words if that were the question. But in terms of the details-inside question, my instinct is frankly to ask you to rethink the plan of doing a make-or-break, travel-based project in the first months of your baby's life.

Purely in terms of physical recovery, sleep deprivation, and the whirlwind of postpartum hormones and emotions, you will just need time without other 'work' of any kind. And even if you outsource all the labor you possibly can (people to clean and cook, people to plan your move, certainly professional movers who'll pack everything), it's simply an overwhelming time. For you, for your partner -- it would be even if neither of you had *any* professional responsibilities.

On top of that, there will be the intense desire to bond with and spend time with your infant. I'm concerned that you're pre-labeling that desire as a failing, which frankly may mean you're setting yourself up for a lot of pain and confusion at a time that's already a stew of intense emotions.

I truly think this feeling I'm reading in your question -- that doing it this way is your means to prove yourself as a professional -- may mean setting yourself up for a crash. Frankly, I think the people expecting you to do it this way don't have a realistic view of the reality of birth and the first few months of an infant's life. Which is very tough. But I have to share this opinion because it's my strongest instinct.

I wish you joy and fulfillment (and you're about to experience joys none of us can possibly tell you about in words)...
posted by kalapierson at 1:02 PM on March 4 [6 favorites]


I can say that my finding was that moving with a small baby (four months old) was not, in itself, such a big deal: the crucial ingredient was that we paid for the movers to pack our stuff. Travel and focus otherwise will depend on you and your baby and how soon you're trying to do it.
posted by redfoxtail at 1:16 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]


I'll just think about breastfeeding at the same time I have to travel to a different country and want to cry.

There's a lot to unpack in your question so I'll limit myself to this. I brought my infant daughter with me on a number of business trips, ones that included site visits and Important Meetings, and some that were overseas, and people were shockingly nice about it, and my need to disappear from the agenda every few hours to nurse or pump. It wouldn't have been my first choice, but it all worked out and didn't torpedo my career. I was lucky enough to have enough plucky/nutty friends and family that I could convince to travel with me and make this work, though.
posted by chocotaco at 1:34 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]


You'll have no idea how you will want to figure out the raising baby life vs your work life till the kid arrives.
I'm not an infant person.
I was answering work emails before the c-section sedation wore off.
I went back to the office for a few minutes when the baby was 2 weeks old - I cried because I was so happy to be back in the office and cried because I just wanted so badly to be working and not home. But you aren't even supposed to drive for 6 weeks after a c-section. So I couldn't start back.
Other friends just completely drop out of the working world. You might not know how it will work till it starts working or not working. You'll just get stuff done - or not - every day.

Don't let anyone shame you that you want to work. Some people will say awful things to you. Ignore them.
posted by littlewater at 2:40 PM on March 4 [4 favorites]


How do I not give up on this thing? How do I keep doing the tough work?

Argggh, reading what you've actually outlined as the work.... oh man, be kind to yourself okay? Unrealistic standards of perfection and feeling being able to "do it all", and the following feelings of failure and not measuring up are like the express highway for post-natal depression. I know this. I will have some practical advice but want to hit you with the context first.

To put this in perspective, I (father) took three weeks off for our first child, went back to work for a week, and then immediately took another two weeks off. I would have taken more off if I could, and my work over the following nine months relied heavily on my inbuilt skills and networks (ie I was coasting wherever and whenever I could), and featured *a lot* of working from home.

For our second, we are in the lucky financial position where I have taken an open-ended minimum six months off work. in addition to my partner taking maternity leave. I did it without hesitation. It really can be that hard. People aren't exaggerating. It can be so hard you count having a shower as a success some days; I am not being hyperbolic. Not every baby is like that, but you cannot bank on having an easy one.

This shit can be really, really hard. Esp if someone - anyone! - gets sick, with anything. And that's presupposing mother and baby health is generally good. My sister was like you - high flying corporate job, determined nothing would change. She sings a very different tune two years later and nearly destroyed herself coming back to work before she started changing things.

Now, onto the practical:

1) Strip to essentials - you do baby, you do essential career stuff. Everything else gets outsourced. You do that by not doing things you used to do, and

2) Paying for help. Pay for housekeeper, pay for nanny, outsource as many jobs as you can, regardless how you regard housekeepers etc. The cost of doing things like cleaning the bathroom that you formerly didn't really think about are much higher. If you have money paying for assistance is worth so much because you are now shorter on time than cash.

3) Leverage family. If you have generous family, get all the help you can. Fuck, if some grandparents are the masochistic bastards that would consider moving in, *and actually helping*, move em in! Having someone who can cook, or help settle the baby is so, so good. Not all parents are like this, and nor should they be, but it's a great bonus.

4) Be very conscious about your health, mental and otherwise. Sickness of any sort in anyone will make something very hard into Sisyphean. Be preventative about your health - that includes your (and partner's) mental health. Post natal depression can sneak up before you notice. Honestly, picking up your mental health is much harder than picking up your career.

I hope this hasn't scared you, OP. But frankly, I think you need a little scaring. This situation will be unlike anything you have ever experienced - and you will be confronted by a host of logistics, feelings, situations you will have never considered before. It will go so, so much easier for you and baby, and partner, if you go in with no expectations of what's going to happen, as much flexibility as you can, a deep-seated willingness to roll with the punches and be prepared to make changes, sacrifices - that's what you do when you sign up for having a baby.

Rigidity will lead to resentment, disappointment, and frustration. And there is so much happiness and special, one-off moments in that first year, you don't want them to be clouded over by negative emotions. No one regrets how little time they spent at work when they are 70, dude.
posted by smoke at 6:03 PM on March 4


This is amazing advice, and I definitely am scared, but in a good way. I haven't been thinking about this in quite the right way, and it's good to be prepared (or at least adjust my expectations) for it before the baby comes so that I'm not just angry with myself. Thanks everyone -- I've got a lot of food for thought right now!
posted by caoimhe at 7:09 PM on March 4


I've somehow managed to keep breastfeeding for a year despite traveling a decent amount for work and working a demanding job. Honestly, if I could, I would probably go back in time and tell myself that quitting after 3 or 6 months is FINE. Breastfeeding is a drag, it makes traveling a LOT more difficult, it makes meetings a giant pain in the ass to plan around, and I'm just not sure it's actually worth it. If you don't have to breastfeed, traveling sucks and you're sad to be away from the baby but it's totally doable (assuming partner is ok and you have child support etc). But if you have to pump the whole time, carry milk around, make your partner travel with you so you can feed the baby, etc? It sucks.

You can do a big project, move, and have a baby. Lots and lots of people have done it (more than you probably expect!). But they don't do it without some sacrifices. I think the biggest thing I would advise is actually commit to things before giving birth, and then do them. You'll be in a haze after you give birth and you may not want to push through it, but if you can and you do, you'll feel pretty damn invincible after the fact.
posted by ch1x0r at 7:13 PM on March 4


You are probably experiencing that intense inward focus that has to happen before you give birth now and that's why you're having trouble thinking about everything ahead. Don't get freaked out by it, and don't fight it too much, your motivation to do other things (like work) and to think will come back after baby arrives and you come out of the newborn phase. I remember at some point in the first two months I started to think about work and outside ideas again, just trust that it will come back. Also, it doesn't have to be all or nothing, you may be able to find compromise along the way, don't pin everything on this one opportunity. Wandering Scientist (http://www.wandering-scientist.com/) is a great blog where a working mother talks about combining a career and a family and she has some great tips/concepts, like using the credibility you've built up pre-baby to buy yourself some flexibility/slack in the early years of parenting.

Overall re: how to keep your career/life on track, decide what your priorities are (try to pick just two or at most three things), and then outsource everything you can. Cooking, cleaning, laundry, movers, childcare. Learn to ask for help, and keep asking for help. Give yourself time to rest and just be with your baby in the early days/weeks. It is easy to stop taking care of yourself as you take care of your baby and do so many more things than you used to but it's really key or else you will burn out and that will do more harm than anything else. Remember that the intense need of your baby is a small blip in both of your lives, your baby will grow up and away from you faster than you can believe.

I went back to work fulltime when my first son was 12 weeks old. I pumped, I nursed through the night, and it was challenging but worthwhile for me. I nursed/pumped exclusively to 6.5 months. My son is now a preschooler, he loves me as his mama and prefers me when he's hurt or sick but he is also very attached to his other caregivers. What I didn't understand before he was born was that he would have to love his other caregivers, and they would have to love him for it to be an optimal situation for him. Now it makes me so happy that he has those other positive relationships (and that he is genuinely happy to spend time with them) but early on I questioned myself a lot, like "what am I to him if I'm not his only/fulltime caregiver"? When I stopped nursing I was like "what am I if I'm not even making his food anymore"? It turns out being a mother is so much more than those things and I am so much more comfortable and confident in my relationship with my son now. The book "Mothers and Others" by Sarah Blaffer Hdry helped me get some perspective on the different opinions mothers encounter online and in person about being a mom and helped me frame my decision to have a baby and go back to work. The tl;dr is that babies have mostly always been cared for by several caregivers, the focus on the mother as sole attachment figure is a relatively new phenomenon.

I found it easier to leave my baby to do work when he was under six months old because he was mostly sleeping and wasn't so aware of my presence/absence. Now that he is so aware and awake we are just very consistent so that he knows what to expect each day (he is 2.5 years old). He knows he goes to his caregiver's on weekdays, but he also knows we come back around the same time every day and that we do fun things most evenings and spend quality time with him, and he knows weekends he's with us. We also make sure not to overwhelm him with activities at the end of a week outside of the home, he needs to unwind as much as we do. We don't cart him around when it's not necessary or try to take him to every event we're invited to (but there are babies who love being out and about so this depends so much on temperament).

Re: breastfeeding, it's intense in the first 6 weeks where you and baby are building your supply, once your supply is established you are just maintaining it by emptying your breasts regularly, so if you could just keep your baby with you or take that time off completely it's not unfeasible. You do need to eat well and drink lots of water but you should be doing that anyway. The book "Nursing Mother, Working Mother" has some really great information on how to build your supply, how to involve pumping, etc. Get some great nursing shirts that you feel good in, I like momzelle.com's a lot as they are stylish and very discreet. If you plan to pump you'll want to be able to wear them to work too. A mama friend told me she decided to nurse "as long as it was working for her and for her baby", a guideline like that might serve you well so that you aren't hard on yourself if you decide to forgo it or stop after a few weeks or a few months.

There is no reason why your baby can't travel with you while you do your work in the baby's first year of life and beyond unless you think it will keep you from focusing on your work or your work is in dangerous locations. Traveling with a pump/expressed milk is a bit if a pain, and if I had to choose I would have preferred to just bring my son with me and have him nurse directly most of the time or just switch to formula. I know a couple where the mother was finishing her residency and they had twins, the father/babysitters would bring the infants in to her work to nurse every few hours, so again it is not crazy or impossible to do (although it is challenging).

I didn't sleep train my son but I know many who did successfully and it saved them many nights of sleep deprivation and got them some precious adult time with their spouses thanks to an earlier bedtime. You can hire a sleep doula who will work with you to get your baby on a good routine with good sleep habits, I think if you want to work from early on it's something to consider, the people I know did it around 3-4 months.
posted by lafemma at 8:49 AM on March 5


In regard to the breastfeeding, especially while traveling: a pump is your friend for many reasons. You can pump more in the beginning and build a stockpile of frozen milk. When you are travelling, that frozen milk can be fed to the baby at home while, you can pump and dump at the travel site. Pumping to keep up your supply and relieve pressure, but dumping because I could never figure out how to keep that milk preserved and transported back home. Once you get back home, continue breastfeeding.

If your stockpile won't be enough, then supplement with formula as needed. There are LOTS of babies that have formula sometimes and breastmilk other times. They all grow up to be healthy and happy. It doesn't have to be completely one vs the other.
posted by CathyG at 1:34 PM on March 5


As far as psychological preparation: have you read The Feminine Mystique? I was surprised by how current it felt. It's largely about women being able to live to their full creative abilities despite having children.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:07 AM on March 6


What is the timing of your big project and travel? In general you definitely can work and have a baby and even travel, etc. if you have a supportive partner and/or great childcare.

But - the first two to three months are really hard and all consuming. We made a few really stupid commitments in the first three months of my baby's life and in retrospect I would make zero travel plans or plan to do anything that requires showing up on time in any decent condition for the first two months. Once your baby is a bit more independent (and by that I mean will let you put him or her down for a few minutes while you do something else!) life is much, much easier. The first few weeks are just all consuming because the baby really needs constant cuddling, feeding, changing and full time attention.

It does get less crazy, so don't panic, but in retrospect I would literally plan nothing for the first 8-12 weeks of a baby's life and relax about spending so much time caring for him or her. As they say, the time goes by quickly and you'll look back on it fondly though it pretty much slams you at the moment. Also, it's surprisingly nice to just stare at your little baby all day, so enjoy it.

Later you can probably do what you need to do - I have a full time demanding job with travel and a baby under six months. It's not easy, but it's manageable, particularly if you enjoy working.
posted by rainydayfilms at 3:58 AM on March 7


My baby is exclusively breastfed and it's been ok. Buy a great pump (go for Medela) and get the battery pack for travel. You can buy ice packs that will keep the milk cold for 8-12 hours and your hotel will give you a fridge if you ask. All that said, I won't lie - pumping is a total pain and I am probably going to stop and supplement with formula fairly soon. Definitely don't be a hero about it if it's too much.
posted by rainydayfilms at 4:03 AM on March 7


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