Sunday, December 18, 2016

When Breastfeeding Goes Right as a WAHM

I entered motherhood with expectations. Society gives us a long list of what to expect when caring for a baby, and since I had no experience, I read all of it and took it to heart. But just as with pregnancy, I let go of those expectations when they failed to become my reality. Not all women get crazy food cravings and wild mood swings. And not all women have difficulty breastfeeding.

Some women, perhaps the majority of women, do have breastfeeding complications. Many of my friends tried to the point of exhaustion and had to switch to formula for the health of their child and their own sanity. Breastfeeding support groups are promoted everywhere. The hospital where I gave birth had a lactation nurse on call at all times. I'm not discounting the difficulties a lot of mothers have with breastfeeding. But that wasn't my reality. Perhaps you can relate.

I don't recall seeing women breastfeed as a child. It wasn't what I was exposed to. Babies drank from bottles. The two were as linked in my mind just as much as babies and diapers are. It's a puzzle to me why my childhood lacked exposure to human mothers feeding babies the way all mammals do. But as an adult, I knew breastfeeding was an option that I wanted to try first. Even so, I bought bottles and formula just in case.

“You have perfect textbook nipples,” the nurse commented during one of my early prenatal appointments. I was startled and didn't know how to respond. Was that a compliment? It certainly wasn't sexy; any comment including the word “textbook” could never be sexy. I think I stammered out a “thank you” and changed the topic. Little did I know that textbook nipples would be a gift that began my breastfeeding journey with ease.

Friends with babies passed down nipples shields and cooling pads, just in case I needed them. I looked up various nipple creams and wondered if I should put them on my baby registry. In the end, I decided it was a bit much to ask friends and family to buy such intimate items. Good thing I waited.

I don't even remember when my newborn daughter first latched. I gave birth drug-free, but I was so out of it, I felt as though I was drugged. I don't have a clear memory of labor until around 15 minutes after birth. Somewhere in that blurry time, a nurse put my tiny crying baby on my chest and she fed. That was it. It was so hassle-free, I don't even remember it happening.

Those nipple shields and cooling pads went unused. Nipple cream was unneeded. I never cracked nor bled. I never engorged. I never had any complications at all. There were times when her suckling felt uncomfortable to tears, and in those moments I felt a small connection to those who struggled, but it was always so temporary. I have been very fortunate.

From the very start, I never let breastfeeding keep me from going out in public. I invented a wrap style (or perhaps it already existed and I simply figured it out) that completely hid my baby behind cloth when she fed. Outsiders couldn't tell if my baby was feeding or asleep. More than one person thought it was an arm sling, not even realizing a baby was attached to my bare breast underneath. Buying a wrap was one of my best purchases during my nesting “what will I really need for this baby” phase.

With my wrap, I took my newborn out to our local sports bar when she was just 3 days old. I nursed her at church. I took her to social outings and work events. I dragged her along to conferences, listened to talks, and conversed with colleagues with her feeding and sleeping on my boob. I was both mother and professional, progressing my career and growing my child at the same time. To this day, I can hardly believe how well it worked out!

As my baby grew, my ability to feed her discretely in the wrap declined. I've since transitioned to using a simple blanket over the shoulder when I need to breastfeed her in public, which is rare. At nearly a year old, she delights in the diversity of solid food and only nurses for comfort and sleep now. It won't be long until she is weened. I am thankful that my breastfeeding experience with my firstborn has been complication-free. Motherhood has enough challenges!

Now, getting her to sleep, on the other hand, is my daily thorn...

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Are You Buying Into Sexism This Holiday Season?

From the moment I began building my baby registry, I knew that I would encounter widespread sexism in the baby and children’s toy and clothing industry. For a supposedly advanced and equal society, sexism promoted by manufacturers and marketers is everywhere and overwhelming. Parents, even well-meaning parents, buy into the sexist stereotypes without thinking about it. Girl aisles are blindingly pink and princessy and the phrase “boys will be boys” is thrown about like it means something. And those are very minor examples.

As a woman who works in a male-dominated industry who fights sexism in my own career and sees sexism harm other women in their careers, I’m angered by it all. Babies aren’t born knowing sexism. Adults teach it to them at a very young age. You wouldn’t know it from the horrible trend of “gender” reveal parties (actually sex reveal), but babies aren’t pink or blue in the womb. Pink and blue aren’t even traditional colors for girls and boys, they’re a modern invention by advertisers. Yet we accept, without question, that my daughter needs to be covered in pink and pastel bows while little boys are dynamic and rough.

I was gifted with so many baby clothes by generous friends and family that I hadn’t needed to buy much for my daughter. But I decided to take advantage of sales this weekend. I browsed my nearest OshKosh B’Gosh and Carter’s store, excited by the 50% off store-wide sale. I was immediately hit with gendered everything. One side of the store was “boys” and the other side “girls” and there was little overlap, as if baby and toddler clothing manufacturers decided that one-year-old boys and girls must be dressed very differently.

My stomach, already turned, dropped further when I saw the graphic t-shirts in the boys section. One proclaimed “Chick Magnet” as if sexualizing toddler boys was appropriate. A graphic “girls” t-shirt proclaimed she was too cute to sleep, whatever that means. Surely I can’t be the only person disturbed by giving toddlers post-pubescent characteristics. It’s meant to be funny, but it’s not.

As far as I could tell, there was no difference between “boys” jeans and “girls” jeans because – mind blown –  toddler girls don’t have womanly curves yet. But that didn’t stop OshKosh marketers from developing “super skinny” girl jeans that the boys section didn’t have. Why in the world would I want to put super skinny jeans on a squirmy toddler who already dislikes pants?

Shopping in a gendered store was very difficult. It took me twice as long to find what I was looking for. In the end, I bought both “boy” and “girl” clothes for my almost-one-year-old daughter. And I’m strongly considering never shopping in a gendered store like that again.

It’s bad enough when marketers box in our children. It’s worse when other parents do it! Parents are the most valuable teachers, and sadly many children learn sexism from their parents. They learn what is and isn’t acceptable in their family according to their genitalia, regardless of their actual interests and abilities. They are held down or kept in a box not because society tells them what they can or can’t do, but because of their own upbringing.

I came across one such example yesterday. I follow many momblogs, and occasionally read suggestions shared by friends. One such momblog article appeared on my Twitter feed yesterday, shared by someone I follow. This momblog was promoting the concept that there are “boys” toys, that “boys play hard,” and that we should look at her suggested “boy” gifts for other boys. Immediately I was struck by the unnecessary gender separation. I responded that I was not comfortable by it.

This mother, instead of being open minded, insisted that her boys love these gifts, as do her daughters, and that there was nothing wrong with her gendering in her article. She was oblivious and outright hostile to the idea that other boys who are not her sons might be offended by the notion that they must like these gift items because they are male, and that girls might be offended by the notion that these gift items are not for them because they are female. Not only was she hostile, but trolls got involved (almost inevitable on Twitter) and responded rudely to my polite challenge to her point of view.

What is more harmful: the sexist momblog article that very few will read, or the sexist mindset that mother and her defenders exhibited? Are their sons comfortable being open with their interests, rejecting stereotypical “boy” activities if it’s not true to who they are? Are their daughters comfortable being open with expressing interest in stereotypical “boy” activities if it is true to who they are? I honestly cannot say. Neither can those parents. Only the kids can truly answer.

Are we as modern, feminist parents open to challenging sexist viewpoints even when attacked for doing so? I should hope so! I will not be silenced. I speak for the children who maybe aren’t comfortable with the boxes society and family puts them in.

Are you with me? Follow the campaigns of Let Toys Be Toys, Let Clothes Be Clothes, and Dad Marketing to combat sexism in our culture. Together, we can change society and make it a more inclusive place for our children’s generation.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Working at Home with a Noisy Toddler

In my months of silence on this blog, I've moved out of state again, and am preparing to move once again. Once again, I'm in temporary housing, this time a two-bedroom apartment. We move into our new home in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, I've been struggling to work from home in an enclosed area with an energetic toddler who loves to climb on and off the couch and babble loudly in her foreign-sounding language.

My work assignment involves a lot of phone interviews these days. I set a time with one or two other people on the call and I ask questions and take notes. Sometimes I can mute myself during the conversation, but never for long. I need to be present to the other person on the line. I need to be focused. I need to hear, and I need to be heard.

An excited talkative toddler shrieking and telling stories in her own language in the background is not helpful during my calls. Naptime is an ideal time to take a business call, but naptime doesn't always correspond to my call schedule. Last week, one call was scheduled for 11:00. Sometimes I can keep my toddler awake in the mornings so she'll sleep sounding during a late morning nap. But on this particular morning, despite my stimulating efforts, she fell asleep at 10:00 and was up playing at 11:00.

During that same day, I had another call scheduled for 2:30. Toddler fell asleep at 2:15. Perfect! Fifteen minutes into her nap was plenty of time for her to fall deep into sleep and not wake for my business call. Slowly and silently I distanced myself from her so my voice wouldn't wake her. I wandered into the next room, proud of myself. But the minute my call started, I peeked in and noticed her stirring and sitting up. Then she screamed as loud as death! There was an awkward pause on the other line and I knew I had been busted.

I previously wrote some tips on how to combat noisy baby background noise. As she outgrows many things, my toddler has outgrown these tips. Food and new toys no longer silences her as they used to. Naps are no longer a guarantee of quiet time. Nursing is too short to promise quiet for long.

Distancing myself has been the biggest failure of a tip as my toddler has developed separation anxiety. In this temporary apartment, I don't have many places I can work. When I absolutely need quiet, I hide in the spare bedroom. There are two layers of boundaries between me and her there: the living room/hallway baby gate and the bedroom door. I mute my phone to return to the living room to check on her, then return to the quiet sanctuary to talk again. But every time I run away from her sight, she throws a fit. Leaving the room even for a moment seems to be the ultimate abandonment in her eyes.

What's a working mom to do? I've gathered some suggestions I hope to try this coming week when I return to the phone. They are:

  • Use the TV babysitter. My husband and I have noticed that when we watch TV, she'll watch with us. She's sometimes captivated by it. In moments of desperation, I don't care about limiting screen time. I do what I have to do.

  • Distraction bags. This is an evolution of my distracting toy concept. Instead of just one toy, I distract her with a new activity or bag of toys. I probably need to wait until we move into our new home to have the room to handle distraction toys that I can store for when I'm not on the phone.

  • Find childcare. This has been on my list of things to do for months but we keep moving. In two weeks, we'll finally be settled into a new home for good, and I'll look into an occasional babysitter or drop-in daycare.

That's all the tips I have so far. More would be appreciated! I'll let you know how it goes.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Trapped! When Being a WAHM is Overwhelming

Not everyone is so fortunate to find a career they love. Long before I ever met my husband, I fell in love with and began studying and working in my industry. I knew that I would never give it up, even after having kids.

When my baby was born in December, I was surprised at how much I loved being home with her. My previous position ended right before she was born, so I took a natural pause in my career. But not for long! By the end of January, I formed my own consulting company and set out to find clients.

In July, I took on my main client. It's not strictly a full-time job, nor is it hourly. I'm an independent contractor paid a flat fee per month for services. The whole company is made up of independent contractors based in home offices around the world. Many of them are also parents who work while caring for their children. It seemed to be a perfect fit!

I was surprised and honored to be assigned leader on my first project immediately. As most projects go, it started out slow as I climbed the learning curve of a new job and a new project. Hours aren't clocked and my boss is in a time zone six hours ahead of me, so I did my work in my spare time.

It just so happened that I was starting a new job during a tumultuous time in my life. Coincidentally, my husband also got a new job that required us to move. In a very short period of time, we had to prepare our house for sale, move our belongings and pets, live in a hotel, sell our house, and buy a new house, and move in. Those life events became a full-time job, necessitating my contracted job be pushed aside to do whenever I could.

Finally, we moved into our new home. Everything was in boxes. We weren't settled at all. But I had a deadline. My job wanted me to complete my report draft within a week of moving into our new home! Of course, it wasn't their fault I was moving. They set the date months prior. But circumstances arose to make my life completely chaotic right near a deadline.

I was too busy to keep track of how many hours I worked. I barely unpacked the essentials to live in my new home. At times, I was too busy to even shower for the day. I worked days, evenings, nights, weekends, and the Labor Day holiday. I wished I had childcare but was too busy to really look into it. When I finally took the time to reach out to a neighborhood in-home childcare, she was booked. At that time, being a work-at-home mom really wasn't working for me.

I relied heavily on my baby learning independent play in the baby-safe playroom while I worked during the days. In the evenings, I relied on my husband to watch her for hours at a time in the evenings and weekends. I worked late into the night when both were asleep. The work wasn't good enough for my boss so the deadline kept getting pushed back as they demanded more and more content from me. For 3 weeks I worked myself into exhaustion. I felt like a poor employee, a poor mother, and a poor wife.

Finally, it was over. I breathed a sigh of relief, took half a day off, and tried to pick up the pieces. I was so behind on everything (and still so very behind on email) that it was hard to know where to begin. But at least I could enjoy life again. At least I could pay attention to my child again. At least I could try to settle into a better WAHM lifestyle.

Unfortunately, the chaos is only on pause. My husband's career is moving us again. On Friday and Saturday, I'll drive 9 hours with the baby to meet with my husband who is driving down today. We'll stay in a temporary apartment until we find a new home. Two more moves and another house hunt. I'm not looking forward to being uprooted again.

As if that wasn't enough, I was assigned a new project to lead at work. They gave me two days to catch my breath, and then popped my work-life balance bubble. I've since convinced them to change the deadline from December to January, but the work won't be any less.

I'm slowly admitting to myself that this isn't the WAHM-friendly job I was lead to believe. Twice this week I've been frustrated to tears with poor management and unrealistic expectations. But with my husband's career unsettled at the moment and some big debts to pay off, I'll stick with this contract as long as I can for the income it provides. I need to set better boundaries and not allow work to take over my life as it did. 

Meanwhile, I've resolved to continue my side business with whatever time I can squeeze. Being my own boss, doing work I love, pursuing my dream – that's what I envisioned when I decided to become an independent consultant. I have so many big ideas and dreams. I need to make the time to make them happen, or they never will. If I can make enough in my "side" business to be my own boss, it would be ideal.

In the future, I resolve to:
  • Work more consistently, even when tasks seem lax.
  • Take "baby breaks" when I get stressed from work to keep perspective.
  • Hire part-time childcare when work gets tough.
  • Keep my working hours to half-time (4 hours per day) unless near a deadline.
  • Work at night when the baby is asleep, but not too late.
  • Ask for help when I need it.
With these guidelines, hopefully I won't repeat the same stressful mistakes. Here's to balancing my WAHM life!

Friday, August 26, 2016

New City, New Mom Friends

Nearly a month has passed since we moved. We're still living in a hotel, so we're far from settled. Everything still seems new and temporary. But I'm trying to familiarize myself with the area and allow myself to ease into our new home town.

I'm a social extrovert. I love meeting and connecting with people! When we made the decision to move, one of the very first things I did was browse local groups to connect with: church-related, profession-related, and mom-related. After a few weeks of attending church- and profession-related events and not getting a chance to meet any other moms of babies, I decided to focus on that particular need.

Where I moved from, I also felt deficient in the area of mom friends. I would say I had one good mom friend whose baby appeared in this world 5 months before mine did. She helped guide me through my pregnancy and first months of motherhood. We grew close and it hurt to move away from her.

I tried to remain friends with the women I took birth classes with through our doula, but they didn't seem to want anything to do with me after classes were over. I tried to connect with other moms through a church group supporting breastfeeding women, but the group only met monthly and none of the moms were ever receptive to my invitations to hang out outside the group. I attended a moms group at a hospital once but the nurses who ran it focused on health-related Q&A and discouraged group socialization. I connected with two local moms groups on Meetup but was turned off by their policies. I mostly gave up trying.

Here, in a new town, I could reinvent myself and build a new circle of friends from the ground up. I decided it was worth it to pay a $25 membership fee to join the local MOMS Club. They seemed to have plenty of members with lots of activity. I also liked that the club is divided into tiny regions, so activities were likely to be very close and any mom friends made were also likely to be close. Convenient travel times makes it easier on everyone.

This morning, I attended my first playdate at a local playground. When I first arrived, I was surprised at how many moms and kids were present. I soon learned that none of them were part of the MOMS Club; they simply liked to visit the park at 10 AM on a sunny Friday morning. Josephine is still rather young for playgrounds, but she did enjoy being pushed in the baby swing. I struck up a conversation with the mom next to me pushing her toddler in the swing. It was pleasant.

After a few minutes, a mom approached me and introduced herself as the president of the club. We chatted as I sat on the grass with my little grass-eater. Josephine is a rapid crawler, but surrounded by so many people, she preferred to sit still, observe, and occasionally stick a freshly picked blade in her mouth. Another member of the club approached and made small talk. I didn't have an immediate BFF-at-first-sight with any of these women, but it was nice. I was laying the foundations.

Then, I got an unexpected urgent call which forced me away from the playground after only around 15 minutes of play. So goes life. I will try again another time.

Will I made any close friends through this group? I hope so.  

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Business Calls with Baby Background Noise

The cat and I will be quiet, Mommy. Promise!

What are the odds a baby will stay quiet? Being a work-at-home mom in a position that requires professional calling, while I care for my infant, has been one of my tougher challenges. Babies are unpredictable. She could be perfectly content to play quietly as I work. She could silently nurse while I chat. Best of all: she could nap. But there's no guarantee she'll stay asleep for my entire call. She's a noise bomb with an unknown timer!

What's a working mom to do? Honestly, I haven't mastered this yet. I've had a few calls per week for the past five weeks in this new position, usually 30 to 60 minutes in length. So, I've had some practice. But I'm still learning how to handle this and I don't always get it right.

My calls take two forms: internal and external. Internal calls are by far easier. I'm very fortunate to work for a company that is family-friendly. So grateful! Many of my coworkers are also stay-at-home parents and can empathize. When my little one woke from a nap during a conference call with two coworkers, she made herself known. She squealed and blew raspberries. She was entirely cute and unknowingly inappropriate.

Right now, I live and work in a hotel room. I tried to put some distance between me and the noise-maker, but she followed me. 'Mommy! I'm coming!' she conveyed in baby talk as she crawled after me. Wherever I was, she came making noise. My coworkers didn't comment. I hope they didn't mind.

External calls are a lot harder. The people I communicate with outside of my company don't know I'm a work-at-home mom and expect the professionalism of an office environment. I was quite embarrassed when my baby woke up from a nap and began to cry as I was wrapping up an interview. Thankfully, the call was winding down, but her screams encouraged me to hang up pretty fast. I have no way to know if the colleague on the other line was irked or understanding.

My baby is eight months old. She doesn't understand phone calls, words such as “hush,” or even the concept of quiet. Her instinctual need to communicate with me in any way often requires sound. She also enjoys testing and discovering her voice with singing, buzzing, and baby talking. I enjoy her happy noise-making and don't want to discourage it.

Here are some tips I've learned to help minimize background noise on calls:

  • Use the mute button. Best when on conference calls or when the person on the other line is monologuing.

  • Distract her. My baby is often quieter when given a new object to study. This doesn't work for long, but sometimes it's long enough.

  • Feed her milk. If she's in the mood, she'll nurse silently for a long time. She's often content to silently play with my top, my necklace, or my face while she suckles. Or she'll just stare into my eyes. If I'm very lucky, she'll drift off to sleep. If I'm unlucky, she'll grab at my phone or my laptop. If she was bottle fed, same principle.

  • Feed her snacks. My eight-month-old has an insatiable appetite for solid food. If I continue to stuff her mouth with small bits of whatever food I have on hand, she'll keep consuming it. If I give her something she can hold onto such as a baby carrot or a celery stick, she'll keep chomping on it with her two little teeth so long as I keep picking it up and handing it to her when she drops it.

  • Stuff her mouth with non-food. Teething toys are good mouth-stuffers, but she'll lose interest after a few minutes. She used to suck on blankets and plush toys. She especially loves ripping up paper and putting it in her mouth, but I have to take care that she doesn't actually swallow much of it.

  • Distance myself. This is difficult when stuck in one room, but even a few feet can make a difference. When desperate, I've left the room to talk in the hallway for a few minutes at a time, knowing she's safe in a blocked-off baby-proofed area of the room. In the future when we're settled into our new house, I'm considering creating a closed baby-safe playroom with a video baby monitor to observe her from another room while I'm on calls.

  • Get back-up. Rarely is my husband home when I'm on a business call, but when he is, he can watch her while I slip away. I haven't yet hired childcare while I work, but I am considering it.

How do you handle calls with a baby in the background? Any tips?

Saturday, August 13, 2016

6 Weeks of Hotel Living

Have you ever stayed in a hotel room with your entire family, including the pets? Could you imagine doing so for over six weeks? Welcome to my life!

We have survived living in one large hotel room together – my husband, my baby, three cats, a dog, four fish, and myself – for two weeks thus far. In exactly one month, we'll be moving into our new home. We're so excited! It's a huge, beautiful house with plenty of space for all of us and then some. I dream of having all that space. But while we wait, we're in extended stay hotel living which very much reminds me of college dorm room life.

One of the first things we did upon arrival was create a safe space for our quick crawler to move around. We blocked off half of the room with creative furniture rearrangement to separate the dog and dog's bowls from the baby's prying hands. The number of times I've had to wipe up water, refill the water bowl, and change the baby's wet outfit grew too many times for me to stand. She didn't take much notice of the dog food, but inevitably, some would have gotten in her mouth if the opportunity arose. It was much easier for us all to keep her away.

In the other partition, using a wall and three cat carriers, we blocked off the litter box. However, our little cruiser is turning into a climber and pusher. She has almost demonstrated the ability to push those barriers out of her way. It won't be much longer now. I don't even want to think about what she'll do when she finally reaches the cat litter box when my back is turned. She has already attempted to scale the air conditioner radiator when I wasn't looking. She landed on her back with a great thud, thankfully more startled than hurt.

But I want to get to the cat! I must climb!

When we made the hotel reservation by phone, the agent made a note in our file to include a crib. The problem was, there were no cribs at this particular location. He never bothered to check! Thinking we wouldn't need it, our crib was packed in storage until our move into our new home. When we realized the mistake, we were stuck. Although we were trying to wean our seven-month-old from co-sleeping, we now had no choice. She was to become our sleeping companion once again.

And it was miserable. Our squirmer kicked and rolled, frequently waking me and occasionally my husband. For the first time in all our months of cosleeping (pretty much her whole life), she rolled off the bed, waking me from sleep with such dread upon hearing her screams from the floor. Thankfully, she was unharmed. I took extra care to protect our sleeping space from then on, leading to more physical separation from my husband. After a week and a half of this, it was clear that something needed to change.

So we went to Babies R Us and bought a crib, a portable inexpensive one with cute star patterned sheets. We probably should have done so from the start. She now has her own safe sleeping space at the foot of our bed. Unfortunately, with the whole family in one room, we no longer have the ability to kick the cats out while we sleep. A cat jumped into her crib last night and woke her, therefore waking me. I've also experienced a cat sleeping on my head or meowing for the love of it at 4 AM. Hotel living is not great for sleeping.

Surrounded by cats in the big bed.

Not to be wasteful, we decided to use one crib in the nursery on the third floor of our new home and one crib on the ground floor. Our previous home was only one story with any part of the house easily accessible while carrying a sleeping baby. But carrying a sleeping baby from the ground floor to the third floor sounds like a poor idea to me, especially when navigating a set of baby gates at each stairwell. Our new crib is useful when we're cramped and will be useful when we're spread out!

A benefit of hotel living: easy baby watching. There's only so many places she can go, and all of them are within view when I'm sitting on the room's couch! As a work-at-home mom, I've claimed the couch as my office and spent much of the day here with my laptop and my phone. The baby can roam in front of me and to the side of me, she can nurse on me, or she can nap in the crib. Wherever she is, I can see her. This doesn't mean I get a ton of work done these days as an employee, but I'm trying. It has been a greater struggle than I expected, but that's a story for another day!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Work at Home Mom: Reaching for the Stars, Learning how to Swim

My little girl at 7 months

When I accepted an offer to begin work at the same time we’d be packing up our house to move for my husband’s new job multiple states away, I knew I was crazy. What was I thinking!? Not that I had much choice – my start date was already delayed by my new boss’s vacation and my life isn’t going to calm down any time soon. So, full speed ahead!

I love my career. I spent 11 years studying in higher education and held multiple volunteer and lower-level jobs to get to where I am now: a mid-level expert-in-training in my industry. Since January, I had been staying at home with my baby, working from home and occasionally elsewhere on small tasks and minor gigs. I started my own consulting business and earned a little bit of money, enough to travel for business trips and conferences, but not enough to pay myself salary. I kept searching for the right client that would land me a major paycheck. Finally, I found one. I’m reaching for the stars, which is a fitting analogy if you know I work in the space industry.

The first two weeks of being a for-real WAHM felt like I was drowning in responsibilities. I’d splash and kick, gasping for air at the surface, treading water with all my might, feeling as though I could go under at any moment. The thought did cross my mind once, briefly, that maybe this was a bad idea and I should quit. But I didn’t. I kept on swimming, as our fish friend would say.

It didn’t help that the baby’s worst day since her early newborn weeks was my first day of work. I kicked off that Monday morning with back-to-back phone meetings, during which she was thankfully quiet. Then she became a miserable monster and stayed unhappy for the rest of the day. I got little done. I thought, maybe this is teething for real, then dismissed my speculation. A couple days later, I felt the sharp edges of a bottom tooth popping through. It wasn’t all in my head after all.

Getting little done continued to be a theme. I began to question whether I really could be a stay-at-home mom and work a real job that required my focus and dedication. But to be honest, my circumstances skewed my perspective. That first week, I spent far more time on the phone and in meetings with various people who were to help me prepare our home for sale, sell our home, move our belongings, house us temporarily, and help us find and finance a new home. I felt like both a poor mother and a poor employee as I spent hours and hours in personal logistics planning.

The baby, now 7 months old, is developing separation anxiety. She could be well-rested, well-fed, and surrounded by toys, but still throw a fit if I’m not holding her when she wants to be held or if I leave the room and don’t allow her to follow me. But a baby cooing or fussing into the earpiece is not a professional sound over a business call. Twice I placed her safely among her toys in the living room, then shut myself in my bedroom closet (two layers of separation!) in order to muffle her screams to make a call. It felt undignified to conduct business on the floor of my closet. I’ll have to develop a better solution.

After a minor break-down last week, I decided to step back and regroup. I’m only human. I put so much pressure on being an excellent new employee, I was placing unrealistic expectations on myself. I’m sure that my new bosses 1) didn’t expect a brand newcomer to excel at the job immediately, and 2) understood that moving is stressful and would cut me some slack. I spent the beginning of week #2 focusing on what I could do in the moment and not getting too worked up over feeling behind.

Until I actually was behind. Wednesday came to a close and I had barely worked all week. Frantically, I worked extra hard these past two days, catching up. I woke up early Thursday morning, stayed up late Thursday night, and woke up early Friday. And do you know what? I was just fine. I accomplished what I needed to accomplish. No one cared that I hadn’t fully finished one of my tasks yet, no one but me. I called it quits Friday afternoon with a task still open, and the world didn’t end.

You might recall from my previous entry that I actually scored two new jobs, one major and one minor. I had to put the minor gig on hold. I’m at my capacity at the moment. Until I’m out of this house (one more week!), I can’t take on anything else. But that job isn’t urgent and the big boss still hasn’t signed my contract yet for an “official” start, so I feel justified in delaying.

My husband and I have talked about hiring help once we move. In his current position, he can occasionally work from home. When he’s here and not in a meeting, we share child caring duties. I leaned on him Thursday and Friday while I worked hard to catch up. But when he begins his new job in two weeks, he’ll be in the office every day. I may hire a part-time nanny or babysitter to help lessen my load. I’ll play that decision by ear.

I am so fortunate – I love my job. I’m able to do satisfying work in a field I’m passionate about. My company is very family-friendly, which is what drew me to the position. It’s a small company with everyone working from home offices around the globe, some of which are also work-at-home parents. It’s a friendly, supportive atmosphere. I feel so very grateful to be able to stay home with my little girl and participate in my chosen career!

Monday, July 4, 2016

Standing, Moving, Working, Panicking! I Am Not Alone

It's a holiday here in the States, but my mind is racing. I start my major contract job in one week. I already received a meeting invitation for Monday 9:00 AM. I've been told what my first assignment will be. It'll be a lot of work, right off the bat! I spent energy during the interview process convincing them that I can do the job, so now I need to convince myself. That won't be easy. I'm my sharpest critic.

Meanwhile, I have a draft of a contract to finalize and sign with my side job. Assuming that's completed next week, I'll be starting both jobs at the same time. I've been putting it off, not because I can't be bothered with approving a contract, but because I already feel overwhelmed. And I haven't even started yet.

Meanwhile, my little girl is racing ahead of milestones at a stunning pace, leaving me, well, stunned. She went from lunging to crawling to standing to cruising furniture in a matter of weeks. She's only six months old! I hadn't planned to babyproof the house yet. I don't want to babyproof a house I might move out of in a few weeks. Today my husband and I bought baby gates which had been on our to-do list for two weeks since she discovered the dog's food and water bowls in the laundry room. I've had to mop up the floor and change her more times than I'd like to admit. It also takes work to chase her away from trouble, constantly keeping and eye out.

A developing baby means more independence from me. She can play mostly on her own for a large part of her waking hours. She can crawl around the majority of the house now that I've blocked off areas and babyproofed as she found trouble. With my laptop, I can follow her around and get stuff done at the same time. I'm sleep training her, so now she can even nap without needing me to nurse her to sleep. Progress. Baby steps, figuratively and literally.

My husband should get a final written offer from his potential new job on Tuesday. We're in limbo until then. My mind is racing with plans but I can't solidify them until I get the okay. On Tuesday, if it's what he wants, we're all go go go to move, sell our house, and buy a new one. And everything that comes with that. Every little thing. Anxiety! Stress! Panic!

We met with our real estate agent this morning, the same woman who helped me buy this house two years ago. She toured the property, making a verbal list of everything we need to do to best sell our home. Every comment she made caused me to shrink with stress and anxiety, as if her words were hammering me on the head and stealing my future time and happiness. Between starting two new jobs, caring for a mobile baby, saying goodbye to friends, and packing, when were we going to find the time to handle all these home repairs and touch-ups?

Then the seasoned real estate agent – God bless her – said those beautiful words: “I'll handle it.” She advised us to move out, vacate the house, then she'll take care of the rest. I could have hugged her. Then, my husband mentioned as an aside that his potential new company's relocation package included packaging and shipping all of our belongings. He'd forgotten to mention that before. And just like that, the weight lifted.

Yes, this house needs a deep clean, and trimming of this, and caulking of that, and the list goes on and on. Yes, an entire household needs to be packed up and moved across the country. But I don't have to do it. It doesn't have to be my responsibility. It doesn't need to weigh down my to-do list.

Yes, we need to find our new home, and the sooner, the better. But we won't buy sight unseen. So I need to put that worry aside and just wait. Yes, I start two new jobs in a week. But no one will expect me to have a major report done on my first day or even my first month. There's always a learning period.

If you haven't noticed, have a tendency to want to handle everything all by myself. I'm very independent. I know that I'll do it the way I want it to be done. Then I overload myself and wonder why I can't complete things the way I want to. But I really can do this, with help. With lots and lots of help.

I am not alone.

This is a lesson I'll need to repeat to myself again and again. It's okay to let others handle things. It's okay to let go of the things that others can do, and often do better. It's okay to outsource, to hire help, to ask for help, to remove some of the weight from my shoulders and put it on someone else. It's not all on me. I don't have to do everything, and that's okay.

And with this realization, I'm back to enjoying my holiday. My husband, my baby, and I are all hanging out as my husband plays guitar. We'll join our neighbors for a party this evening. I can enjoy my (possibly) last weeks in our home and our city. I can focus on my friends, my family, and my new adventures. I can live my life without overwhelming stress. I just need to let go. Let go and let God, as the saying goes.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Beyond Full-Time Work-At-Home Mom

I may be a bit in over my head. I have this tendency to take on more than I can realistically handle and then watch with dismay as I allow balls to drop. Now that I'm a mom, and a stay-at-home mom at that, I'm particularly aware of how much time it takes to care for a baby day and night. Dedicated time to focus on work is in short supply.

I expressed my anxieties in my previous blog entry considering taking a full-time work-from-home position. Great news - I got the job! And I accepted it. But I also misunderstood the position. I'll be an independent contractor, not a full-time employee. Nowhere in my contract does it specify how many hours per week I'm expected to work. I'll be paid a set amount of compensation per month to do the work assigned to me, however many hours that takes.

Before beginning the job, it's difficult to know how many hours of actual work will be involved. In my previous two “full-time” career positions, neither came close to needing 40 hours of work per week. Actual work was usually a few hours per day, plus maybe a meeting or two. On an average week, I would say that 10 to 20 hours of work was required of me. The rest of the time, I was “on call” in my office or at home, and could work on other things. But I can't predict whether this new position will be the same.

Surprise - great news - I accepted another new job yesterday! Two new jobs! So now I'm “beyond full-time,” in a sense. I have a major contract that will be my primary position, and I have a minor contract that will be a side job. The new gig will pay commission on funds I bring in. My hours and schedule are my own to work out.

Within the next two weeks, I'll be starting not one, but two new jobs. My six-month-old has become a fast crawler, is able to stand, and is almost ready to start cruising. She can spend more time in independent play, but she requires more careful watching. I'm keeping my childcare options open. If need be, I'll hire an occasional or regular daytime babysitter or nanny, or I'll look into part-time daycare options. I'd love to be able to handle all motherhood and career responsibilities simultaneously, but that may not be realistic.

My favorite part of this extra income: I get to hire cleaning help! I don't know what it says about me that a cleaning service is at the very top of my “to buy if we have the money” list. I've been wanting a regular housecleaner since before the baby was born. Returning to a dual-income family means we can afford it. How frequently outside help will come is still to be decided. Outside help will lessen the burden on me to clean during the day or in my limited spare time.

An unexpected lifestyle change has been the need for me to begin sleep training the baby. Co-sleeping and bed-sharing saved me so much for the first six months of my daughter's life. I was able to more or less “sleep through” the night every night because the baby would barely wake me when she needed to nurse. Having her right there next to me was a sanity saver. I never felt like a stereotypical sleep deprived mom of an infant.

However, the baby no longer sleeps as long and as well as she used to. I got more uninterrupted sleep with her as a newborn than I do now with her at six months old. I feel like I'm tossing and turning every 30 minutes to nurse her or switch her to the other breast. I get so exhausted that I no longer remember to return her to her crib in the night. I wake up in the morning with her next to me, tired, not even remembering that I had picked her up. Co-sleeping is no longer working for me.

Sunday night, I moved her crib to the nursery and set up the baby monitor. For three nights so far, I've attempted sleep training. I allow for middle-of-the-night feeding because my baby is so small, but I return her to her crib after 10 to 15 minutes. Results have been mixed these past three nights. I'll write a dedicated sleep training update when it's all sorted out.

On top of my own life, my husband's path is still open. He may or may not get a job offer that would require us to move across the country in the next month or two. In addition to starting two new jobs, I may also be planning a move, selling our house, and buying a new one. I really don't know how I'm going to balance those responsibilities, if it happens.

In the times of my life when I think I may have to take on more than I can handle, I give it to God. I trust that it will all happen as it's meant to, and that I'm strong enough to make it through. All in all, these are great problems to have, and I'm very grateful.

This is how I wrote this blog entry. Thankfully, her nap lasted long enough.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Working at Home with a Crawler

This is brand new territory for me. My little six-month-old is now so efficient and so fast at crawling, she now needs watching. She is also learning to climb. This need of watching is so very different from her first six months when I could put her down and expect her to stay put. I need to step up my game!

Part of this new period of floor exploration involves examining the pets. When she spots a fellow crawling creature, she grins and shrieks in excitement, then bounces toward them. She’s slow compared to them, so I wonder why they allow her to catch up to them. If they don’t see or hear her coming, then they’re pretty bad at being canine or feline hunters. Maybe they are just lazy and don’t want to move until absolutely necessary.

The dog is the most benign of her targets, simply walking away when bothered. It’s the cats that I worry about. All of our cats have their claws. The baby thinks it’s a fun game to grab at and pull the cats’ tails or pull out clumps of fur. She’s too young to really understand not to do this. Most of the time, the cats just walk away too.

But not all of the time. I saw her approaching our orange cat this morning, but thought nothing of it. I turned my back on her for two seconds and I heard crying. She had cornered the cat who understandably stood his ground and swatted at her. No scratch meant she wasn’t injured, just scared, so it could have been worse.

Inanimate objects also pose a worry. Yesterday I cleared an entire bottom of a bookshelf of decorative odds and ends that she was preparing to put in her mouth. This morning I saw her playing with books on the bottom of another bookshelf. Her climbing attempts lead to falls and bumps.

That photo was taken as I started typing this. The glass used to be farther from the edge. My baby has learned to pull at the tablecloth to bring the glass closer. Smart kid.

How can I possibly get work done as a WAHM with a proficient crawler? I’m more of a free-range parent than a helicopter, so I just let her be. I want her to explore her environment. She deserves the freedom to get to know her own home after months of only going where adults put her. It’s okay to fall on carpet during an attempted climb onto the couch. It’s okay to lightly bump her head at she learns to navigate this world and her body in it. Although I don’t want her scratched, if the cat swats at her sans claws enough times, maybe she’ll learn not to pull.

Thankfully, I work on laptops. I carry my work with me from room to room, near her with every step. Most of the time, I’m sitting on the floor next to her, seeing the world as she sees it, or at least a similar height. As she explores her space, I am nearby enough to spot trouble but also reading or typing away. My presence also makes her feel comfortable and confident, so I don’t have to pause to sooth cries. She has learned to crawl over to me if she wants me (or, more likely, my boob).

And there’s always naps, the blessed breaks I get to try to work uninterrupted. After I prevented my baby from pulling a glass of apple cider onto her head, she climbed right up into my lap, nursed, and went to sleep. Ah, peaceful sleep, perfect times to make phone calls or get anything done on my laptop, just as this blog entry.

Eventually I'll need to buy baby gates and fences, blocking off areas of the house not suited to her. But I'm not there yet.

As she grows in her body and her ability to get into even more trouble, so will my ability to work with her around. That’s my hope, anyway. In case you were wondering from my last blog entry, I got and accepted the full-time work-from-home job. Soon I’ll need to accomplish even more with a little one roaming around. Advice is welcome!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Full-Time Question

In my introductory post, I explained how I came to be an accidental work-at-home mom, part time. I haven’t worked full-time since my baby was born. And if I’m honest, I haven’t worked full-time in maybe a year because there’s not much going on in a company going out of business.

Going from working part-time at home pre-baby to working part-time at home post-baby was easy. I learned how to free my hands enough use my computer while she nursed or slept on me. I became decent at one-handed typing. I started work-at-home momming gradually when she was just a few days old. I was full-swing into when I attended a local workshop when she was five weeks old. We've been rocking it ever since.

Sleeping baby position #1 as I wrote this blog entry.

For me, being a part-time work-from-home mom has been easy (so far). I work projects of interest on my laptop from my living room or back porch while the baby sleeps, nurses, or plays. I’m interrupted constantly and therefore it takes longer to accomplish tasks, but breaks aren’t a bad thing.

I pick and choose which projects I want to get involved with. Some tasks have deadlines and are prioritized. Others are “whenever I feel like it,” such as my professional blog, my book writing, and my reports.

But one thing I am not is an 8-hour-per-day working mom. I couldn’t tell you how much of my day is spent on business. I multi-task and switch things up constantly: email, news, social media, projects, breastfeed, play with baby, change diapers, clean house, prepare food, take care of errands, take care of myself, go to business-related events, and whatever else falls into my lap.

Sleeping baby position #2 as I wrote this blog entry.

Work-life integration is the new buzzphrase and I have it down solid! I am one seamless work-life integrator. But I don’t work 40 hours per week, probably not even half that. I don’t work much right now. But I have excellent work-life satisfaction!

I’m a little nervous that I’m a finalist for a full-time work-from-home position. In a surprising twist, I’m more nervous about getting the job than I am about not getting it! Being rejected means status quo, my life remains the same. I can continue to leisurely work-from-home part-time on whatever projects I choose.

Taking the job means juggling everything around and needing to find solid working hours during the day with many more deadlines and phone meetings. It’s always an unknown whether the baby will remain quiet while I’m on the phone. Probably not.

Position #3 while writing this blog entry - playing! She's not always quiet.

My little girl is a few days shy of 6 months old. Since she refuses to take a bottle, she has been attached to me day and night, attending work-related events with me, even attending an out-of-state conference with me. The thought of putting her in (very expensive) daycare sounds undesirable and potentially unfeasible until she’s older. But the option exists if there’s no better alternative.

Even with full-time work, I think I’d still be able to watch her at home most of the time. I’m considering an occasional nanny or daytime babysitter, someone who could watch her for a couple hours per day or a few hours per week, depending on my needs. Or, maybe I’ll surprise myself and actually be able to work a full-time job from home while watching the baby full-time. Maybe. Am I crazy?

This potential job seems to cater to work-at-home parents. The CEO of the small company has three little ones at home and told me during our initial call (in November!) that the company leans toward work-life balance. Another man I interviewed with who has been with the company for 13 years, has four kids, and praised his ability to be a work-at-home dad. Although not everyone in the company is a parent, it does sound like families come first. If I take this job, I really think I could make it work with a home office and still watch my little girl grow up. (And I do want to add more babies to our family sooner than later, God willing!)

Even more uncertainty is added to this hypothetical life when I consider my husband’s situation. He’s being flown out to cities around the country to be interviewed for a potential big career advancement. His job interview in another state on Monday sounds particularly promising. We could be moving across the country in a month or two.

Moving locations won’t matter to my potential work-from-home employer, but it would mean less in-person business events and meetings for me. Where we live now is a hub for my industry. Where we’d potentially be moving to, my industry isn’t there. Everything I’d do would be online or would require business travel.

I am the kind of person who defines myself by my career: a scientist in the space industry. No, I take that back. I was defined by my love of my industry long before it became a career, as far back as 3rd grade when I wrote a short story about being an astronaut. My passion for what I do “for a living” goes beyond whether I’m paid for it, and some of my current projects are in fact volunteer or pro bono. I love, live, breath science/astro/space. Becoming a mom hasn’t changed that.

Even without this potential full-time position, I’d still continue building my consulting business, part-time. Even with this potential full-time position, I still want to build my consulting business part-time. I know, I sound crazy.

I’ll stick another tick-mark in the crazy box by admitting I might want to homeschool my kid(s) someday.

Too much speculation, too many hypotheticals, too much unknown. For now, I vent my thoughts on the Internet. Decisions will be made later.

Working mom and silly-faced baby at an industry event last month.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

What I Learned Taking a Baby to a Professional Conference (Part 2)

I took 5-month-old Josephine to an informal professional networking event last night and reminded myself that I still had yet to write about our adventures at an out-of-state conference together. Rest and catch-up are top priorities after returning from travel. Now I can reflect on the positive and negative of bringing a baby to a professional conference.

Working and playing, as well as we can together.

Community Support

I had a lot of fears about being a working mother after I gave birth to my daughter and it became clear that she was too young to be away from me for long. I worried that I would be seen as less than professional if I brought her with me. I expected negative or inappropriate comments. I would not have been surprised if people had asked me to leave when they saw me with a baby. Babies don't belong in work environments, right?

My fears were the furthest from the truth. Every time I brought my baby, I was welcomed with open arms. Colleagues and new acquaintances loved meeting her and watching her grow. Young women and older men thanked me for bringing her. Only once was I asked not to attend a meeting with her, a rare exception to the warm welcome she's received. She's an instant star no matter where I go. The one downside is that on occasion, colleagues are more interested in talking about her than about business!

Bringing her to one day of the local conference was a test. Taking her on a plane to Colorado, without my husband, for a 3-day conference was the real deal! How would she behave? How would others react? Would I be able to attend the conference talks at all?

I was overwhelmed with the generosity, encouragement, and support from the conference staff and attendees! From the moment we arrived, others offered to hold her, play with her, give her toys (conference swag), and take care of her. Conference staff made her a special name badge. She attracted conference attendees like a magnet. One man thanked me for bringing her because her sounds during the talks lessened the seriousness of the atmosphere and reminded him of home and humanity.

Baby Genius - All Star!

The Noise

There's no way around it: babies make noise and there's no quieting them. I knew that I would be in and out of talks. I just hoped that I would be in more than out.

I lucked out with a relatively mellow baby. She doesn't cry all that much, but she does have her moments. She wasn't feeling well on Friday afternoon, so I hid in the bathroom for a long time, hoping the thick doors would dampen her screams. But worse, I didn't have my phone or laptop because I couldn't return to the conference ball room with a screaming baby to retrieve them, my feet were hurting me in brand new dress pumps, and there were no restroom chairs, so I sat barefoot on the floor not even knowing the time while she screamed and screamed. Eventually she did calm down and we reemerged. Aside from that outburst, screaming fits were rare.

More common were little baby grunts from learning to crawl and play and “songs” from learning to use her voice. When those got too loud and persistent, I needed to leave the room. Sometimes I would walk with her along the back wall by the door, leaving when she was loud and returning when she had quieted. In and out, in and out. While this certainly is not an ideal way to hear talks, I was able to pick up bits and pieces of conversation this way.

Most of the time, she was quiet enough for me to be in the room. Especially when she napped in my lap! During those periods, I could focus on the speakers and pretend I was attending a conference as usual. Except that I was in the back of the room sitting on the floor next to toys, usually.

Conference swag makes for good toys.

Baby Wearing

I wore my baby in her wrap less often than I expected to. There were times when it made sense, such as during a tour of a nearby company's facilities where we'd be walking a lot. I opted not to bring a stroller to the airport, instead wearing her around the terminal. However, during the conference talks, mostly we were sitting down. I tried sitting with her in my lap, but she got bored quickly. Instead, I laid a baby blanket on the ground and let her play with toys independent of me as much as possible. Outside of talks, she would be passed from person to person so much that it didn't make sense to attach her to me. I'm glad I brought the wrap and I did use it frequently, but she wasn't attached to me at all times.

Baby hanging out on the tour.

Hotel Sleeping

I have difficulty sleeping in a strange place. So, it seems, does my baby. We didn't have our normal routine and sleep aids such as her swing, so sleep didn't come as naturally to her. It was a struggle each night to get her to stay asleep. Usually I succeeded an hour or two after her usual bedtime.

I opted not to bring her crib, instead allowing her to sleep in the king-size bed with me. At home, her crib is right next to our king-sized bed so she spend half the night in her bed and inevitably half the night in ours. Co-sleeping works well for us. I didn't even think twice about keeping her in the bed with me while on travel.

Sleeping on my lap.

Breastfeeding Business

No one batted an eye when I nursed my baby during the conference. No one stared. One lady offered to give me her seat if I'd be more comfortable. To clarify, I always use a blanket or wrap to cover us up when she feeds, but I'll continue to carry on conversations like normal.

Brave, Hero and Supermom

I was called all these things for bringing a baby to a conference. I am none of them. I am simply a working mom who loves my career and loves being with my child. I find it interesting that in our culture, we would see this behavior as something to be praised highly with descriptions such as brave, hero, and supermom. In my opinion, this only points to the need to combine maternity and career for new moms and make what I did common.

Thanks for bringing me along, mom!

Friday, May 27, 2016

Hold Your Pee: Pelvic Floor Exercises for Moms & Moms-to-Be

I am one session away from completing my pelvic floor physical therapy, or as I like to put it, one final exam away from graduating from “stop peeing myself” school. I've already written about my experience discovering that Kegel exercises were worsening my hypertonic pelvic floor during my pregnancy and my road to recovery. I want to follow up with some specific tips and exercises that I learned through my months of physical therapy.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, medical professional, nor expert on the pelvic floor. I am simply a patient who wants to share what I've learned. This advice is free, so you get what you pay for. If you want to learn more, visit your doctor or a specialist.

Also, if you're squeamish about female anatomy, you may want to avoid reading on.

There's a Floor to my Pelvis?

When I first started physical therapy, I didn't know what my pelvic floor was. I had practiced Kegels and knew how to contract the muscle that allowed me to hold in my pee, but that was the problem. I was hypertonic, so I knew how to hold it but not how to release it. As embarrassing as it is to admit, I wasn't aware of that muscle in my body.

Above all else, physical therapy allowed me to learn that this muscle exists and that I can control it. This was useful not only for holding in my urine, but also for childbirth prep and sex. Most of my postnatal care focused on toning the weakened muscle after vaginal birth.

Big Belly Blows

Among the first exercises I learned was called the big belly blow. We've all been taught to inflate our stomachs when we breath in and deflate when we breath out. Instead, with a big belly blow, we keep our stomachs inflated when we exhale. This releases the pelvic floor muscle and allows it to widen more easily.

In the chaos of the end of labor, when the nurses coached me to hold my breath and push, I ignored them. Instead, I did a series of big belly blows to open my pelvic floor. I didn't feel a ring of fire and my baby was out in three pushes. And I barely tore.

The Rounds

We all have moments of weakness. For me, it's my sneezing fits first thing in the morning before I've had a chance to pee. When we're most vulnerable is when we need our skills the most.

The rounds consist of four steps that I do at the start of every physical therapist appointment: 1) Squeeze tightly and release. 2) Cough and release. 3) Squeeze tightly, cough while holding, and release. 4) A small push. Not to get uncomfortably graphic, but the doctor first observes me doing the rounds with eyes only, then she feels my strength and range doing the rounds with her finger inside of me. My progress going through the rounds allows the doctor to assess how far I've come and what I still need to work on.

Coughing, laughing, and especially sneezing were killer for me. My husband used to jokingly ask me every time I sneezed whether I had peed myself. He no longer asks because I no longer do.

In Motion

Most of the physical therapy exercises I learned consisted of contracting, holding, and releasing the pelvic floor while in motion: legs opening and closing, one leg lifted and lowered, squatting and standing, and even moving with a yoga/exercise ball between me and a wall. There was a time when I would pee myself squatting down to pick up something from the floor. Not anymore.


The most useful physical therapy technique for me for me was mental. I was to imagine that my vagina was picking up something small like a bean or ping-pong ball. Still imaginarily grasping it, I pulled it up through a series of levels until I reached the top of my pelvic floor elevator. Then I'd bring it back down. Pick up, to level one, up to level two, really strain to get all the way to the top at level three, then back down again, stopping at each level before finally letting the ball go. There was no real ball, of course, nor are there discrete levels in my pelvic floor. Eventually I got to the point where I could bring my pelvic floor from rest to top and back down in two flowing motions.

The Final Exam: Endurance

My last challenge requires stamina. I am to tighten my pelvic floor and bring it to a maximum, hold it for ten seconds, then release. When I can that, I'm to try for 20 seconds. One would think that this would be easy because I routinely hold my pee in for longer than 20 seconds. However, when we hold in pee, we're not at maximum. Bring my pelvic floor all the way to the “top of the elevator” and staying there takes tremendous focus and a good deal of strength. Hopefully, the next time I'm in my physical therapists' office, I can do it.

If you are a mother or mother-to-be suffering from urinary incontinence, I highly recommend seeing a pelvic floor specialist! Not only am I essential back to my pre-pregnancy normal, I no longer experience pain during sexual intercourse, which still amazes me. You carried and birthed or are about to birth a baby. Take care of your fabulous body!