Q&A: maternity leave question

I have no idea why this posted on the wrong site after appearing briefly in people's RSS feeds…. Grr, Typepad.

Thank you guys for the birthday wishes. I had an enjoyably fattening day!

Beth writes:

"My wife is six months pregnant with our first baby and we just
moved for her to take a great
new job. After a year and a half trying to get me pregnant, my wife got
pregnant instantly (yay!) but now our new baby is due, at the absolute
outside, two weeks before my wife hits the one year mark at her job. 
It's a nice company so they aren't pitching a fit about her taking
leave so soon after starting there but, because we won't have hit the
magic one year date, it will only be 60% paid for five weeks at best
(short-term disability) and most likely not paid at all though they are
willing to let her be out of the office for 12 weeks. I am scraping
together as much money as I can to cover us while my wife is home but
we have no idea how much leave she ought to take and her company would
like some kind of estimate. If you factor childcare issues out of the
discussion, (we had long planned for me to stay home and, in fact, I am
already
there; she got pregnant so soon after our move that I hadn't found a
new job yet and then it became clear I was no way going to get anything
for only nine months in a new place with no contacts) how much leave
have other people felt they wanted/needed? How much leave do you think
we might need? What factors proved important? Can you tell we are
flailing here?

If it is at all important to this estimate, my parents will be
coming to stay for at least two weeks after the baby is born and our
best friend will be living with us for the entire summer."

Wow. Congratulations on the quickly-achieved pregnancy for your wife!

My
advice is that she should take as much leave as she possibly can
without putting major financial strain on the family or derailing her
career.

It is impossible to express how difficult and
time-consuming it is to have a newborn, while also recovering from
pregnancy and childbirth. It's just physically exhausting, to start,
and then the whole first few weeks are pretty much a non-stop batch of
worry about everything from feeding to diaper changes to whether the
umbilical cord is healing well to what it means when the baby hiccups
to pacifiers to basically everything. While I know there are women who
have to do it, five weeks seems absolutely inhumane to me, and I would
do whatever I had to to get to 12 weeks at a minimum. (And yes, I know
there are some of you out there who did it on much less, but I'm
betting you'd have had an easier first year or two if you'd had more
time to catch your breath before having to do two jobs.)

Please
note that I think you are going to be fabulous with the baby, and that
I'm assuming your parents and best friend are going to be enormously
helpful with the baby. My concern here isn't really for the baby, since
it seems clear that s/he is going to be well cared-for by all of you.
My concern is for your wife, who really needs time to recover
physically and to get her confidence as a mom and have enough stability
before she starts burning the candle at both ends. It will help her to
have other adults around during her leave, as she'll actually be able
to catch naps and have other people do everything so all she has to do
is nurse and sleep and stay hydrated. But, again, there's no way to
describe how exhausting (physically and mentally and emotionally) those
first few months are. The more space you all together can figure out
how to give her, the less chance she'll have of getting so exhausted
that she falls into PPD.

Do you think her employer might be open
to the possibility of giving her her 12 weeks of FMLA time in chunks,
so that she could go back part-time starting at 9 or 10 weeks and not
start again full-time until 14 or 15 weeks?

What do the rest of
you say? How long did you get to take off? Was it enough to recover?
How long would you take ideally? (And yes, everyone at home with a
newborn secretly or not-so-secretly wishes they could just leave all
day at a certain point. Taking care of babies is HARD, y'all.)

What a difference a year makes

Today's my birthday. I've been reflecting on how vastly different this year is from last year, and how much happier I am.

Last year I was turning 35, and was feeling like a caged animal. I'd started trying to get divorced when I was 33, and here I was turning 35 with no end in sight. We were still slowly grinding through the mediation process, and he was still living in the apartment, and I was coming up on year 3 of sleeping on the couch, and I honestly wasn't sure if I was ever going to be free. The helplessness and hopelessness I felt alternated with my pride in having slogged through so much of the process already, and having made the radical life changes I needed to for myself and my kids.

I don't know if it would have helped me to know where I'd be this year. Yes, I am divorced and thrilled to be myself. I'm not in a fulltime job I don't like anymore. But I'm still in progress, still working on living the life I'd like to be living. I have someone extraordinary and special in my life now, and I know I wouldn't have been able to get to him without all those years of pain and losing. But a year still seems like forever, so knowing a year ago that I'd have to wait a year for that, might still have been too much for me.

But now I'm 36! Here I am, and it's a happy birthday, except that I had to leave waaaaay too early this morning for a job for one of my freelance gigs. (Awesome product, but I wish the training sessions I'm doing for it could start two hours later. But, seriously, I get paid to show people something really cool and useful.) I have the two most amazing boys in the world, and tons of friends, and too many ideas to take advantage of. My real-life friends have been asking what I want for my birthday, and, honestly, the only thing I need (besides an entirely different living space and a full-time assistant or two) is a roll of quarters for laundry. And maybe some chocolate. And for Anoop to get one of the wildcard spots on AI.

Let's also please not forget that I share my birthday with Johnny Cash! So here's my present to you:

Managing stress

Hi. Help.

I've got way too much to do, and not enough time or energy to do it all. Some of it is awesomely fantabulous, and some of it is neutral, and some of it is remarkably odious. But it's all just too much right now.

So how do you guys manage? My coping mechanism from the last, say, 35 years–stress eating–is not serving me well. (Duh.)

I tend to be an "the only  way around it is through it" kind of person, so I don't do much self-care and just try to shove through. But that doesn't seem like a particularly healthy way of dealing with things. I think I've also got some birthday stuff going on (it's tomorrow, and I'm going to write about it tomorrow).

So, suggestions on managing stress? Or just a place to list your stress? It feels like there's an awful lot of kid sleep crap going around now, and a sad number of people who are realizing they may need to have to end their relationships.

Q&A: pacifier/swaddling double-whammie (4-month-old!)

Claire writes:

"Our daughter has always responded well to being swaddled.   Weswaddle her with her arms in at night and out for naps.  She won't
sleep long at night with her arms out – I've tried.  When she's
swaddled, she goes to bed around 7 or 7:30, wakes up once to eat
between 4 and 6 am, and then is up for the day around 7:30.  This is a
perfect schedule, and I'm not complaining about it – I don't even mind
feeding her in the night.  She's quick and goes right back to sleep
with a little cuddling.

So here's the problem – she wakes up anywhere from 2 to 8 times a
night and fusses.  All it takes (usually) is putting her pacifier back
in (in the dark), and leaving the room.  Every once in a while she'll
need to be cuddled back to sleep. 

I don't feel great about letting her cry, because her arms are
swaddled, so she couldn't even put her hand in her mouth if she tried,
and she's way too small to find the pacifier and put it back in (if her
arms were free).  So I'm not sure what to do.  Do I suck it up and
replace the pacifier when she cries (my husband bears the lion's share
of this job) or do I unswaddle her arms, and assume that after a few
nights of bad sleep, she'll get better at finding her hands/holding her
lovey?  Do I need to let her "cry it out" or delay my response time? 
The few times that we've let her cry (for just a few minutes), she
seems to get more and more frantic the longer she cries, so I'm not
sure if letting her cry will even be helpful for her. 

Any advice you have on this would be great!  She's a good sleeper
– this pacifier/self-soothing thing is just frustrating, and I'm not
sure what to do about the swaddle."

In the immortal words of The King (Elvis Presley): You're caught in a trap; you can't walk out. Because you love her too much, baby.

This is one of those completely time-dependent problems. Kids younger than this are so clearly helpless that there wouldn't be a question of replacing the pacifier. And kids older than this have usually broken free of the swaddle (although some kids stay swaddled for months more–if your kid is still happy with the swaddle, then keep going with it). The real issue, though is that the baby's waking up all the time, and that's just because 4-month-olds do wake up all the time. All. The. Time.

That's the real issue here–the 4-month Sleep Regression. Because otherwise, she wouldn't be waking up and realizing the pacifier was out of her mouth. Parents of older babies will testify that they can fall asleep with the pacifier in and have it fall out at a certain point and not realize it, because they're still asleep.

You know I think this whole "force them to cry when other things soothe them better" thing is utter crap, especially at such a young age. All you need is sleep, not to take an ideological stand about some alleged "habit" that's going to change once she goes through the developmental spurt anyway. Essentially, you just need to figure out how to get through this phase without having anyone in your household completely lose it.

If I thought loosening her hands would make her start sucking her thumb or fingers if she couldn't find her pacifier, I'd suggest it, but I've never heard of this happening. Pacifier kids seem to stick with pacis, thumb-suckers (represent!) stick to thumbs, and finger-suckers stick to fingers. PLEASE, if anyone out there has a kid who would switch back and forth to suck different things, post it in the comments, because I'd be interested to hear about your experience.

Also, if your 4-month-old can find her own pacifier or lovey in the crib in the dark in the middle of the night, strap yourself in because you are raising a true super-genius. Most 9-month-olds can't find their missing pacis or loveys, so if your daughter could at this age it would be an indicator that she was another Doogie Howser.

Basically, I'm saying that you're kind of stuck right now. I mean, you could try to wean her off the pacifier entirely, but that would really suck at a time that no one's getting much sleep anyway. Same with weaning her off the swaddle. And making her cry, when other things get her to sleep just fine and without stress, just makes no sense. The good news is that she'll start sleeping better in general in a week or two, so this won't be a huge issue anymore. You probably just want to divide up the pacifier replacement job (*cough* trained assistant monkeys *cough*) so neither of you takes the hit all the time. And keep lobbying for better parental leave in this country, because it's just ridiculously unfair that everyone has to be back at work at the exact time a baby's sleep goes haywire.

Anyone else feeling the pinch of 4-month-old sleep? Is it just me, or did a lot of people's babies wake up cartoonishly early this morning?

Q&A: MIL not taking good care of toddler

Ashley writes:

"I just got a phone call from DH and since I hung up, I've beenasking myself "WWMD?" Instead of wondering, I thought I'd just go
straight to the source. Here's the issue:

The background: My MIL has been watching Baby Girl one day a week
since I went back to work after her birth. Baby Girl is 13 months old
now – almost walking, crawling all over and trying to climb whatever
she can find. MIL has always been somewhat ditzy – to the point where
we don't feel comfortable letting MIL watch BG at MIL's house, but have
been fine with her at our house.

Today, DH got a call at work from MIL asking how to turn on the
TV. This is a weekly occurance and he didn't think anything of it. When
he didn't hear BG in the background he asked MIL if she was napping.
MIL responded that no, she was either in her bedroom or the bathroom,
she wasn't sure. DH told MIL that she needed to check and needed to
make sure the bathroom door was closed. BG likes to try to grab her
bath toys out of the tub and can lean pretty far in. We're worried that
she might fall in and hurt her head or neck. MIL agreed and then made a
comment about how she was doing something earlier and heard BG scream
from the other room like she had hurt herself. When MIL went into the
living room, she couldn't find BG. Comment #2 made red flags go up all
over the place for DH, so after he got off the phone with MIL, he
called me to ask what we should do.

If it MIL was a paid employee, we'd be looking for
another caregiver. But she's not. She's our daughter's grandmother, so
feelings are involved. We know we (DH, really, it's his mom & he
agrees) need to talk to MIL, we just don't know what that convo needs
to be. Does it need to be "Thanks for your help thus far, but we've
decided to put her in daycare on your day too" or should it be a clear
statement of our expectations and a warning? And if it's #2, how do we
check to make sure everything is really okay? I hate the idea of
worrying about my daugher all day while I'm at work.

So, WWMD? Thanks!"

(I've been so conditioned by US politics that I read "WWMD?" as "What Weapons of Mass Destruction?" Sigh.)

I used to teach and develop materials for standardized tests. One of the sample questions we used involved a clock that chimed the hour. At one point in the question, the clock chimed 13, and that meant that you couldn't trust any of the previous chimes to tell the hour, because the clock was faulty. So "the thirteenth chime" became shorthand for something that called a whole process into question.

To me, the scream and then not being able to find BG is the thirteenth chime. It's clear to me that you can't keep MIL as caregiver for one day a week. If BG was 5, it would be different. Or even 3 and old enough to tell you what was going on. But at 13 months old, she's the perfect storm of old enough to get into a ton of danger but not old enough to either get herself out of danger or tell you what's going on.

It also seems to me that stating expectations and warning her are probably not going to be effective. Since she loves BG, she's probably taking care of her the best she can already. It's not like a paid caregiver who may be slacking off because it's just a paid gig to her, who will step it up if she wants to keep the job.

The issue seems to be how to remove MIL from the situation without tearing apart your relationships with her. I'm going to assume that the direct approach ("We don't feel you are taking competent care of BG") is out of the question because MIL is probably operating at her max already. So now, do you approach it in a more gentle, oblique way? Or do you just rearrange the situation somehow so that MIL can't reasonably care for BG?

If I got the idea that MIL was trying to control you guys, BG, or the situation, it would seem like you needed to draw some definite boundaries. But I don't get that feeling from your email. So I might try to do something that made it impossible for MIL to care for BG anymore, so you could express regret about it but not have her in the situation anymore. I'm thinking about something like working different hours if you can, signing BG up for some kind of classes or program that conflict with MIL's time (or that she can't get BG to), or something like that. It's the same technique you use with a kid–instead of saying "I want you to go to bed" you say "The clock tells us that it's time to go to bed" and then there's no element of control in the interaction and it's not personal.

So what do you guys think? Again, I'm coming at this from the perspective that it seems like they really want to preserve the best relationship possible with MIL and not hurt her feelings in any way or draw any symbolic boundaries, they just don't want her to be sole caregiver for BG anymore.

What would have kept you in your job?

Here's a question for anyone who did not return to their former job after having a child, whether you planned to or not: Why did you not go back? And is there anything that could have kept you?

And don't be afraid to list things that would have kept you, no matter how unrealistic they seem. (For example, when I left my last full-time job, the only way I'd have stayed is if my job duties had completely changed, I'd have gotten a different immediate boss, and I'd gotten a 75% percent raise. Not realistic at all.)

Feel free to comment if you left a job at any point after having a child, even if your child was way older than baby age when you went.

Also, please put whether  you're in the US or in a country with longer maternity/paternity leave. I have a suspicion that countries with longer leaves experience more parents going back to their previous jobs, but don't know if that's true or not.

Q&A: Too much crying from an almost-4-year-old?

Caro writes:

"Ihave a question about crying. My daughter (4 in May) is a sensitive and
really expressive kid. My concern is that her reactions to things like
fingernail cutting, hair brushing, and very minor bumps and scrapes, as
well as small non-physical disappointments, are often over the top. She
cries and cries and cries, and loudly. Although she sounds quite
convincingly traumatized, my sense is that this is somewhat under her
control—if something interesting happens to distract her, she turns it
off like a faucet and then (often) turns it right back on again when
the interruption is over. For the hair brushing and nail clipping, I
just do it as gently as I can while she screams. For the bumps (I’m
talking about falling and hitting her knee, but not even a scrape) and
disappointments, I give her some initial sympathy and snuggles, but she
wants to scream and cry for ten minutes, and I mean loudly, as though
she’s broken her leg, and I feel manipulated, and my ears hurt.

Lately I’ve been telling her that
I’ll hug and snuggle her as much as she needs, but I can’t do it while
she’s yelling in my ear, and if she wants to keep crying I leave her on
the couch to calm herself down until she’s ready to ask for a hug. And
more and more often I’ve been saying, “It’s ok that you feel sad/mad
about x, and I want to hear you talk about it, but it isn’t ok to
scream and cry about it for this long. It hurts my ears/is
disrespectful to all the other people in the grocery
store/lockerroom/post office/etc.”

“It’s ok to cry” is supposed to be
some kind of truism, though, right? I hate the idea of telling her it’s
sometimes not ok, because I don’t know that she can really grasp that
the emotion is ok but that way of expressing it isn’t. And I know that
what seems like a small disappointment or hurt to a grown up can seem
huge to a child. In public places I feel pretty justified in kindly
asking her to can it; I’m teaching her about appropriate public
behavior and respect for others. But at home it’s mainly for my own
convenience and emotional comfort that I’m asking her to keep the tears
in, and that seems sort of wrong. And yet I’m fed up with hearing the
wailing go on and on.

What are your thoughts on this?"

My thoughts are that this sounds *exactly* like my younger son, who will also be 4 in May.

I think that this crocodile tears stage is part of the horrible, very bad, no good 3 1/2-year-old stage. I wonder if kids this age just don't know how to deal with their emotions, but the crying kind of gets them into a physical rhythm that's simultaneously soothing and escalating. So they start crying to make themselves feel better, but then they actually get into a loop and have a hard time stopping.

Whatever it is, it's super-annoying. I told my son the other day that if he wanted to cry he could do it in his bedroom, but not in the living room with his brother and me because it was hurting our ears. It's just maddening, especially when you know it's not anything worth *that* much angst. No matter how comfortable and easy you are with helping your child get out his or her emotions, at a certain point it just becomes counter-productive, and 3 1/2 seems to be that age. Crying is good, true, but not if it's just this kind of habitual "I don't know any other way to process it so I'm going to kind of drone on wanly" kind of thing.

Things I've done with some success are: only allow crying in another room (he can still cry if he wants, but not where the rest of us are), distract him by asking questions about future plans (because if he really wants to tell me about being a cat named Owen he'll stop crying and tell me about it), or pretending to cry crocodile tears myself (which makes him mad at me so he stops crying and moves on to the next thing). I'm not sure that last one is an optimal parenting technique, but it doesn't seem to be hurting him, and it sometimes makes him laugh.

Is anyone else going through this? How did you strike the balance between being supportive when something was actually wrong and discouraging crying just to be annoying? Who wants to invest some seed money in my Preschooler Boarding School concept? Franchises available for purchase across the globe…

(Oh, and just because I forgot to say it: This too shall pass.)

Peek contest winner

By a pseudo-scientific drawing process, my kids drew: sueinithaca

I considered just having my older son pick a number between 2 and 32, but realized that would skew toward numbers 2-10, so he wrote down all the names on slips of paper (a good writing practice project for a first grader), and we put them in a mixing bowl, and his younger brother drew out one slip.

I have already emailed Sue. And now we're going to get some lunch, and then later I'll post an actual post. I traveled yesterday and am moving reeeeaaalllllly slowly today. (Fortunately there's no school in NYC today.)

Q&A: “Sleep doula”?

Stef writes:

I recently attended a "meeting" with a sleep doula with a group of friends…  I have 2 questions for you because none of my friends can answer them for me:

1.  what exactly is a doula?  is there any training, school, certification etc. required to call yourself a doula or can anyone wake up one day, print some business cards and start charging ridiculous amounts of money to dole out sleep advice to weary parents?

2.  Have you ever heard of any actual medical research studies that link pacifier use in babies under 3 to drug addiction later in life?  (Yes, this is the advice given out by the doula…)

Hahahahahahahahaha. Let me address the second question first (as I'm wont to do): No, I've never heard of this, and I call bullshit. Really? Drug addiction from using pacifiers? If there's anyone out there with actual research backing this up, please post a link, as I'd be very interested in seeing this (as would the organizations that have been recommending pacifier use as correlating with lower incidence of SIDS, I'm sure).

From a practical standpoint, some babies just have a really strong sucking need. And it's either the thumb or the pacifier, and some kids won't find their thumbs. 

Honestly, of all the things you have to worry about as a parent, pacifier use or non-use doesn't even rank as something worth spending your time on. How much sleep you're getting, the state of your marriage/partnership/singlehood, childcare, just how contaminated and unsafe every thing we eat is, global warming, unsafe toys, child labor and exploitation, skateboarding injuries, bullies at school, whether your child's hitting appropriate milestones, how the heck you're going to save for retirement, how you're going to pay your rent or mortgage next month, what's going to happen to the extra 5 pounds on your belly that won't budge since you had a baby, how to help that mom in your playgroup who seems to be flirting with the edge of PPD, the economy–all this stuff is worth thinking about. Pacifier use, notsomuch. 

Now, on to doulas. "Doula" is a Greek word meaning "woman who serves" and in its modern meaning it's someone you pay (usually) to help you with something. There are two types of doulas in common usage. the first is a birth doula, who is a woman (usually) who stays with you during labor and delivery to act as your advocate. She has to go through training in common and uncommon birth situations, and makes it so that your partner can be with you, while she helps interpret the medical stuff and helps you evaluate any choices you have to make without being biased or hampered by hospital practice.

If I hadn't had my mother with me (who is pretty educated about birth stuff and also a strong advocate for me) I'd have hired a doula for my births, and cannot recommend them enough as a way to make sure decisions are made in your best interest. Doulas are helpful whether you're having a scheduled C-section, a homebirth, a hospital birth with an epidural, or any kind of situation. They are certified by DONA International and you can read all about their standards of practice here.

The other kind of doula is a postpartum doula. Her job is to come for 3-5 hours a few days a week for a week or two or three (or six) after you have the baby to help you set up routines and get back on your feet so you can take care of your baby. She does NOT take care of the baby (except for holding the baby while you nap or shower), but instead takes care of you so you can start being the mom with more confidence. They are required to take classes in common breastfeeding problems (so they can help you know when to call in a lactation consultant or if it's something normal like cluster-feeding), newborn health issues, PPD symptoms, etc. They also do things for you like laundry, cooking (including making meals and sticking them in your freezer), cleaning, addressing thank-you cards, helping you figure out where to put all your supplies for maximum efficiency, being another adult human in the house during the day, and buffering you from people who could cause you stress in that hormone-addled newborn period.

Again, my mom served that function for me, but I would consider the money absolutely well-spent to hire a postpartum doula if I didn't have a relative or friend I could trust to help me out without adding to my stress. Postpartum doulas are also certified by DONA International, and you can read about their standards and practices here.

I have never heard of a sleep doula. My suspicion is that this is a new way of referring to someone who considers him or herself an expert in baby sleep and helping parents to get their babies to sleep. Which is a good thing. The problem, as I see it, is if a sleep doula/helper thinks that all babies can or should sleep the same way and tells parents that. Because, honestly, you could get the same guilt-inducing line by buying one of the sleep dogma books (you know the ones I mean–Weissbluth, Sears, Hogg, etc.) for a whole lot less money. If, however, the sleep doula is helping you through the process of figuring out how your particular kid is inclined to sleep and how you can work with that, then that's going to be a useful help for you.

I'd be really hesitant about trusting advice from anyone who is so anti-pacifier that they tell you pacifier use is correlated to drug use without and serious research. So, as usual, the moral of the story is Do Your Research, and if it sounds like crap to you, just say "That's interesting advice–thank you" and move on until you find something that makes sense for your particular child.

Anyone want to comment on doulas in general, or specific kinds of doulas? And, again, if there is any actual research-based evidence on pacifier use and drug use please post it.

Peek review and contest

So the people over at Peek sent me one to test out, and I've been using it for a few days. The Peek is a little handheld device that allows you to have mobile email access.

I think it's a good solution to a specific problem. If you'd like to have access to your email while you're away from a computer with internet access but don't need an integrated phone and don't need web access or other features, then Peek might be perfect for you.

Peek looks a lot like a calculator, but with a bigger screen and a QWERTY keypad. The main screen is your inbox, but you can also check your sent messages file. It's refreshingly low-tech for a gadget, and I learned all the features in about five minutes, with no need for a 20-something or child assistant. (It's so easy that I'm actually thinking of getting one for my mom.)

It took me 4 minutes to set it up and connect it to my Gmail account (once I got it out of the stupid plastic package, which took 3 minutes). You can set it to make a sound or stay silent (and just have the light flash) when you get a new email. The battery lasts a long time once you charge it fully. You can change the background to one of a few different color schemes so it's easier for you to see.

I had a few complaints, but they were pretty minor. The keyboard feels a little stiff to me, and it took awhile before I thought I was getting the right technique for putting pressure on the keys. I wish there was a way to know if I'd replied to an email just by looking at the list view of my in-box and not having to flip to the sent mail folder. (My other complaint is that numbers and symbols are in different places on the Peek than they are on my BlackBerry and that slowed me way down, but I'm guessing most people who get Peek won't also have a BBerry so it won't be a problem.) Since there's no web access, if people send you links you'll have to wait to see them until you get back to your computer.

But overall, if all you want is mobile access to your email, it's a neat little solution that's reasonably-priced and easy to use. Right now Peeks are going for $49.74 apiece when you buy a month of service (each month is $19.95, with no contract).

So here's the contest: Post in the comments a story–funny, sad, touching, outrageous, sweet–of some kind of romance-related communication. (Be sure to post a valid email in the "Email" field, but if you want to be anonymous put www.fake.com or www.google.com in the URL field–that way I can see your email to let you know if you won, but readers can't.) Everyone who posts has an equal chance to win, as I'm going to have one of my kids pick the winner randomly from everyone who enters. I'll close comments on Sunday night, and will announce the winner on Wednesday.

The winner will get, courtesy of the Peek people, two red Peeks, one for you and one for a partner or friend.