I See You, Fear

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I see you, fear.

Fear is so important to our survival when we’re babies, and so damn worthless most of the rest of our lives for those of us fortunate to have a safe place to live and enough to eat.

Afraid the other kids won’t like us. Then, as parents, afraid the kids won’t like our kids and scared the parents won’t like us.

Afraid to leave for college. To choose the wrong career path. Afraid to marry the wrong person. Afraid to be alone.

I see you, fear.

Terrified of childbirth. Of infertility. Of being a parent. Of losing ourselves, whatever that means.

Scared we’re not doing this parenting thing “right”. That our kids’ birthday parties aren’t cool enough. That we haven’t baby-proofed hard enough. That something horrible will happen.

We’re even afraid we’re not fearful enough.

I see you, fear.

But you know what? You’ve taken enough, and never give anything worthwhile in return.

So you can hang out in the background, but you’re not in charge. You can’t suck the fun out of the little moments that make this thing called life so awesome. You’re not going to destroy the major milestones, either, or tear us away from working towards our goals and fighting to make a difference in people’s lives.

I see you, fear. And I don’t fear you.

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Motherhood Has Made Me Much More Sensitive

kids
Aren’t they cuddly, though?

 

As published in Romper.

Before having kids, I was kind of a badass. I wouldn’t say I had a black heart, but my heart might have been singed a little bit around the edges. I didn’t know that motherhood would change me, turning my singed heart soft and red, maybe even with cute little sequins. Motherhood has turned me into a big old softy.

My first career out of college was a court and public safety newspaper reporter. In that role, I reported on some gnarly incidents and trials, like murders, brutal assaults, and crimes against children, without so much as blinking. I quickly became emotionally “hard” because I had to be. I had to protect myself from becoming too involved in the stories I covered for my own well-being.

My emotional toughness extended well beyond the courtroom walls. I prided myself on not shedding a tear at weddings, and even funerals if the person who died wasn’t especially close to me. I just didn’t allow myself to experience the full emotional impact of situations that pull at the heartstrings. I thought of other things instead and gave permission to feel removed from the circumstances I encountered.

I didn’t understand that once I had children, separating myself emotionally from heart-wrenching and even heart-warming moments would no longer be an option. Motherhood has made me so much more sensitive.

From the minute we smell our newborns for the first time, or snuggle our adopted toddler, or watch them smile, or hear them laugh, or think of the miracle it was that they found life in this world with us, parents know a unique brand of love that we won’t ever forget.

As a parent, I empathize with every other parent out there. Although I’m not directly experiencing the panic of losing a child in the grocery store and the knee-weakening relief of finding the child again, or worse, I can’t help but put myself in that parent’s shoes. Every news story, each TV commercial with a slightly sappy premise, and every song on the radio speaks to me differently now. And they don’t even have to be about a child for me to dissolve into a pool of sniffly tears.

NOW THAT I’M A PARENT, I SEE THE CHILD IN EVERYONE.

Now that I’m a parent, I see the child in everyone. I realize that the lonely old man in the airline commercial waiting for his grown children to come visit him was once someone’s child. The fact that the man is old becomes secondary to him being lonely, and in him, I see my own 5-year-old son when his best friend at school won’t play with him. I see and feel the unifying emotions at the core of people, instead of just their superficial outer shells.

It’s clear that parenthood molded me into this mushy, sensitive person, but how? I believe that loving someone as vulnerable as a baby, who fully depends on you as their parent or caregiver to protect them from any and all harm, helps a person better appreciate the fragility of life.

From the minute we smell our newborn for the first time, or snuggle our adopted toddler, or watch them smile, or hear them laugh, or think of the miracle it was that they found life in this world with us, parents know a unique brand of love that we won’t ever forget. In turn, we know that the parent we are learning about in any given newspaper story, or the fictional parent we’re reading about in a novel, must experience that same unique brand of love we feel for our children.

IF WE’RE GOING TO RAISE CARING YOUNG PEOPLE, WE BETTER DAMN WELL BE CARING OURSELVES.

I believe parenthood does us a service by making us feel so deeply, and bringing children into this world and raising them is the act of uncovering our inner empathy and leaving it raw and exposed, again and again and again, every single day, for the rest of our lives.

There’s a reason why so many of us parents’ guilty pleasure is ugly crying while binge watching This Is Us. Feeling strong emotions not only is good, it literally feels good. Feeling is about living fully, experiencing every bump and curve in the road and sitting nothing out. Life is full of emotions, and nowhere is this so acutely demonstrated than in parenthood, through a baby’s adorable first laugh or the joy and heartache of your last child leaving the house for college. It’s a roller coaster ride of feels, and there’s no “chicken” exit once we have children. We’re stuck on the ride, like it or not. But I feel we are better because of the ups and downs of parenthood.

I thought I was strong before I had kids, because I didn’t cry and kept my emotions on the back burner. I now see that heightened emotions are an advantage of parenthood. Not only does being sensitive make us more alert to our children’s emotions and able to comfort them, it helps us be more aware of the emotions of everyone we encounter. This heightened sensitivity helps us be better people in general, even if that’s as simple as buying someone who seems to be having a bad day a cup of coffee.

If we’re going to raise caring young people, we better damn well be caring ourselves.

A Farewell Letter to my Pre-baby Body

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Not a scary vein in sight...

As published in Romper.

Dear Pre-Baby Body,

I took you for granted, pre-baby body. I poked and prodded you and stuffed you with junk food, and every time, without fail, you’d bounce back like a Slinky. But after kids, my body is about as pliable as twice kiln-fired clay. It bloats. It sags. It pooches. It stays poochy. A 9-pound human form filling one’s abdominal cavity has a way of causing permanent change, in a way that a dorm meal could never hope to do.

I thought you’d always be here. I figured you’d never get wrinkles, or sag in weird places, or get bulges. You’ve never been super-skinny, or super-fit, and you never had a taut butt; most of the time, it was so flat that I was constantly at risk of flashing my butt crack out of the top of my sagging jeans. Nonetheless, I thought you’d always be there for me, with your smooth if not less than perfect form.

In high school, everything hurt me: boys, school, mean girls. But nothing affected you. You held firm, even with my regular diet of Cherry Coke, individual pizzas and Skittles. I barely exercised. If laziness was a sport in high school, I probably would’ve gotten a varsity letter. But still, my weight and my waistline remained untouched.

In college, I practically lived on cafeteria slop, alcohol and Cheez-Its. I’d beat you up night after night. I gained weight and lost it again. You got mad at me. You even made me sick sometimes. But I always bounced back. You always forgave me.

Then I got pregnant, and you disappeared. So I’d like to send you off with this goodbye letter.

Before I got pregnant, I could jump without wetting my pants. Hell, I could even run. I never had to worry about peeing myself while laughing at a funny movie, because you were oh so wonderfully un-leaky. But those days are gone now.

Before I had my babies, my breasts didn’t so much hang as sit firmly on my chest. There wasn’t a prominent blue boob vein to be seen. The nipples weren’t the least bit purple or stretched out or cracked, and they pointed straight out instead of down.

Of course, once I got pregnant, my nipples turned purple within the first few months and they never fully returned to their pre-baby state. So thanks for that, body.

Remember, pre-baby body, how I used to groom you so lovingly? I’d start by treating you to a long, steamy shower, with every delicious-smelling body product imaginable. Then I would shave your legs, using real shaving cream instead of lather from a pube-covered bar of soap. And speaking of pubes, remember how we used to trim and then shave those, too?

I took you for granted, pre-baby body. I poked and prodded you and stuffed you with junk food, and every time, without fail, you’d bounce back like a Slinky.

These days, of course, I’m a lot more busy. I have kids. Long, leisurely, grooming-filled showers are a thing of the past. If I shave my underarms every few days, that’s pretty much as good as it gets. I hope you don’t mind, body, but after all, it is winter. We can totally rock leg hair and no one will notice, right? And if man buns could become a trend, why couldn’t long pubic hair? Pubic buns, anyone?

Remember, too, pre-baby body, how I used to give us pedicures every couple of weeks? Our toes were always so adorable. I still have that oversized makeup bag full of nail polishes I used to use, only now those polishes are pretty crusty and don’t see much use.

My bones ache. I’m tired, and not the kind of tired that sleeping until noon on a Saturday can fix. I’m tired to my core. Sleeping in will Never. Happen. Again.

Nothing is the same since you left, pre-baby body, but I don’t miss you. You see, my purple nipples have fed and comforted each of my children on countless long nights. That fat bulge on my hip makes a perfect baby seat. My hair doesn’t need to smell like coconut conditioner, because it smells like me and that’s comforting to my kids. And my feet aren’t cute, but they still do a passable job stepping around Legos on the floor.

Goodbye forever, pre-baby body. You’ve served me well, but I don’t need you anymore.

Fondly,

Samantha

I Tried to Induce Labor Using Methods I Learned Online

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Heeeeeeelp meeeee, induction techniques!

As featured in Romper.

Castor oil. Nipple stimulation. Have sex while little hands play tether ball with your bladder. There’s so much advice for inducing labor to be found online that it was impossible not to want to try them out. In my experience, natural methods to induce labor often read more like a schedule of activities for a torture chamber than tasks I’d willingly tackle. Why don’t pregnant women just wait until their babies are ready to be born and not hurry Mother Nature along? I wondered in my pre-pregnancy state. I pondered what the big deal was about waiting an extra few days, or even a week or two, for my baby’s birth.

After more than 40 weeks of pregnancy with my first child, however, I suddenly was in a more understanding (and bloated) position. I couldn’t go five minutes without feeling like my bladder was bursting. The kicks felt like the baby was trying to launch a field goal into my spine. Sleeping and eating were difficult because the baby was taking up so much space in my body, making me acutely uncomfortable. Once I passed 40 weeks and started maternity leave from work, I was ready to try “natural” induction techniques. I believed my body would eventually go into labor on its own, but I selfishly didn’t want to wait anymore.

The Experiment

Since I’d enjoyed frequenting my online pregnancy and baby communities from my first positive pregnancy test until the time I was overdue, I once again turned to the internet for advice on inducing labor. I loved how the baby boards were full of supportive women who understood a pregnant mom’s circumstances, and were available at all hours to commiserate with aches and pains and indigestion complaints. More importantly, many of them had been there and done that, including labor induction. So, I did what any woman in my position would do:  I tried to induce labor based on advice I’d read online.

Method #1: Squatting And Stretching

These variations on the popular walking technique to induce labor caught my attention on my online baby boards because of how easy and safe they seemed. I also loved that they were slightly more interesting than just walking. I remember being mesmerized by a video of a woman trying to dance and squat her way into labor at more than nine months pregnant. Because I’d waited until I was just past 40 weeks and finished with my last day at work before maternity leave, there was basically no more walking around the house or neighborhood for me. So I turned to the next best piece of advice: squatting.

I’d “squat walk” my way to the kitchen to get a snack. I’d squat my way around the neighborhood. I’d bounce and stretch on my exercise ball in front of the TV every chance I got. These exercises did bring on more intense and frequent Braxton Hicks contractions, and made me feel like the baby was scooting slightly lower in my belly, but did not fully induce labor to start. At least, not immediately.

I went into early labor in the middle of the night a couple of days later, and it was unclear whether the squats and stretches scooted the onset of labor along any sooner.

Method #2: Nipple Stimulation

While pregnant with my son, I experimented with nipple stimulation to try to make my very early labor progress quicker. I’d read this technique on several different online pregnancy boards, and in various internet articles. I was horrified at first because the thought of pinching leaky, crusty, tender nipples made me squeamish. Once very mild and far apart contractions started, though, I decided to give the technique a try while in the shower to help progress labor.

Online articles I’d read on nipple stimulation explained that rolling or kneading nipples releases Oxytocin, a hormone that can cause uterine contractions. This process usually takes place when breastfeeding after birth, and helps the uterus return to pre-pregnancy size. The techniques warned that the contractions caused by nipple stimulation could be intense. Still, I decided to give it a try because I was already past my due date and ready for birth.

Within a minute or so, I managed to bring on a stronger contraction than I’d had. But after a few more minutes of nipple stimulation and a few irregular contractions later, I stopped and stepped out of the shower. I felt nipple stimulation just wasn’t comfortable and sustainable for all that long. Was I supposed to wait in the shower until it worked?

When all was said and done and I had a baby in my arms, I felt like nipple stimulation did definitely prompt some increased contraction action, and studies I read claimed nipple stimulation can make some labors quicker overall. Maybe if I’d “stimulated” a little longer, I could have shaved some time off my 35-hour labor. I didn’t keep going with the stimulation, though, because it wasn’t a practice I felt I could comfortably sustain for long.

Method #3: Evening Primrose Oil

Flash forward four years later to my ninth month of pregnancy with my second child, my daughter. This time around, I started my maternity leave a couple of weeks sooner, and was ready to start inducing labor at 39 weeks. I’d read about evening primrose oil in my online birthing communities, and how some pregnant women massaged the oil from the capsules into their cervixes to ripen it as part of their daily routine. Some women claimed to have gone into labor hours after inserting the oil, so I figured, why not?

When a friend offered to give me the remainder of her bottle of unused evening primrose oil capsules, I was intrigued. I broke up a capsule and put the oil on my cervix each night of my 39 week of pregnancy. A few days in to the practice, subtle contractions began and lasted on and off for two days before I went to the hospital and gave birth an hour-and-half after I arrived. Did the evening primrose oil make a difference? Hard to tell, but it certainly didn’t hinder the process.

Method #4: Mexican Hot Chocolate And Eating Pineapple

I read in various online articles and baby boards that eating pineapple could possibly ripen the cervix through stimulating lipids in the cervix. More interestingly, some women on my baby boards swore up and down that Mexican hot chocolate was a sure-fire way to jump start labor. We happened to have a fruit bowl in the fridge with pineapple in it, and some Mexican hot chocolate in the cupboard. I figured, why not give them a try?

On the second day of strong on-and-off contractions with my daughter that never seemed to get close enough together to warrant a trip to the hospital, I washed down the pineapple with the steaming hot chocolate. Several hours later, following a night watching fireworks (it was the Fourth of July), I was at last hit with heavy and undoubtable labor. My daughter was born just 90 minutes after we arrived at the hospital.

Did Taking The Internet’s Advice Work?

Having tried a number of natural labor induction methods over the course of two pregnancies, I’m still not clear how effective any of them were. Sure, nipple stimulation caused a few strong contractions, and I went into active labor hours after drinking hot chocolate and eating pineapple, but I’d also been in early labor for two days by that point. Maybe it was the obscenely loud neighborhood fireworks that provided the final push — now there was a recommendation for my baby boards!

The lesson I took away from my labor induction experiences was simply: do what feels right to you and follows whatever medical advice you believe. There might not be a magic switch to turn on labor, but several natural techniques could be helpful to try, too. At the very least, fireworks and a cup of hot chocolate are a decent way to pass the time waiting for baby’s arrival. I mean, it worked for me.

Hi, I’m The Mom of the Bad Kid

sad schoolboy waiting in the schoolyard,selective focus

As featured in Huffington Post Parents

 

We all know the kid. They were in every class we had in school growing up.

They’re in our kids’ classes now.

Pushing kids on the playground. Refusing to listen to the teacher.

Getting sent to the principal’s office.

The bad kid. We always wonder, whose kid is that, and why do they act like that? My kid would never act like that, we think. Until they do.

I have an embarrassing confession to make: that “bad kid” is mine.

Children who act out can be easy to put in a box and to develop stereotypes about. We as a society are often quick to assume the child must be emotionally disturbed or have parents at home who don’t care or don’t try hard enough to teach their kids right from wrong.

Before my almost 5-year-old developed behavior issues in daycare at 3, I was a parent who judged parents of difficult children. “They’re probably the type of parents who let their kids walk around the house with a giant bag of flaming hot cheese puffs,” I’d think. Worse, I’d assume they screamed at their kids at home or ignored them entirely. Maybe even that the parents were physically abusive to their kids.

These were parents who shouldn’t have been, I thought, who fell pregnant and stumbled through dealing with the small humans who resulted from their carelessness.

This wasn’t me. I’d grown up in a loving home with parents who just celebrated 35 years of marriage. Most of my family are teachers. Getting my name on the board for talking once a year was as much trouble as I found myself in. I knew that when I’d have kids, they’d be good students, too. Why wouldn’t they?

My son was the baby everyone hopes they’ll have and few do. He was calm and mellow, sleeping through the night by six weeks old. He hardly fussed.

He blossomed into a bright, loving and active toddler.

When he turned 3, however, and moved into a new class at preschool as he struggled with potty training, his anxieties resulting from the transition surfaced. He became rough with other children and teachers while he struggled to make new friends and feel some control over his life. He began throwing temper tantrums.

My husband and I started to receive phone calls from the teachers when they found themselves unable to calm his tantrums. The preschool didn’t believe in timeouts. Instead, they’d just talk to him about his behavior, which proved ineffective.

As my son made friends and became used to the changing preschool structure, his behavior improved and the sweet, loving boy we knew him to be returned.

Recently, my son started transitional kindergarten, which is a sort of “kindergarten before kindergarten” for kids whose fall birthdays make them just barely too young for kindergarten in my state.

Here at last was the strict structure and behavior consequences I’d been seeking. There were behavior charts and clips that moved up and down them. There were stickers and small toys for good behavior, and timeouts and even principal office visits for bad behavior.

My husband and I walked my smiling son up to his first day of school, baby sister in tow. He was so excited. So were we.

Just days later, the first phone call came from the school.

Your son dropped an “F” bomb and wouldn’t listen to the teacher, they said. He was sent to the principal’s office. Already? We were devastated.

We talked to our son about his behavior. We took away his privileges after school. No TV. No treats after dinner. Still, he acted out. Coming close to bullying other children as he tried to make new friends again. Throwing temper tantrums and chairs as he tried to regain control of something, anything, in his new environment.

Then came the scheduling of a parent-teacher-principal conference. All in the first two weeks of school.

My husband and I showed up for the conference in our work clothes. Ready to listen. Desperate to help our child. Not at all the delinquent parents I’d thought “bad kids” have. The principal told us she found our son’s behavior “very concerning for a 4-year-old.” He was using curse words correctly, she said. He didn’t show any fear of her or the teachers.

Really, he’s a good boy, I told them. He’s just going through a tough time of transition. They looked at me blankly. Disbelieving. He was the bad kid, and they knew it.

At home he generally continued to be the sweet boy we loved. Sure, he could be moody and defiant, but mostly he loved to present his dad and me with his artwork gifts, and snuggle in bed at night as we read stories. He clearly wore his emotions, good or bad, on his sleeve. It was just who he was.

It broke my heart to know the school teachers and administrators thought of my child as the “bad kid,” a label that I knew from having so many teacher relatives could stick with him indefinitely. My precocious, smart, funny, affectionate boy, with his bewitching green eyes, could be forced to wear the “bad kid” label throughout his school years. All because of a rough patch as a young child.

Determined to help our son every way we can, my husband and I set up a system with his transitional kindergarten teacher in which she sends home daily letters on his behavior and we respond accordingly with rewards or punishment. So far, the daily follow up seems to be helping. As does piling on extra hugs and kisses and attention.

My experience with my son’s behavior has taught me that kids can act out for a number of reasons, even with devoted parents who are mortified by their child’s behavior. Even when the child is not seriously emotionally disturbed.

Most importantly, I’ve learned that “bad kids” generally aren’t at all.

At This Point, I’m Breastfeeding More For Me

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She’s kind of over nursing, but I’m not.

As featured in Romper.

Starting out with a newborn just over a year ago, breastfeeding was much more than something I did. It was a way of life. Every decision I made at that time took breastfeeding into consideration. Going to the store, heading to bed, even eating breakfast, I had to ask myself first: had the baby eaten? Did she get enough? Could she spare me for a few minutes or hours? I breastfed to sustain my baby. Though I generally enjoyed breastfeeding even in the early months, the endeavor was undoubtedly exhausting and all-consuming. I was all about my newborn, and so was breastfeeding at that point. In the year that followed and brought my baby’s rapid development, however, my breastfeeding relationship with my daughter changed. I have to admit, these days I breastfeed more for me than for her.

Breastfeeding was something my baby and I both had to work hard at. We started out smoothly enough, but at her one-week doctor’s checkup I was shocked to learn that she’d lost more than a pound off her birth weight. She was a content newborn who almost immediately slept through the night if I let her. And I was ashamed to admit that I did let her sleep through the night, thinking she must be receiving enough milk to stay down for that long without fussing.

Breastfeeding wasn’t just for her. I loved it too. She was my last baby and I knew it, and I relished my time on maternity leave from work, breastfeeding her on the couch and watching Netflix, or feeding her in bed watching her chubby cheeks bob as she sucked.

My baby’s typically unflappable pediatrician was concerned by her weight loss, and I followed his orders to wake her up every few hours at night for feedings and made an appointment with a lactation consultant to help with different breastfeeding positions that would help my daughter gain weight. I snuggled my warm little diaper-clad daughter in the lactation consultant’s office every week, stuffing my nipple shield-covered breast in her mouth in a variety of different breastfeeding positions. Then I’d wait with bated breath as she was weighed to see how much milk she was getting. A half-ounce per side at first. One ounce as we continued to work at it.

My priority at that time was to make sure my baby was drinking enough breast milk, and my baby and I made a great team in making that happen. With the aid of a little formula, she blossomed into a chubby baby in just a few weeks. I was proud of us for pushing through the difficult patch and making breastfeeding work. And not only did she thrive physically on my breast milk, she also loved the comfort and closeness of breastfeeding. My daughter was most content in my arms, and wearing her in a front carrier was a sure way to calm her down on the rare occasion when nothing else soothed her.

 But breastfeeding wasn’t just for her. I loved it too. She was my last baby and I knew it, and I relished my time on maternity leave from work, breastfeeding her on the couch and watching Netflix, or feeding her in bed watching her chubby cheeks bob as she sucked. I realized those moments when time seemed to hold still wouldn’t last, and I tried to commit her baby smell and fuzzy head to memory.

Sometimes, though, we’re in a hurry and she’s satisfied by a cup of milk so we skip a breastfeeding session. On these occasions, my girl doesn’t seem to mind. But I do.

Of course, those early times didn’t last. I returned to work, and our breastfeeding sessions dwindled to before and after work and the occasional lunchtime session. As many times as I breastfed a day, I was hooking myself up to the plastic breast pump just as often. Washing bottles and pump parts was a nightly ritual I loathed. Before long, I stopped pumping and just breastfed my baby on demand when we were together.

Today, my yummy-smelling baby who I used to hold in the crook of my arm has grown into a toddling 14 month old with wavy blond hair past her ears. On most days, I still breastfeed her twice: once in the morning before work for me and daycare for her, and once before bedtime. Sometimes, though, we’re in a hurry and she’s satisfied by a cup of milk so we skip a breastfeeding session. On these occasions, my girl doesn’t seem to mind. But I do.

 It would be simple for me simply skip more and more breastfeeding sessions until we stop breastfeeding entirely. My toddler used to pull at my shirt when she wanted to breastfeed, burying her head in my chest, but she does that less these days. Still, I offer her the breast and she half-heartedly accepts, eyes turned towards her older brother or the TV. Sometimes I breastfeed her from the couch as she stands next to me, unwilling to lie still.

Our breastfeeding days are dwindling, and I’m sad about it. I know nursing still benefits her as a toddler by providing immunity and comfort, but it’s no longer her sole source of nourishment. What was once our daily constant in those early months is no longer as necessary as it used to be. Soon, we’ll be done breastfeeding entirely, replacing those moments when she used to breastfeed with kissing attacks and tickles and hugs. but breastfeeding has not been easy for me to say goodbye to.

For the time being, I’m going to hold my 14 month old close as she wriggles around, and run my fingers through her growing blond hair. I’m going to give myself permission to breastfeed for me. I know soon I’ll no longer have the chance, so I’m going to enjoy it while I still can.

My Friends Gave Me The Best Advice On Taking An Extended Maternity Leave

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Can you blame me for wanting extra time with this cutie?

As published in Romper

My job has always been an important part of my identity. OK, maybe not my first job as a teen working the concession stand at a movie theater, but everything that came after. Even while shoveling popcorn, I was committed to offering great customer service and a smile. When I got pregnant with my first child, quitting my job to be a stay-at-home mom wasn’t an option on the table. We needed the money, and I wanted the satisfaction of using my skills outside the home and to contribute to society through working. I literally worked until the baby popped out and took the minimum maternity leave. For my second baby, however, I received some important advice from friends to take an extended maternity leave and enjoy some extra time with my baby. And honestly, it was the best advice I got from my friends.

With my first pregnancy, I took the 12 weeks for which I could receive pay under California state law, and not a day more. I didn’t realize that I could receive additional paid leave for time needed to rest and prepare before the baby was born. Under state law, I was entitled to up to four weeks of disability leave before the birth of my baby as needed, according to the State of California Employment Development Department.

Before I fully understood state law during my first pregnancy, I was working as a newspaper reporter. I planned to work until the day my son was due. However, my son was due on a Friday and I typically worked Tuesday through Saturday, so I decided to continue working until the day after my due date. I wanted to save every day of my 12-week leave for after my baby was born.

 Pregnancy and parenting a newborn are hard enough without having to try to navigate complicated state and federal maternity leave laws, but that’s exactly what I was doing, and badly. By the last few weeks of my pregnancy, even walking was uncomfortable, with the baby weighing heavy on my bladder and my muscles aching. Still, I trudged out out to crime scenes to report on them, and up and down the courthouse stairs to cover trials for the newspaper. I received a lot of questions and comments.

“Still working, huh?”

“You must be due any day now.”

It was just too soon to be away from my baby.

Somehow, I made it through my last day of work without going into labor. As if my body knew it needed to hold on just long enough, I went into labor in the early morning Sunday, just hours after I finished my last work shift.

The 12 weeks of maternity leave after my son’s birth came and went quickly, but I was grateful that I had that much time home with my son. I knew of many new moms who worked and only received six weeks of disability pay as they didn’t qualify for Paid Family Leave or another paid leave program. Therefore, some of these parents could only afford to take a six-week leave. Others couldn’t even afford the partial pay, and returned to work a week after birth.

I was able to take 12 weeks of leave because of disability leave after the birth, followed by the six weeks of Paid Family Leave, which I qualified for as someone with a job who was contributing to State Disability Insurance. When I returned to work, I did little more at first then stare at the album of baby photos I brought as my eyes welled with tears. It was just too soon to be away from my baby.

 Pregnant for a second time, I initially planned to take 12 weeks again. However, a few conversations with friends and coworkers changed my mind. One coworker at my same company who’d recently given birth took a full four months, including some time before her baby was born. I was intrigued. I’d heard of similar experiences from other friends inside and outside the office. You’ll never get this time with your baby back again, they’d say.

I did some research and found that in addition to my 12 weeks of paid leave, I was entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. Although six weeks of that 12-week leave would be used consecutively with my state Paid Family Leave, that left me an additional six weeks of unpaid leave I was able to take. I decided to take four of those six weeks of unpaid leave, for a total of 16 weeks. But I elected to not take the full 18 weeks allowable under the law as I didn’t feel our family could afford to be without my income for that extra time.

When my work supervisor asked when I wanted to begin my maternity leave and how long I’d be taking, I was anxious to say I wanted to start two weeks before my due date and four months after the baby’s birth. She seemed surprised, but OK with it. She had no choice but to accept my decisions, legally anyway. That’s because she was required to hold my job for me, or something comparable, during my leave due to the Family and Medical Leave Act.

The extra maternity leave time was especially important since I was splitting my time off between my two kids.

At eight-and-half months of pregnancy, I was more than ready to take some time off work and enjoy some rare alone time. At the advice of my friends, I didn’t feel guilty about keeping my son in preschool for those couple of weeks and sitting home catching up on crappy daytime TV while I washed and folded baby laundry. I was resting and relaxing, and my body and mind needed the break.

 My daughter was born a couple of days before her due date, and during labor I was able to pay attention to my early contractions that lasted several days, timing them and monitoring them closely. After my daughter was born, I didn’t feel as rushed as I had with my son when the days and weeks flew by and were jam-packed with visitors. Instead, I took my daughter to the park and the store in the front carrier. I let my eyes linger over her sweet little baby features and made time for snuggles whenever possible. The extra maternity leave time was especially important since I was splitting my time off between my two kids.

 

The last month of my leave was unpaid, but my husband and I saved money beforehand in preparation. In the end, I felt the few weeks of unpaid leave were well worth the money lost because of the extra baby-bonding time and moments to myself before birth. Once again, we were fortunate that we had the means to support ourselves without my income for a short time. And after I’d gone back to work after both babies were born, my husband took several weeks of paternity leave so that he had time alone with the babies as well.

 My friends had been right. I wouldn’t be able to get back this fleeting time with the babies once it was gone. They’re little once, and for such a short time. My job could wait, and thankfully, it did. My boss didn’t give me any grief about my leave, and I was able to pick up where I left off after a short catch-up period. Fortunately, my boss has young children of her own, so she was fairly understanding as I got back in the swing of work.

Returning to work, I was refreshed and fully healed. I had a solid breastfeeding routine down, and was ready for adult interaction and the challenges of the workplace. Thanks to some great advice from friends, I was able to find a work/life balance that worked. Without their advice, I would have probably taken another less-than-adequate maternity leave, not fully understanding state and federal leave law and stressing out about my job.

All said, I wouldn’t trade a day of the chubby baby snuggles that came with my extended maternity leave.