In honor of World Breastfeeding Week 2015, we are sharing inspirational stories from breastfeeding/working moms. Today’s story was written by Lilly Penhall.
Being a freelance contractor has its benefits to a work-at-home mom, that’s for sure. Flexible schedule, control over your workflow, and a certain sense of freedom comes with working for your own business instead of someone else’s. However, when it comes to maternity leave, freelancers don’t have the advantage of six weeks of paid leave that some employers offer. I returned to work two weeks after the birth of my daughter, who is now 18 months old, and started working only ten days after my son was born in June. To complicate matters, I was determined to breastfeed my babies.
My first child, born over 10 years ago, was given formula in the hospital nursery (at the time I lived in a small Texas town where that was standard procedure) and only breastfed for about 6 days until we had such trouble latching that I, being young and uneducated about nutrition, decided to just continue to give her formula.
Many years and a cross-country move later, I started freelancing when I was six months pregnant with my second child, after having lost my sales job for lack of productivity. Sales wasn’t my field, but I was doing it because I needed to support myself; however, at that point my boyfriend and I were combining our finances and I was able to take some time to figure out what to do next. I had been volunteering my graphic design skills for years, but had not really tried to pursue it as a career, thinking my skills were not enough to make a living. Thankfully, having years of experience designing books for self-publication for family and friends, I started advertising myself as a book designer to fulfill that niche market. My business took off right away and I was able to start building a loyal clientele who loved my work and sent more clients my way.
After a full working day in labor at 41 weeks, we had a nearly tragic delivery and my daughter spent six hours in the NICU before I was able to see her, hold her and feed her. When I finally had her in my arms, she had the same troubles latching that her sister did—specifically, on my right breast. She was given a pacifier in the NICU, but whether that contributed to her breastfeeding issues is really hard to determine. I called the nurses at almost every feeding to help me latch her, but it was a frustrating routine that I continued at home, replete with many tears especially during the night when I was tired and couldn’t get her to latch.
I started pumping right away on the right side so that I could at least feed her breastmilk in the bottle. After two weeks, the (relatively) cheap single pump burned out and I was again struggling to get her to latch, which was more difficult now that she was used to the bottle. On top of that, a very demanding client who I had been put on hold when I went into labor, started calling daily and asking when I was going to finish her project. As much as I wasn’t ready to start working, I was guilt-tripped into it and started spending four or more hours a day on my client’s project which limited my ability to breastfeed even further.
At my child’s one month WIC appointment, I expressed my concern to my caseworker and was met with a blank stare and the reply, “You don’t think breastfeeding is easy? I think it’s easier than making a bottle.” She did not offer lactation consultant services or any help at all. My frustration turned inward into anger and depression because I felt incapable of providing nourishment to my baby that was supposedly so easy. I blamed my sagging breasts with nipples that pointed at my toes. I blamed my baby’s severe reflux that caused her to spit up half of what I fed her, leaving her still hungry and crying when I didn’t have any milk left.
I blamed the pediatrician we saw at her two week appointment because he misdiagnosed her thrush as “just dried milk” and it got so severe in her that her entire mouth was white and her skin broke out in rashes, while I had a full-blown candida overgrowth throughout my whole body that left me drained and deeply depressed, as well as an intense burning pain when my milk let down. I blamed my demanding client for taking up all my time, and further blamed myself for taking on the job when I should have been dedicated to my baby. I blamed myself for drinking too much on my birthday when she was one month old—a night when I really needed a break—and bought a can of formula to feed her, thinking my breastmilk was toxic.
Finally, I made an appointment with the lactation consultants at WIC and went in for some help, but by then it was almost too late. I was only producing a small amount of milk and my baby was constantly hungry. Still determined to breastfeed, I had clients write letters to WIC saying that I was working full-time so that they could supply me with a Medela double pump at no cost. When I finally got the pump at six weeks postpartum, even pumping every hour for days didn’t produce more than 2-3 oz of milk over the entire day, plus dry pumping was very painful. As hard as I tried, with all the tears I cried and all my efforts, I couldn’t continue breastfeeding my baby any longer. I remember when I put her to by breast for the last time, at six weeks old, and feeling the strangeness of her trying to drink from me when I was completely dried up. I felt useless and rejected by my own child, but I had to surrender to reality. If I couldn’t breastfeed, at least I would get her the best organic baby formula on the market.
Even with all the trouble I had with my girls, I knew I would try again with my next baby, and this time I would have more tools, more knowledge and more patience. I got pregnant again when my daughter was 7 months old, and we decided to be surprised as to the gender of our new arrival. I continued working from home and taking care of my baby at the same time until she was one year old, when I was offered a really well paying work-from-home job that would require more of my time. We put our toddler in daycare so that I could work full-time for my new employer, a university that needed web design work on a contractual basis.
I was working 40+ hours per week until I went into labor, at first from home, then I spent two months working at the university before I went back to working from home as my due date got closer. This time my baby decided to show up unexpectedly 2 weeks early and I was right in the middle of a project. I emailed my bosses from the hospital and told them I was having my baby and I would be back to work in a few weeks. This time, the delivery went more smoothly and my son was placed on my chest directly after birth, as nature intended. He latched right away on both sides and I can’t even express my relief and satisfaction at how easy it has been for him to breastfeed. It’s the experience I always wanted, but never had. Even the clogged duct I got the first week when I was severely engorged didn’t stop us from breastfeeding; in fact, the colostrum-rich milk I pumped during that time was fed to my older child who had a cold when her brother was born (and it was the last time she got sick—coincidence? Perhaps…)
Although I had intended to wait at least three weeks before returning to work, we had gotten behind on our bills during my transition from contractor to employee back to contractor, so after just one week I requested another project and returned to work part-time at 10 days postpartum. This time, however, I have been able to successfully breastfeed my baby while working because of some things I did differently.
We established a good breastfeeding routine before I returned to work, and we didn’t introduce a pacifier or bottle until he was over one month old. I have been able to pump easily with the Medela and my nifty homemade pumping bra (an old bra with holes cut in the nipples to stick the pump shields through—works like a charm!). I have spent entire days not working when the baby has been more demanding, instead of sacrificing my time with my baby for a demanding client. My son is so easy to feed that sometimes I can hold him and feed him with one hand while working with the other, and when he’s milk drunk I put him in a wrap or carrier and wear him while I work.
I also put a lot less pressure on myself this time—pressure to work AND pressure to breastfeed. I have a more “que sera sera” attitude about it now, and instead of stressing over working while breastfeeding, I relax in knowing that any amount of time I am able to breastfeed my son is awesome and feel blessed that I am able to support my family on a part-time income for now. My boyfriend wants to put him in daycare already so I can work more hours, but he’s only six weeks old and I want to spend as much time with him as I can. I’m increasing my working hours this week, and some time in the next few months I might return to full-time work on-site, but I’m in no hurry.
Breastfeeding while working has not been an easy journey, but I realize that I have many advantages that others don’t. I feel for moms who have to return to work outside the home after maternity leave and all the struggles that brings: pumping in smelly bathrooms or uncomfortable closets for the sake of “decency,” eight hours of engorgement followed by two hours of traffic, bosses and/or coworkers who don’t understand why you get to take so many breaks as if it’s some sort of mommy privilege instead of your other full-time job, etc. I am so grateful for finally having the positive breastfeeding experience I dreamed of, while still able to work and support my family. My goal is six months of breastfeeding, which is much longer than I have been able to do in the past, and I really hope to make it over one year for my baby’s sake. And if I am blessed with one more child, I will breastfeed again for as long as I can, because I know it’s what’s best for all of us.