I Didn’t Go Back to Work

I’ve been sheepish about posting this for a while now. It feels like a huge step to put it out there beyond my immediate family and close friends. Like I’ll be judged, looked down on, or somehow anti-feminist for it. But then I think about how happy I am about our decision and I’m like, why do I feel like I’m hiding this? I’m happy. We’re happy. We know we made the right choice for our family. So screw being weird about it. I didn’t go back to my job and I no longer work full-time.

I never expected this. If you had asked me even in November if I was going back to work, I would have given you a firm yes. And then it just felt like things started to crumble a bit. Let me ramble a bit and tell you why.

First, daycare is outrageously expensive. We knew this before we got pregnant because we wanted to start a family and we didn’t want to be blindsided by costs. We knew our budget and we knew we could swing it. That said, when I was pregnant I started to realize that in order for me to really feel valued and like it was worth it for me to be gone from my child, I needed a higher paying job. I won’t talk specifics here but let’s just say that doing administrative work in hospitals is not how you make the big bucks.

As I got closer to having Ben I started to realize that I wanted to make a professional jump in order to really feel good about working. The job I had been doing was one that I enjoyed but also was under utilizing my education and skills. So at 31 weeks pregnant I applied for an internal posting for a job I knew I’d love and be good at. It was in my same department. In fact, I’d worked with the person who had previously been in the role. He himself told me that I’d be the perfect fit.

I completed two rounds of interviews with seven different faculty members and was scheduled for one more phone interview and three more in person interviews. I was in the last round and it was me and one other person left. The final round of interviews was scheduled for October 5th. Ben was born unexpectedly on October 4th.

I offered to complete the interview process via Skype or telephone (literally via email while I was still admitted in the hospital). I made it clear that having a baby had not changed my interest in the position. A week later I got an email that they had decided to go with the other candidate for the role. I’ll make no statements about how I felt about this except to say that finding out that you didn’t get a job that you really wanted while sitting in the NICU with your preemie is about as crappy is it gets. Okay, I’ll make one more statement. I’ll always wonder if I didn’t get the job because I had a baby. There. I said it.

So after this, I knew that if I returned to work, I’d be returning to my same role. I could try again for other internal positions but would have to spend at least the first few months back to work with my same job and salary. It was then that the dollar signs really started to feel heavy to me. We’d be spending most of my pay on childcare. It meant that I was working for such a small amount of money and it started to feel like that amount just wasn’t enough for me to justify being away from Ben. There was no guarantee that I’d make a professional jump (i.e. get a good salary bump) big enough to make those feelings go away. This was on my mind.

But the biggest voices in my head during this decision making process were (and still are) that voices of the NICU doctors who had really been firm with us (i.e. scared the shit out of us) about germs during this flu season. This was the biggest factor in our decision. Ben did not get all of the antibodies that he could have in utero because he came early. He probably got some but apparently a lot of Mom’s antibodies are transferred to the baby in the last weeks of pregnancy.

Because of this and just being a preemie in general, he is more susceptible to the flu/colds/RSV than a full-term baby. The doctors insisted that everyone he interact with have a flu shot and be up to date on their TDaP. During the first 8 weeks of his life, if he had gotten a fever – any fever – he would have been hospitalized. It just felt so risky to put him in daycare. The time when I would have had to put him in daycare, he would have been 14 weeks old, but 9 weeks adjusted. He was still in the 1st percentile for his weight. I wish that my work had been able to hold my position and allow me longer leave to get a little weight on him and get us out of flu season. If standard leave was 6 months, I might not be writing this post. But that wasn’t the case.

Another factor was just the logistics of daycare in the city. From our house the two closest daycares (that we felt comfortable with) are about a mile away in two different directions. We had planned to put him in to the one that was closer to my office. The funny thing about living in center city is that lots of things are super convenient and then some things are just not. Daycare is one of those things that is significantly harder than in the suburbs.

So that meant that to get Ben to daycare I’d be looking at a mile walk with him in the stroller, drop off, then walk to work, walk back to daycare to get him, then walk home. It was about 1.5 miles each way. I don’t mind walking (in fact, I love it) but power walking 3 miles a day with a baby to get to and from work seemed challenging. The alternate option was the city bus (but then, more germs). Cause remember, you can’t really uber or taxi with a baby. Using our car is not realistic. The whole drop off/pick up from daycare process would have been about an hour total on each end of the day.

So as N and I talked through what life would look like as I went back to work, it just felt like such chaos. I know many people here do it and frankly, I’m not sure how they do without pulling their hair out.

Truth be told, I’d also started pondering a change in career direction. Working in a hospital is not particularly lucrative for non-clinical staff. Rightly so, I’d say, most of the time. The more they’re paying staff, the more we have to charge the patients. I love working with patients however I’d kind of hit the top in terms of the jobs I could have and still be patient facing without being clinical staff (i.e. a nurse or doctor).

Since I have no interest in going back to school to do clinical work, I realized that I should probably pivot back to the private sector and find other ways to feel like I am doing good in my community. All this is something I’m still pondering while checking job postings to see if anything sparks my interest and seems like a reasonable career pivot. Anything I apply for at this point or in the coming months or years would probably have a start date far enough out that we’d be more in the clear for flu season.

We soon realized that the ideal situation (for now) would be for me to work part-time from home, during non-traditional weekday hours, or on weekends. That way any money I made would be a direct positive to the household budget with no daycare costs. We’d be bringing in more money to our household if I worked part-time from home than if I worked full-time and we paid for daycare. How crazy is that?

Luckily, I was offered a job doing part-time project management for a small business. I started working in mid-January and have been doing that work-from-home/Mom life juggle since. I’m thrilled about this job and it means that I can keep Ben out of daycare, have flexibility in my schedule, and it’s allowing me to utilize some of my skills that I’ve never actually put on my resume before (basically anything to do with blogging – social media, writing, etc.). So far I’m really loving it and am currently managing a website redesign. It feels almost odd because it doesn’t feel like work because I enjoy it so much. Now if I could just get my kid on a regular nap schedule…

So that’s my life right now. There are weekdays where I log zero hours and feel like a stay-at-home Mom, which still feels super odd to me. Then there are days that Ben rocks nap time and I crush several hours of work and feel practically like a superhero. I’ve taken on more domestic duties, which is weird (we used to be very 50/50), but N and I talk regularly about it and both realize that it’s not because we have stereotypical gender roles, it’s just because I’m the one who is home and he isn’t. That feels weird too but I also love that I’m able to be the household manager and keep things together at home so that when N gets home from work, we can really soak up our family time and he can have quality time with Ben. It feels like we made the best decision for us.

If you read all that and you’re still here, thanks. This is something I’m still struggling to align with my personal identity and the fear of being judged looms. That said, I’m about to be 30, damn it. It’s time I stop caring what other people think.

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