My Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Experience as a Working Mother

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(Unhappy Baby Benjamin. This is seriously what he did most of his first year of life, poor child.)

This post could also be titled: Why We Chose Mama and Baby Togetherness the Second Time Around. I’ve been wanting to tell you about our amazing experience with Ecological Breastfeeding, but I feel like I need to describe our experience with our firstborn’s babyhood and why we so desperately wanted it to be different with Baby Lucy.

After my first pregnancy, I had to go back to work full-time 5 weeks after my son was born. I wasn’t familiar with the principles of Ecological Breastfeeding (which I’ll tell you about tomorrow) at the time, but they would have been impossible for me to implement because of my work situation. We are positive that we would have faced many of our firstborn’s challenges (reflux, colic, extreme fussiness, inability to sleep longer than 15-45 minutes, and extended periods of inconsolable crying) regardless of what parenting methods we used. He simply came out of the womb with a difficult temperament. But after implementing Ecological Breastfeeding and Mama and Baby Togetherness with my second baby, I’m convinced that the same methods might have alleviated some of his issues at the very least.

To explain why I was dead set on doing things differently the second time around, let me paint a picture of what we faced with our first baby when I had to be away from home 9-10 hours a day:

A horrible breastfeeding relationship: Although he didn’t have any trouble with the initial latch, he would unlatch a thousand times a feeding to arch his little back and scream. He also spit up 50-60 times a day (no lie). And we’re talking projectile vomiting. Because he grew accustomed to having breastmilk in a bottle during the daytime, he would refuse the breast when I was with him in favor of the bottle. This forced me to exclusively pump, taking up 3-4 hours each day. Nursing was never, not once, a tranquil, special, bonding time. Nursing to us meant tears, stress, and a sense of failure. All these problems made it impossible for me to keep up all the pumping and we switched to formula after 4 months. It’s notable that he continues to have issues with food, including a severe gluten allergy.

Extreme sleep deprivation: Benjamin would only sleep in 15-45 minute increments between 10pm and 4:30am for the first several months of his life. That translates to about 4-5 hours of sleep for me each night (in 15-30 minute segments). Although Benjamin would fitfully nap during the day, I was, of course, at work during those naps. I really can’t express the frustration and exhaustion of not getting a full sleep cycle for several months. I really thought I was losing my mind. And his inability to sleep well made him a constantly exhausted baby and intensified his extreme fussiness. After 6 months without sleep we made him CIO and a month later he was sleeping through the night consistently. However, the CIO method was very traumatizing for both me and for my baby and I don’t think I would ever have chosen to do sleep training that way if I wasn’t out of my mind with exhaustion.

Difficulty with bonding and attachment: Although I deeply loved my baby, the mental anguish of sleep deprivation and the psychological torture of hearing constant crying seriously hurt my ability to bond with him. I would occasionally have to set him down, go outside the house and put my hands over my ears to block out the screaming and take a deep breath because several hours of crying on top of the already excruciating lack of sleep would cause me to feel angry with my baby and I knew that was very unhealthy. Although I missed him when I was at work, when I was at home, caring for him was so stressful that I longed to go somewhere else to be all my myself. It wasn’t until I quit working full-time when he was one year old that our bonding issues improved.

Now, I know that all working moms don’t have as difficult a time as we did. And at the time, like many other moms, I did not have the option to stay home or work from home. However after my experience, barring financial disaster, I would not ever choose to be away from one of my babies full-time ever again. Thanks for letting me share a little bit about our struggles during our firstborn’s infancy. And tune in tomorrow to hear about the way we have embraced Ecological Breastfeeding and Mama and Baby Togetherness with Baby Lucy and what a blessing it’s been!

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  1. says

    This is seriously how I felt with our Lucy the first few weeks of her life. She was constantly crying and I would get angry with her, like she could help it. Thankfully, she’s not near as fussy and we’re pretty lucky as far as her sleep habits go. There was a time though, when i was worried about bondin with her. I can totally relate on that note.

    • Haley says

      It’s so hard when they’re inconsolable cryers! I think that because the crying sound is supposed to elicit a sympathetic response for the mother to give the baby what it needs so that it stops crying, when the baby won’t stop no matter what, that response gets messed up and it starts to trigger anger rather than sympathy. I’m glad little Lucy is improving on the fussy front! She’s such a cutie pie.

  2. says

    This reminds me so much of gabe! Especially the part about unlatching and arching the back and screaming! I always look back and appreciate the blessing of having him first, though. I appreciated the easy temperaments of the other two so much more having had such a difficult first son!

    • Haley says

      We always say that about Benjamin, too! So glad he came first because now we’ll just expect a difficult newborn stage and be pleasantly surprised when we have an easygoing baby like Lucy 🙂 I remember emailing you during some of those first weeks of exhaustion and you gave me some great advice and sympathy 🙂

  3. says

    As much as I would love to win the lottery and be able to be a SAHM, hearing things like this makes me realize how lucky we were that it worked out (and continues to). We ended up formula feeding from the beginning (mainly due to some potential lingering issues I as I got over my ante-partum depression) and had no problems, and he’s fit as a fiddle; I think the fact that both my husband and I work afternoon/evening shifts for those first 9 months were a God-send. It made it so much easier to get in a solid 6 hours of sleep a day when it didn’t really matter if he slept when it was dark or light out!

    That all being said I’m planning on giving breastfeeding my complete effort next time around even though I already know it’ll mean pumping and bottles. Though I keep reminding myself that each paycheck (and raise) and bill paid actually gets us closer to getting me down to at least 50% time in the future – it’s a dream!

    • Haley says

      Breastfeeding Lucy has been so redemptive after so many struggles and difficulties with Benjamin. I am glad that we had him first because otherwise I would probably be smug and judgy toward women who choose to formula feed (like I did at 4 mo. with Benjamin) instead of breastfeed because I wouldn’t understand situations when nursing really isn’t the best option for the good of the family. Sometimes I wonder if I could have stuck it out with pumping for him, but I know that my mental sanity was hanging by a thread and that 3-4 hours a day of pumping was stressing me out and actually keeping me from bonding with him instead of bringing us together.

      I hope when baby #2 comes along, you don’t have the same struggles that would make breastfeeding so difficult! And I’m so glad that work and motherhood are working out well for you. It’s hard to balance two full-time roles and I’m always so impressed when moms do it successfully like you!

      • says

        I definitely found myself making a lot of decisions when H. arrived that came down to my “ideal” vs. what could let me be a better mama, too. Working meant less time with him, but a more relaxed, not stressed about money all the time mama (and oh boy do money problems make me terrible to be around). Formula feeding from the get go meant that others could help me and I would be under less stress to provide exclusively for him allowing me a little extra rest and sanity to recover from the depression. I made the decision before he arrived because I was worried any complications would turn the ante-partum in post-partum and affect my ability to care for him and bond with him completely. In the end it’s not all under my “ideal category”, but I’m definitely at peace with it all.

        And thanks for the vote of confidence =D

  4. says

    I know we only, like, half know each other through a thousand mutual friends but I really think we should be friends IRL because reading this made me want to run to wherever you are & hug you really tight.

    I went back to work full time when Dax was 8 weeks. The first couple months of his life he had horrible colic/reflux & basically cried/screamed nonstop, but that calmed down pretty much right when I went to work. (Of course.) We did the Babywise sleep training method ONLY because he actually very naturally fell into that 3-hour cycle on his own (however we nixed the CIO part – if he was tired we would rock him/nurse him/whatever him to sleep) & that worked pretty well for us.

    But I hate being away from him all throughout the day. It’s awful. At this stage, he’s experiencing a lot of separation anxiety with me. He screams every time I leave the room which is terribly heartbreaking.

    We’ve taken quite the leap of faith. Since our current job/financial situation doesn’t allow for any movement, we’ve both quit our jobs & are praying that God will provide a way for us to make ends meet while I stay at home with our baby (as well as his future siblings, if God wills) full time.

    Not entirely sure the point of this comment, other than just this — being a working mom freaking sucks. A lot.

    • Haley says

      It is just so hard! I know some families are able to make it work for them and have everyone thrive, but it wasn’t a good fit for me! I hope you guys are able to find a way to make it work for you to be home 🙂

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