Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The dilemma - going back to work?

A year ago I was on day two or three of training in a new employee. She had come to our offices for our annual holiday party and been ushered in with joy. Now it was time to teach her my job. In under a week. Because Jonathan was coming home any day, and I was going to take the rest of my maternity leave, so she'd have to start quickly. 

This all was a long time coming.  Let's back up and see how we got here.

First, note (from my July posts) just how much I love my job. My plan had been to put baby into daycare at three months old and return to work full-time.

Then baby was born four months early.

Then I had to go back to work after eight weeks of leave because I wanted to have SOME leave time left for when JAM got home from the hospital. He'd be coming home as a four or five or eight month old, yes, but he'd still be functionally a newborn. I needed to have eight weeks for myself to heal, then another three to four weeks to survive the sleepless nights. I wished for the days when I could do both together.

For friends and followers from other countries: in the States your job is only guaranteed for three months of leave through the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). You can spread that leave time over the entire year (take some time off here or there) but there is no legal protection for your job past that. That time off does not need to be paid, and so often for lower skilled jobs it isn't. In my case they would pay for the eight weeks of personal recovery, the last four weeks would be unpaid time.

So I went back to work shortly after J's renal failure, just before his eye surgery.  My hubby stationed himself at bedside and did work from the hospital room twice a week so that we were sure to have someone there sometimes when the doctors did rounds.

I called Steve for a report, or the NICU nurse if Steve wasn't in, two to three times a day, usually when I pumped.  I packed myself up, stood up from my desk, and went to the work-provided pump room, a delightfully cozy room in the basement of the chapel with a skylight that brought in natural sunlight, and a locked fridge and cupboard to store your milk and pump. It was awkward if I had to kick some poor praying student out of the room(usually they thought it was a prayer room, because of its location), but overall it wasn't so bad. And that's when I'd call, ask for room 317, give the nurse his security code, and ask for an update.

In the evenings I'd go home and have dinner with the girls and Steve.  Steve and I would then draw (metaphorical) straws to see who would stay home and put the girls to bed and who would go into the hospital and spend two to three hours holding JAM and getting him weighed, fed, and ready for bed.

Usually Steve would defer to me. Because he's a gentleman that way. Plus, twice a week he had guaranteed guy time with JAM while he graded papers at crib side. So if I felt particularly drawn to the NICU, I went and Steve stayed home. But it wasn't every night, because every now and again I'd feel my daughters pull at my leg and beg me to stay and cuddle with them.

This was our routine all of September and into October. And we waited. As the doctors say, we waited for things to "present themselves." Would he live? What would his needs be? It was too hard to guess. We didn't know. So we waited and carried on, making our new routine our new normal.

And then, at the end of September, JAM stabilized. We were fairly sure he'd live. 

By then I knew enough to know preemies like Jonathan don't just bounce into babyhood. They have to be gently cajoled into doing the things that their peers would do naturally.  They spend many months or years seeing physical and occupational therapists to learn how to move, eat, and talk.

And they're fragile. Very fragile. With underdeveloped, scarred lungs and no bonus of antibodies from the third trimester, things can get dangerous for them quickly. So he wouldn't be going to the daycare I'd picked out for him almost a year earlier. It was too risky.

Thu at the end of September I approached my bosses (I'm lucky enough to have two) and explained to them my dilemma. I couldn't work full-time and maintain the schedule Jonathan would keep if he came home. Steve's job made more than mine by leaps and bounds, so it made most sense for him to hold primary bread winning responsibility. I guessed our son would be seeing a lot of different doctors and may specialists. I guessed because I'd read other blogs and posts in forums about preemies. And because my friend, a mom of triplets, had JUST posted that her two year old son had finally graduated from PT.  That's what really did it. (Thanks, Janice!) It was a cold blast in the face. He wouldn't have a "normal" infanthood, I guessed. And I guessed right.

I told my bosses that I'd either start seeking part-time employment elsewhere or, if they thought it possible, I'd be open to turning my position into two part-time positions.

They liked the last option best.

But it had to be approved by a cabinet that met once a month. And the first month, they didn't get that far into the agenda. So it wasn't approved until November.

And then we worked really really fast. I wasn't a part of the hiring committee officially, but they let me hold an exofficio position as I would be working most closely with the person hired. I laid out an ideal interview schedule and showed how we could get the person interviewed and hired within the month. It would be difficult, given the holidays were coming up, but it was clear that if we didn't get it done soon, Jonathan would come home before I had had a chance to show the new person the ropes.

Little did we know the woman we'd be hiring had had this sense -- months before (like, the month I got pregnant??) that it was time to give up her full-time job at home and seek out-of-the-home employment.

So she'd been waiting.

And she was perfect.

And a year ago, I finally finally (none too soon) was transferring my job from a full-time to a half-time position.

And when I took my baby home, I could stay home with him.  No more worrying about the work that was piling up at work. 


Looking back now, we made the right decision to have me drop to half time. Sometimes I wish I could have pulled out entirely. The cost of nannies in our house the first half a year that Jonathan was home was steep. It was hard to find someone who was reasonably priced but also not afraid of the medical equipment that Jonathan brought with him. Luckily we found two, and each was available for one of the two full days I worked. Steve took a half a day, and we were covered.

This past year we've gone to a small in-home daycare for JAM. It would be best for him to be at home only, but last year showed us this wasn't a reasonable expectation. His daycare provider has been gracious with us, even giving us "free" days sometimes when Jonathan has gotten sick.

I don't begrudge work, though, I am glad I have it. I enjoy my colleagues. The balance is perfect, and Jonathan's immune system is holding up better than we'd expected.

But working full-time.  That wouldn't have worked. We spend an average of three hours per week going to or in appointments.

I am grateful for the wisdom to pull out, and the timing (albeit slower than I would have liked) of the transition.

And I am grateful that when push came to shove, we always found the perfect person for the job - whether taking over part of my position at work, or taking care of JAM at home. To the three amazing people that fulfilled those roles (you know who you are!) THANK YOU.

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