From Home Body to Work Body.
After several weeks of staying at home with Bubba on my, for lack of a better word, "maternity leave" (aka using my personal leave and then taking unpaid leave through FMLA), I became so used to having our own space , breastfeeding on demand, and sleeping on his schedule, it was medicine. I learned in the first month of postpartum how crucial it was for me to regain my energy by sleeping or napping at the same time Bubba would sleep. At least as much as possible. It was great. I would sleep and eat freely. I didn't have to be up at a certain time, I could rest during the day, and I would often eat or take showers during his naps if I couldn't sleep. Once I got closer to my transition back to work, I had to mentally prepare myself for the rigor and brain power of being up during the day to function for work.
A week before I went back to work part-time, I forced myself to stay up during the day and do anything that would keep me from falling asleep. Laundry, cooking, cleaning, sometimes stretching or organizing rooms. Anything to keep me awake while Bubba was sleeping. I knew I had to force myself to do that, otherwise I would have to deal with it when I started working again. It did help once I made the full transition back to work in the office. I was very fortunate and blessed to be able to bring Bubba to the office for a short time so we could continue building the amazing relationship we have through breastfeeding (on demand).
There was a pack-n-play that I brought to my office so Bubba had a place to sleep. It was so great to have his Boppy pillow and presence in my office. I would have had major separation anxiety if I would've had to start daycare right away. Although, if that were the case, I would have mentally prepared myself for that by accepting that as my option for continuing to work and provide for him. Once he was close to 6 months, if you remember from a previous chapter, we had to scramble to find a daycare for him so I could return to work without any consequences. I feared losing my job or being reprimanded or penalized because we hadn't found a daycare for him and I didn't have any leave to spare because I used it all to spend time with him at home. You know, "maternity leave".
Why didn't we have a daycare lined up for him? That's a great question that sheds light on the problem we all run into. There is a daycare shortage everywhere you go. Especially for infant care. There are not enough daycares to accommodate all of the babies that need to be in childcare for the sake of the parents to continue working so they can make the money to provide for and care for their family. Not to mention, the cost of infant care is expensive. Daycare, in general, is expensive. Trusting strangers with your baby can also be expensive to your emotional health.
Our Long, Frantic, Daycare Journey. Daycare- Take One.
Amidst the thought of being away from my infant son all day, I had to navigate finding a daycare I felt comfortable leaving him at and pumping. All of which gave me anxiety and stress like no other. I cried. And cried. In fact, my first day without him I had to cry and I didn't want people to ask me anything so I sat in my car and cried; I went to the bathroom to cry; I swallowed my tears and the frog in my throat. No one prepared me or gave me comfort for that separation. I felt alone at work. Like no one could possibly understand what this has been like for me, especially with week before and how I was abruptly and out-of-the-blue told that I had to stop bringing my son to the office and I had to return the next day (which was a Friday), without him.
With that, we were left with only 3 days to find a daycare for my son that I would be okay with and that we could afford. With the high cost of daycares and still recovering from no pay for almost a month, and trying to manage paying bills, buying groceries, and getting gas and diapers, we were scraping by. Also, we had done some planning for daycares before Bubba arrived. We were on many waiting lists. MANY! We never got call backs from any of them. So sadly, we were limited. Although, there are some really wonderful stories about home daycares out there, ours unfortunately was not one of them.
We were in a time crunch and used Child Care Aware to find daycares that had immediate openings for his age. We called up a home daycare since it was about the only place that was within our budget and set up a tour. At first, it seemed like it was decent. We were desperate. We didn't have many options. It sucked. So we went with this home daycare that was on the way to the university and also on our way home. There was another baby, actually a toddler, and some older kids so we thought he would be alright. He was an easy baby to take care of. Super easy.
The first day I picked him up, he was all smiles. At the end of the first week, he looked...tired. And he was hungry! Which is typical of a breastfed baby to sometimes go on hunger strikes at daycare when they have been strictly breastfed. Bottle feeding- it was a challenge for us. Always. We introduced the bottle at about 2 and 1/2 months, but Bubba did not like it at all. He would take a sip and push it away. We kept trying to give the bottle and it never really caught on. That's just how he was.
It was now his second week there. Bubba was a little over 6 months old and he had been teething slobbery slobber at the time. His bibs and onesies would be soaking wet, every single day I picked him up. I would bring extra clothes for him and he wouldn't get changed. Ever. I told Jake about it and was kind of upset. So I reminded our daycare lady every morning that I have extra clothes and bibs for him if he gets slobbery or wet. It didn't do anything. At that point, Jake had suggested that maybe she's got her hands full with all of the other kids. Mama's- do not let anyone tell you that there is a justifiable reason your child should be in a wet teething bib and onesie when you pick them up.
I was a sad-mad when he said that. I thought, but we are paying her to take care of our son, what is so hard about just changing a bib out?
After the third week, we get a text from the daycare lady. Bubba was teething still and we sent him to daycare with infant Tylenol for his discomfort. She lets us know that he swatted away the Tylenol and scratched himself. We thought, okay that sounds like him, no big deal. When we picked him up, I was irrate. He had a small gash on his cheek near his eye that had an indentation of something sharp or an edge that had done the damage. Definitely not from a fingernail. It should have had a bandaid on it at the least. We asked what happened and she just said she turned around and next thing he had this scratch. He also started to get some serious separation anxiety at this point and it broke my heart.
I began to get really suspicious at this point.
We toughed it out for about another few days when I started to notice it being more and more common; his diaper would be stuck to him at pick up. He started to get diaper rash. This told me that he wasn't being changed as much as he needed to be. I had to peel off the diaper almost every day for a few days straight, on top of picking him up with a bib and onesie full of teething saliva, and a hungry, tired baby. It really wasn't working out. He had a fever and we needed to stay home with him. Thankfully I had some leave that I could use to do that. We called up the daycare lady and let her know it wasn't working out, he wasn't going to be there any longer.
Daycare- Take Two.
During all of that, we were looking for another daycare. A center. We found one that was close to the university where I worked. It was reasonably priced, there was diversity, it was clean. It seemed to be pretty legit. We took him there the following week and his separation anxiety was at an all time high. It was the hardest thing for me to leave him crying bloody murder for me every day. Did I cry? You bet I did. After dropping him off, I immediately regretted having to work. I wanted to just spend all day with him. I felt like I was being a terrible mother because he needed me. I needed him. I asked to breastfeed him one time and they told me they didn't allow it in the building anymore because they got rid of their nursing room 3 years ago. Why?? I don't know. Or maybe that was a ploy all along and I was being treated indifferently for being a Native Woman?
Every day it was like that. The second week, I had a work trip in Bismarck and thought I would try 1 overnight without him since I was pumping and had stored breastmilk for him. I dropped him off, then went to the office, then headed to Bismarck. Half-way through the conference, I get a call. It's from the daycare. They let me know that my son hasn't stopped crying. He didn't take any of the bottle. They couldn't get him to calm down and wanted me to pick him up. I was all the way in Bismarck. I told them that his dad would be picking him up. So I called Jake and let him know what happened.
Talking over the phone, we decided to meet each other half way in Jamestown so I could pick him up and he could stay with me. I brought him to the conference and nobody said anything to me. They all actually enjoyed having a baby around. I wished that someone would have told me it was okay to bring my baby to a conference. NO ONE told me you could do that. If I knew that, I would have brought him with me in the first place! I felt terrible. But I again, was upset that the caregivers couldn't make him comfortable. He's really an easy going guy.
So the next week, I drop him off and things escalate. Bubba is 7 months old by this time. I picked him up after work on Thursday and the co-owner of the daycare said some things to me that raised my blood pressure instantaneously. She told me that I needed to stop holding my baby so much at home because all he does is cry and wants to be held at the daycare and that I needed to STOP breastfeeding him at home and get him onto the bottle because he doesn't take it from them. What. The. F***!!!! I said, um no. He's a breastfed baby and we've been working on the bottle, and I wasn't asking for advice. I smiled and told her to have a nice day. And you know what was really upsetting? SHE WAS A PERSON OF COLOR! Who the hell does she think she is telling people how to feed or hold their babies at home?!
I stayed home with Bubba the next day. I told them we are done. It's not working out. He's not going to be there anymore. We are ending our automatic payment immediately. Then, I called and reported this to the daycare licensing center for North Dakota. It's now on their record. I did the same for the in-home daycare (if you were wondering).
Daycare- Take Three.
SO, we were back at square one. We told a few people in my department what had been going on and we had a recommendation from one of the professors who had a granddaughter that went to a really good daycare. So we checked it out. We didn't care about the price, because if it meant that our child would be actually cared for and loved, we would pay it and make it work with our other bills and monetary obligations. So we took a tour of the daycare.
When we walked in, we immediately felt a good energy there. It was very clean. The staff were so friendly and genuine. The children were all in good moods. The director was amazing. We left feeling like it might just be the place for our soon. We went home and ran some numbers with our budget and made the decision to cut back on things like eating out and certain luxuries from the grocery store to get him enrolled there. I will mention the name of this place here, Early Years. (IF you want to know the names of the other daycares, contact me and we'll definitely talk!)
My first day dropping him off was still a little of the separation anxiety, but there was something about it that felt different. When I picked him up, he was all smiles. What really tugged at my heart strings, was one of his teachers said he has the best belly laugh ever. She had to keep doing it and show off his laugh to the other teachers in the other rooms! That was when we knew we found the place for our son. A place where he would be truly cared for and loved. She even said he was super easy and is such a happy baby. My heart was full. I cried happy tears, for once!!! We finally found a place that saw our baby for who he was, a happy, easy going guy.
Since then, I've never worried about him. I always knew he was in good hands and would be cared for. There staff have been so wonderful for all of their kids they care for. They are who I hope all children have caring for them during the day. They switched from paper report cards to an electronic app and it lets us know how he eats, when he potties, when he naps, and if there was an incident like bloody noses or biting or paint all over his clothes and they needed to change him. It was the most reassuring thing to get those kind of updates daily. They even let me breastfeed him in there infant room a couple of times and encouraged that.
Hard Lessons Made Me Harder.
Through the crazy journey of finding the daycare for my son, I still had to navigate pumping and being on point and alert in the workplace. It was a hard transition. The stress of daycare alone was enough to distract me during the day. Constant worry of what my son was doing. How he was doing. What we would be doing if we were together. Probably snuggling, breastfeeding, or sleeping. These thoughts would run through my head in a matter of seconds while I was working on sending emails, doing documentation, or planning for meetings.
The hardest adjustment was not having him there. When I was so used to it. His pack-n-play was still in my office. But he wasn't there. I folded it up and took it home. Then I decided to look on Pinterest for some ideas on office decor to spruce it up a little. Make my office space more cheery and homey. I was missing a part of him being in my office. I needed him there. So I made a hanging picture frame, similar to Jacob's Ladder, and put pictures of him that Jolene took of him in the frames, I put up posters that were colorful, an artificial flower display with wooden pieces from the thrift store. I found a small desk lamp for my office and it was the finishing touch. It was cozy. The next best thing to having him there- seeing pictures of him next to my desk.
I would miss him so much during pumping. The first week or two I would cry. I hated pumping. I hated the system. For having to work, so I could make money in order to have a place to live, food to eat, and a car to drive. To have these basic needs, I had to be away from my child during the day, pay someone to watch him grow and care for him, was a hard thing to accept. I had a chip on my shoulder about it for the longest time. I thought about quitting my job to be a stay-at-home mom when we were having troubles with the first two daycares so I could be with him all day, every day. The way it should be in their first year of life. But that wasn't something we could afford. Sure we could have done it. But the cost to move out alone was out of our budget. We would have had to save up for more than a year to be able to afford to do that.
Pictures are what gave me comfort. When I had to pump I would look at pictures of my son on my phone or watch videos I had taken of him. They gave me comfort in my office. They gave me comfort when they would post pictures of him on the app his daycare used. They were my happy, secure place. All the while during this transition of trying to be okay with pumping and forcing myself to be awake all day, was extremely hard. My officemate at the time was out of the office for quite some time to recover from a surgery she had and then was working from home until she was given the okay to return to work. Besides her and one or two others in our department, no one really bothered to check on me. Just to ask me how I was doing.
That was what I would've liked. Was for someone to ask how I was doing with my transition early on. I felt like I was alone in the struggle. Alone. Like I didn't really have anyone to talk to about it all. No support. For any of it. The pumping. The working full time. The separation and daycare. All I really could've used, was people truly supporting me and making sure I was doing alright.
Naturally, I took it upon myself to seem like I was okay with it all. That I wasn't moved or phased by these hardships. Perhaps that was my own mistake or shortfall. I should have reached out sooner to coworkers, but I didn't want to seem like I couldn't handle it all. I was still under the impression I had to prove that I was a worthy employee. Although this dynamic was going on in the office, I had my husband to support me. Tell me I was doing a good job. He would tell me that constantly. I would reach out to my sisters who are basically all mothers or aunties and ask if they ever felt how I was feeling. There words were so reassuring. But because I never heard it from anyone else, I thought it was all a bias. That others didn't see that I was doing a good job. That I had to continue working harder. Perhaps, that was a mistaken perception. I will never know because I never asked.
I realized through these experiences how much parents have to sacrifice today in order to provide great opportunities for their children. I didn't talk much about sleep, or lack thereof, but I was definitely sleep deprived for quite some time. I also lost my maternal grandfather at this time; it was so difficult. I miss him every day. Until my son started sleeping longer throughout the night (about 12 or 14 months old). It made me appreciate my parents even more than I already did. And my fellow sisters who breastfed, worked or went to school, and raised more than 1 child while finishing their degrees or working full time. That is the power and determination of indigenous women. We know that we have to hold the family together and be strong for our own sake, but for the sake of our children and families.
This experience took me back to a place that my family, my ancestors survived. I thought about the children in my family and the children of my people that were taken from their families. Forcibly. Brought into a foreign place and cared for, or lack there of, by someone else with different values and behaviors. The hardships the children had to endure. The hardships, the parents and families had to endure. It would bring me to tears thinking of all of that. But it would also bring me tears of solitude; knowing that they prayed for us. All of us. You, me, our children. To be born some day. We have ancestral knowledge and wisdom engrained within us, a resilience that we owe to these generations that faced such harsh conditions.
So when I get those feelings of not knowing whether or not I am doing a good job at something, I think about them. My ancestors. I ask myself, would my ancestors be proud of who I am today? Would they be proud of the decisions I make? What would they do if they were in my position? I tell myself it's okay to cry. Let it out. Smudge. Pray. Meditate. Then, it's like I reset and start fresh.
It is through this hardship of finding a daycare, dealing with separation anxiety, and slowly accepting pumping and lack of sleep, that I have fully embraced this thing called motherhood. It's tough. There is no real way to prepare you for it except for going through the motions as your baby grows. We need to let go of internalized oppression. We can use our gut instincts, those feelings and signs from manidoowag to make sure our littles are being cared for. It's really good to be vocal about the care your child is or isn't receiving. It's more than okay to report it. It's okay to ask for help. To reach out to your relatives and ask for help. It is not a weakness. In fact, it is a very indigenous practice for the women and family to check on mothers with newly born to little ones and make sure they are taken care of. It's the practice of a tiyospaye. It's recognizing that we truly need to support one another in making sure the future of every single child is wonderful. Keeping our limitations in check and using our strengths to nurture the development and growth of our babies.
I learned that I don't have many other options. This is my option. Work or not. One would allow us to have our basic needs met. The other, we would have our basic needs met but would be struggling week to week if not daily. It took me 3 months after returning to work to accept this. That was the time that we found the daycare my son goes to be his home away from home. And you know what? My son still loves me. He will always love me. We still have and always will have this special bond we developed from breastfeeding.
My final words on this that it is hard. It can be challenging. Or emotionally depriving. But it can be done. Someone has to do this all, it doesn't have to just be you. Have your partner or relatives or friends help out. Ask for it. Making sure the care for your little sacred bundle is excellent and finding a way to make it work is so worth it. Although it may be difficult, it will only be that way for a short time.
Investing in the early development of my son was an intentional decision for us and for him. He slept in his moss bag until he couldn't fit it anymore (around 12 months old) and picked up so many skills from being at daycare. Our next step now that he is 2 and 1/2 is to prepare him to enter into a language immersion program. We want our son to be successful in learning and growing up knowing who he is, where he comes from, and understanding his responsibility to his people.