First Month San Francisco Parents With No Paid Leave Trying to Keep Up With Work From Home
A Medium parenting diary
As part of our working parents publication, Medium commissioned a diverse array of American parents to document a week — four to seven workdays — in their lives. Our hope is that the resulting tally of dinners and bedtimes; playdates and naps; sprints from daycare to work and back again; will reveal some essential truths about parenting in this country.
After a month of being a first-time parent, it’s definitely an adventure, but it seems to be a milder version of the dramatic tales of angst that you come to hear. Our story is pretty simple. My husband and I have been together five+ years, living in a one-bedroom San Franciso apartment, and working to survive in the city’s changing economy. Getting pregnant was something we wanted—but we didn’t think we would conceive as quickly as we did. Nine months should be plenty of time to plan everything, but it’s not. Isn’t that what being a parent is all about? Having a loose plan but being ready to change gears quickly?
This month has been all about finding a rhythm that fits the baby’s needs—fitting some work, downtime, and the errands of life into one cohesive day. Although I am not working, I have no replacement at work and have projects and general upkeep to do. Here are snippets and experiences of our first month as a couple with a newborn.
Name: Samantha Remington, late 30s. Husband is Espen, mid-30s.
City: San Francisco
Baby: Callum Elliot
Job: I’m an executive assistant at a book arts non-profit. My husband is a work-from-home independent contractor translator.
Mom’s allowed leave: Twelve weeks unpaid, with option for more
Mom’s taken leave: Six weeks (unpaid with 55% of salary, thanks to California’s Paid Family Leave Act)
Dad’s allowed and taken leave: Given his self-employment, it’s open
Childcare situation: We’re going to do it ourselves for now. My husband works from home, so he will be taking care of the babe during the week. This is all new, so I may have the option of bringing the baby to the office a few times a week while he is still so young. Plus, I am very close to work, so I can go home for feedings.
Mom’s active parenting time this week in hours: 14 hours.
Dad’s active parenting time this week in hours: 10 hours. Should be and even 12 and 12 once I’m back at work full-time, but for now, there’s the constant need to nurse.
Parenting policy you want to see in the world: Universal, public childcare and public schooling.
Week One, August 1–7
The first few nights felt like an out-of-body experience for me, because there was no sense of time. Nurses came in an out of my hospital room every two hours; my son would cry a lot to be changed or nursed, and there was no resting. Learning how to breastfeed, change diapers, change my own bloody pads and ice diapers for swelling, all while wearing a foreign hospital gown with boob-holes made it an uncomfortable blur. No sleep was something I could handle, but having a crying baby who I couldn’t understand made me feel incompetent. Figuring out breastfeeding was also a challenge, and getting my son to latch-on and nurse took a lot of patience leaving little time for sleep. When we got home, away from the expertise of medical professionals, we questioned everything more. We found things that calmed him (talking, rocking, nursing, singing), and things that didn’t (swaddling his arms too tightly, sitting him in bouncy chair, my husband’s beard); the amazing powers of the bassinette and the “sleep sack” allowed him to sleep without waking himself up. The second night home, he settled down and slept more soundly at night; it’s ironic that my gerbil bladder or my full breasts were the reasons I woke up, not my newborn son.
Week Two, August 8–14
This week, we woke earlier, nursed a lot, and did tummy time and errands, with only a few meltdowns. After two weeks, we’ve figured out our son’s sounds and cries; were very impressed by his ability to fart like an adult; got him healthcare; subscribed to a diaper subscription to save some cash; and learned to point his penis down in the diaper after several diaper fails that resulted in change of outfit of babe and parent.
We’ve learned how to do a LOT of things one handed, with the baby on an arm or a boob. Learning to adapt the old ways to the new addition of baby is an essential characteristic of being a parent. Examples of our adaptations so far include: making our walk-in closet into a cozy nursery; adjusting shower time, housework and other physical tasks to times when babe is sleeping or on our arm.
We shortened errands to a three-stop maximum to avoid baby meltdowns. I eat faster or eat while baby nurses. He will get an occasional drip of guacamole or mustard on his head or clothing, but that’s what baths are for! After two weeks, we’ve gone through versions of the diaper bag and have figured out the perfect gender-neutral bag (pictured below).
Week Three, August 15–21
A dental emergency was cause for great pain, and the need to start using the breast pump, so my son could eat while I got a root canal. It was a sudden transition to bottle and our son cried for two of three hours I was away, before my husband got him to take the bottle. This was a test for what to expect when I am back to work full-time. The breast pump is uncomfortable, slow in the beginning, makes for slightly swollen and achy nipples, and makes me a feel a bit like a cow at a dairy farm. The upside is that I’ve mastered breastfeeding and pumping while working on my computer. It’s all about the pillows.
Week Four, August 22–28
First check-in with the doctor; he’s gained weight, and all is well. We received his Social Security card but are still need to pick up his birth certificate. We had a budget discussion after the increase in diaper use; making adjustments in food consumption is vital. My parents got us a chest freezer for food storage because we have found that making large batches of food is a great way to get more for your buck. I’m pumping more, but worry about having enough milk in storage for when I return to work.
Week Five, August 29 — Sept 4
I’ve started to prepare for going back to work with emails, schedules, and projects. This took more time because I had to nurse while on the computer. My husband will be taking care of the baby, and worries he won’t take the bottle. We have milk in reserve but it will be a challenging transition. We have started setting up some daily structure to give all three of us a routine which promises sanity. These first few weeks back, I am hoping to be able to come home to nurse, and the boss says it’s ok to bring him to work when needed… Fingers crossed!