Working moms

I got my husband to like Working Moms, the series as I anxiously approached my due date. If anything, it was like an honest guide into the roller coaster life I was about to be plunged into. It was overwhelming, eye opening, but merely visual. It did nothing to prepare me for what I would face in real life.

My little tribe of women at the baby shower were all about the birth, motherhood but little on how they were coping as super working moms.

Then, a little over one year ago, there I was screaming my lungs out in a hospital bed, giving birth to my little munchkin, and all of a sudden, a reality hit my gut. This human was so tied to my existence, so reliant, so dependent that leaving him will almost feel like abandoning him.

After some rest, I strolled to the nursery where he was being attended to. He was asleep, so peaceful and innocent. He had hair till his forehead and his skin was light, a little red on his nose, eyes and soft chubby cheeks. He curled his tiny hands and made the cutest sounds. I was so surprised at how tiny he was.

His feet were slightly smaller than my thumb and his full height was the length of my hand from my elbow to my fingertips. But at the same time, how did he fit…anyway.

I stayed there almost all night, observing him, holding his tiny hands, singing to him, trying to wrap my head around this huge miracle. Coming to terms with the fact that I have a son now, I’m a mom.

He was so small, calm and helpless all I wanted was to protect and care for him. I realized how much responsibility came with this miracle, and how reliant this tiny person was on me.

We were discharged a week later and I remember my husband and I trying to figure out how the order of these layers of ‘newborn set’ clothes and whether the stockings or the rompers came first as we dressed him for the very first time.  You can trust two very clueless first time parents to put them in the wrong order, but an experienced mom in the nursery came to the rescue. 

We were finally back home, joined by our new family member, so clueless, yet excited and grateful. “There are 7 billion people on this planet, if it was so hard there wouldn’t be so many of us. It can’t be impossible” my husband always said every time I got overwhelmed by how little we know about raising a child.

One thing as a first time mom you are never prepared for is how the idea of time can change so much. Days merge into nights of sleep deprivation that takes away the ability of your mind to consolidate your memories and somewhere in between three months can seem like one long day that comes to an end so suddenly.

Time literally flies when you’re caring for a little one. Your perception of it changes when you’re lost in the late nights, countless diaper changes, toothless grins, bottomless porridge, soup bones and his huge brown eyes, bright enough to light up the sky.

As I roiled in pleasure, frustrations, hormones, new levels of panic, three months bumped into each other and were gone; and just like that it was time to resume work. I was anything but ready to go back and my anxiety grew.

You think you have known feelings of fear, worry, or unease until you experience it for your child until your body is in a state of constant agitation while trying to keep it together to leave your child behind. The anxiety you have when you have to leave your still very small baby with a nanny you just met a few months back can be unsettling. You worry if they’ll be okay. You hope that she will try to care for him as if he was her own. You pray and trust that your Father in Heaven will protect the very miracle that he gave you.

Then there’s another worry that is almost constantly on your mind, baby’s food.

Read also: Lessons from the trenches on surviving motherhood

A three month old is still exclusively breastfeeding, this of course is not practical for a working mom. So science went ahead and invented miraculous machines that suckle tits groaning mouthfuls into storage bags to be kept in freezers and thawed on demand at feeding time.

In practice though, pumping has to be one of the most complicated activities I have had to do as a mother. The inconvenience of the location of doing it, the storage and transfer, I walked around like an organ donor courier. And worst of all the little reward at the other end of the pump as very little trickles to match the growing appetite of my little one.

Unsolicited advice and all manner of sophistry is thrown your way as everyone suggests how it worked for her, or her sister or someone else they knew. There are so many different ways to achieve best results and good milk supply when pumping that one could write a book.

From all the advice I got, I gathered the basics are the type of food you eat, the number of times you pump or breastfeed in a day, the time of day, your emotional state and physical health.

Tell that to an anxious mother trying to balance being a productive worker, drinking a thermos full of porridge, pumping every 3 hours, drinking at least 2 cups of hot chocolate, enough water, balanced diet through the day, soup,  taking care of your still healing body, managing your stress levels and emotional state, while still being a good mother and wife, all these on about 3 hours of sleep a night, it can be a challenge and a little unrealistic.

The scientists then went back to work and produced baby infant formula which would at least act as the alternatives to breastmilk. This was the perfect solution to working mom if it did not come with guilt. The constant reminder that breast milk is always best especially for the first six months, half of which you are away at work. As a mother you want to give your child the very best, and so I tried to pump as much as I could and store before resuming work.

I had managed to almost fill our small freezer compartment in our fridge with bags of breast milk a few weeks before I was due to go back to work. If you have pumped milk before you know how much sweat and blood it takes to get just an ounce. I was super proud of my achievement, before Kenya power burst my little bubble with a power outage that lasted two days!  

Breast milk has specific storage instructions. Other than the strict hygiene that must be observed, thawed breast milk from the freezer must be consumed within 24 hours, and whatever is left must be disposed of.

Now imagine my frustration. Imagine my frustration after realizing that my son must either consume two months worth of pumped milk in 24 hours which is near impossible or I must dispose of them. I had to try though. It took me a week to recover and regain the strength to start over. 

Even so you are told bottle feeding is not good for your baby as if subliminally telling you you are not supposed to work until your child gets to two years. That is why four in ten women have to rely on feeding their children through the bottle and due to the level of stress affecting milk production turn to alternatives.

But even with that reality, the guilt is thrust upon us making it look like candy coloured Nan tins and advertising baby formula has addicted mothers who simply do not want to breastfeed their own children as a lifestyle choice. The misogyny.

 It gets to you however subtly, the guilt you constantly feel. The feeling that you have left your helpless baba behind to pursue personal interests. The idea that he might fall sick and you will not be there to immediately care for him. Wishing that you could spend more time with them, catch all their milestones the first time they happen.

The nagging feeling like you have to make a choice between career and family. Asking yourself constantly if it is worth it.

Read also: Biting Baby Formula Shortage Eating Our Pockets

I have come to believe that the system has come a cropper with working mothers. That the work system was not built for women who joined in along the way as men went off fighting, and it is not adjusting fast enough to accommodate us. Since women started participating in the workforce, at around 1930, very little has been done to adjust the system.

While women’s movement has focused on breaking the ceiling, having the gender represented in the highest executive offices and rewarded for similar work done, little has been done in making work environments friendly for mothers.

Pressure to increase legal maternity days have often been rebuffed by the industry who say they would not hire young girls. It goes without saying, especially during this period of cost cutting, that women are more likely to be fired and less likely to be promoted. Productivity does not put into account the fact that you are pregnant or just had a baby or had the worst cramps that month.

In Kenya only countable work places, mostly multinational or top corporations, have secluded areas for mothers to pump breast milk, or nurseries that allow women to carry their child with them to work, and more flexible working days.

The evolution of work into flexible schedules during the Covid-19 pandemic offers lessons that work can be built around us to accommodate our special requirements to contribute to the job under less strenuous conditions.

Policymakers and employment lobbies should try to understand that at three months, a baby can only barely start to recognize its caregivers from further distances, and has just started to figure out how to lift their head and chest up from a belly down position. In my opinion still too young to be torn from his mother. 

Yet here we are one year later, and I still worry when I leave him to go to work. Maybe this is my new normal. Maybe as a mother you constantly worry. Probably your baby will forever be a baby to you.

It’s amazing how getting home from a long day at work to the sweetest smile, brightest eyes and purest love can make any day feel like the best day of your life.

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