breast milk, pumping

Pumping Hacks for Working Mothers

I have a love-hate relationship with my breast pump, and pumping in general.

I love the fact that it allows me to express milk for my baby to drink at daycare since I can’t nurse her myself. I hate having to hook my breasts up to a machine and “milk” myself 2-3 times per day. I feel like I should be mooing and chewing cud the entire time.

I’ve pumped for all six of my kids (which means I’ve spent five years of my life as a mother pumping multiple times a day, five days per week, and I’m currently pumping now for my 2.5-month-old daughter). I’ve gone through two Medela Pump-in-Styles and now have a brand-spanking-new Spectra S2  (thank you, federal government, for requiring insurance companies to pay for breast pumps!).

I’ve learned a lot along the way, as have the other moms in the Catholic Working Mothers Facebook group, and you get to benefit from our combined wisdom with the following pumping hacks for working mothers.

Leave pump parts in refrigerator between pumping sessions

I’m an hourly employee. I have two paid fifteen minute breaks, and one unpaid lunch break (it can be 30 or 60 minutes long). I mostly work from home now, but when I commuted 90 minutes one way, using the extra 30 minutes at lunch meant I left the office when traffic was at its worst so I usually tried to take only a half hour lunch break. Since my daily breaks totaled one hour, that gave me three 20-minute pumping sessions as long as I ate lunch while pumping or at my desk. That gave me about 15 minutes to actually pump, and only two and a half minutes on either side for set up and break down of all my pumping gear. What with washing my parts, I was usually a few minutes late getting back to my desk and would have to stay a few minutes later as a result.

When I realized I could just put my pump parts in the refrigerator between sessions instead of having to wash and/or sterilize the parts each time? GAME. CHANGER.

If you don’t have access to a refrigerator or are unable to leave your parts there, Medela makes quick clean wipes for breast pump parts that work, too.

Keep pump parts at work

One day, while driving to work, it suddenly hit me that I’d forgotten to put my pump parts back in my breast pump bag, and they were still sitting on the drying rack by my kitchen sink. It was too late to turn around and go back home to get them. I ended up having to make a mad dash to the nearest Target store to buy extra pump parts. Not cheap, but better than being painfully engorged the entire day or having to hand express into whatever container I could find. I ended up leaving those pump parts in my desk at work in case I ever forgot again.

Check with your insurance company and see if they pay for an extra set of pump parts — as it turns out, mine did, so now I have an extra set for my Spectra, if needed.

In a pinch, though, you can pump into anything if you have to. Mugs, mason jars, bowls, and rumor has it that Dasani water bottles will fit a Medela pump. (I’d forgotten the flanges as well as the bottles, though, so that wasn’t an option for me.

Pump directly into bags

I’ve never tried it myself, but several of the women in the CWM Facebook group recommended the Kiinde system, which allows you to pump directly into bags, which saves time since there is no need to transfer the milk into bottles, and, subsequently, no bottles to wash.

Go hands-free

It will make your pumping sessions infinitely easier and more tolerable if you have use of your hands instead of holding the flanges to your chest. In my pre-smartphone era, I made sure I kept a book to read in my pumping bag. These days, I play Words with Friends, read on the Kindle app, or surf Facebook (fun fact: I created the Catholic Working Mothers Facebook group while I was pumping).

There are several ways to go hands-free with your pumping — you can purchase a pumping bra like this, which holds the flanges in place; you can try making one out of an existing bra; or you can try the rubber-band trick (this works in a pinch if you forget your pumping bra at home).

I bought a pumping bra similar to this, and I put it on over the nursing bra I’m already wearing to save time.

Microwave sterilizer bags for parts

I sterilize my pump parts once per day, usually in the evening, and the quickest and easiest way to do so is with microwave sterilizer bags. My favorite brand are the Munchkin Steam Guard Microwave Sterilizer Bags.

Car pumping

Some women with a long commute like to save time by pumping in the car on the way to or from work. I always wanted to try this but never did. Bear in mind that you should only do this if you think your concentration won’t be affected, and also be aware that it can cause problems if you should get into an accident and the airbags go off. (Ouch…)

If you do choose to try pumping while driving, a vehicle adapter or battery pack for your pump is needed. Medela sells a car adapter for their pumps as well as a battery pack. There are adapters that work with Spectra and Ameda pumps, too, or you can buy a more generalized adapter that converts the cigarette lighter into an outlet.

Milk storage

Working in an office without a refrigerator? Or maybe you don’t want to put your breast milk in the shared office refrigerator? Or maybe the only refrigerator you have access to is several floors up or down? You can buy a portable mini-fridge that can sit on or under your desk and hold several bags of breast milk.

General tips

Watch a video of your baby while pumping to stimulate let-down. If possible, keep the outfit s/he slept in close at hand (some women put the outfit in a Ziploc and keep it in their pump bag so they can smell it as they pump).

Breast massage while pumping can help increase output, as can 500 mg of magnesium before bed.

If you typically do some kind of activity while nursing (reading, scrolling through social media, watching a show, etc), do it while pumping if you can. As similar an environment between nursing and pumping as possible can yield more milk.

Read up on the Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex, or D-MER. If you experience it, eating chocolate immediately after it occurs can help.

Do you have any pumping tips and tricks to share? If so, leave a comment!

child monk, daycare

Kids in Daycare Are Not Being “Raised By Strangers”

Last June, an article appeared on the National Catholic Register that denigrated daycare. Although it was titled “The Truth About Daycare,” it contained anything but truth. In fact, it was a poorly written article containing several blanket assumptions supported by misleading evidence (many of which were pointed out on the article’s post at NCR’s Facebook page).

What annoyed me the most about the article was the insistence that kids in daycare are being “raised by strangers.” I see this argument often, especially in Catholic Facebook groups. Each time I do my eyes roll so far back in my own head that I can see my brain, because that stance is both ludicrous and illogical. For example:

Unclear Metrics

Unless you take your kid to a new daycare every day, or you take your child to a center where turnover is unusually high (as in new employees are hired and fired on a daily or weekly basis), strangers aren’t raising your child. Instead, your child is forming close bonds with an adult who cares about him or her. Furthermore, even a stay-at-home parent isn’t engaging their child 100% of the time. A SAHP does housework, reads, visits with friends, grocery shops, brings their kids to playdates where they play with other kids, perhaps does volunteer work, blogs, gets into pointless arguments on Facebook about why they are superior to parents who work outside the home, etc. What’s the metric for gauging how much one-on-one time constitutes raising versus not raising? Is there a mathematical formula?

It’s Not Pro-Life

We want to foster a culture of life in this country, right? If so, we — as a Church — must stop denigrating daycare. As I said above, most single moms need to work to support their kids, and a lot of mothers who choose life, and choose to keep their children instead of placing them for adoption, must by necessity place their child in daycare so that they can support him/her. Yet so often Catholics say things like, “Mothers who put their kids in daycare are ruining them. Parents shouldn’t have kids if they’re just going to let them get raised by strangers.”

You know what a mother in a crisis pregnancy might think when she hears something like that? “Hmmm, maybe they’re right. Maybe my child would be better off dead than raised by strangers.”

Is Being “Raised by Strangers” Always a Bad Thing?

Are Catholics who talk snidely about people who let their kids be “raised by strangers” aware that their words could also refer to adoption? That’s basically the definition — handing your child off to a couple you don’t know, or don’t know well (strangers), to be raised. Yet adoption is an option championed in Catholic and pro-life circles. Isn’t this a conflicting message? Letting your child be “raised by strangers” is a wonderful, life-affirming option… unless you work full-time, in which case you’re destroying your children by placing them in daycare to be (allegedly) raised by strangers. What?

Do Catholic Schools Raise Children?

You’ll often hear Catholics singing the praises of giving your child a Catholic education by sending him/her to Catholic school. But wait a minute: if I send my child to Catholic school once s/he is five years old, isn’t that letting Catholic school teachers — i.e., strangers — raise my children? That’s the logical extension of the “daycare is raising your child” argument. (To be sure, there is a faction out there with the firm believe that all parents should homeschool.) But by and large I’ve found that the same Catholics who would criticize mothers for working full-time and sending kids to daycare have no problem with mothers sending kids to Catholic school full-time. Why the disconnect? Do children not need to be raised after the age of five? Last time I checked, my kids still had a lot of growing and learning to do after age five.

Do Only Mothers Raise Children?

I also wonder if people who make this statement have ever taken it to its logical conclusion. If it is the quantity of time that a parent spends with a child that equates to “raising” them, then logically only mothers raise their children. Fathers do not, since (presumably) the father is working 40+ hours per week and only sees his children evenings, weekends, and holidays. Yet Catholics speak about both parents raising their children, as does the Church. How can this be, if the mother is the only one doing the raising?

The Real Truth About Daycare

What this article, and those who share the author’s mindset do not realize is that a good daycare complements our parenting; it does not replace it.The article’s author seems to be under the impression that all daycares are government-run centers hellbent on indoctrinating young children with the vices of modernism and hedonism.

While a centers like the ones she envision may exist, they certainly aren’t like any of the ones I’ve had experience with, or have sent my children to in the past. She’s obviously never seen my kids’ current daycare, which is a home daycare run by a Mormon husband-and-wife team with four kids of their own. I know from experience that they share many of the same moral values that I do as a Catholic, and they’ve also been very respectful of our Catholic faith (just as I am respectful of their Mormon faith).

Their house is clean and neat (much cleaner than my house, for sure!). They have a huge playroom with lots of toys, and a big backyard with artificial turf and play equipment, plus a misting system for hot months. They take field trips, play games, and read stories with the kids. They provide two nutritious meals a day plus a snack in the afternoon. We’ve been with them since 2011, and they’ve cared for all six of my children, three of them since they were eight weeks old, and one since she was a year old. They’ve become good friends, and I feel blessed and reassured that my children are in excellent hands while I work to help support our family.

While discussing this article in the Catholic Working Mothers Facebook group, I asked for and received many testimonials from Catholic working mothers who had glowing reviews for their children’s daycares:

I’d love to introduce them to my center, Handicare, Inc. – founded by a woman who needed to work to afford medical care for her special needs child and couldn’t afford private care or find a center who had people skilled to manage her child’s disability. Sometimes life is complicated and you make the village you need; for every bad daycare story out there there are more that show it’s (properly used, funded and staffed) benefits particularly for children with needs outside the “norm.”

My 3 year old daughter literally RUNS down the hallway every morning to see her friends, and tells me all about centers and dressing up and playing outside and gymnastics when I get home. She LOVES the other kids in her class, is being socialized, is learning all about sharing and conflict resolution, and gets to do far more in a group setting than she would get to do if she was gone with me all day!

We love our daycare provider! She’s become like family. Whenever [my child] or I get sick she sends us home with home remedies. She also frequently sends me to work with pastries to eat with my coffee. [My child] loves his friends at daycare, he’s so good with other kids now, even though he’s still an only child. She also sends me photos all day long, which is the best.

My kids are in daycare, and you know what? It’s great! They are learning so much that I wouldn’t have thought to teach them yet. They are loved by the teachers and they love the teachers and the other kids. They are learning manners. They get nutritious meals and snacks. If I were to stay home at this time, we’d be scraping to make ends meet. We’d be eating beans and rice, rice and beans. There would be no trips to the zoo (like they do at daycare), they wouldn’t have the available educational toys because we wouldn’t be able to afford them. You know what else, without our daycare center, five women, none of whom have young children, would be out of work. Not to mention the other families in our center with single moms who are able to provide for their kids only because they can put their kids in daycare and go to work.

Our provider is Montessori and has helped us (first time parents – we know nothing!) instill respect, boundaries, and a loving attitude in our daughter. She absolutely LOVES her little “school” and happily kisses me goodbye each day and runs into her class with a smile on her face. They have a beautiful curriculum where our kiddo is able to grow and learn among her peers and understand how to interact with others. It’s been a true blessing in our lives and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Frankly, her daycare is doing a lot of things better than we would even know to do!

My son’s day care teacher loves him so much she offered to be our babysitter at home! She sends me photos of him throughout the week. I know he is being lovingly cared for. Also, because of day care, my son is a social butterfly at 15 months. He playswith other kids and shares. He is not shy or anxious around new people and is able to light up a room. He’s confident and funny, always trying to make people laugh even as a toddler.

My daycare provider is one of the kindest people I know. She considers herself an adopted grandmother to my son and loves him dearly. She has been a huge blessing to my family and my son lovingly asks her to come play with him even when he’s at home. She has attended his birthday parties and baptism (even though she is not Catholic). He is an only child but is learning how to be a big brother by being around a baby in her care. He is happy, well cared for, and loved. She will be coming over to help me while I am on maternity leave with my next baby. Though returning to work was hard, knowing that my son was going to her house to be cared for made it much easier.

Daycare early educator for 14 years. Exclusively infants and toddlers. I love my job, every single day. I love the kids, every single one, and I’m a huge advocate for doing what works for the family. (Nanny, family home, staying home, I’ve suggested all those things throughout the years) and I see it as my job to be a support for the family. My own kids started there and are now too old and they all have fond memories and lifelong friends because of it.

Sometimes daycare is a rocky road for us, but the lead teacher in my daughter’s room is amazing. She is so fun, she cares about every kid in there and teaches the curriculum our daycare provides well. Something I love most about daycare is my daughter is cared for by and is among other children in her class who are multi-racial. I love that she will grow with a positive view of cultures and skin colors that are different from ours. She would not have that from home!

I have two children who attend daycare. I am constantly amazed at the love and support the lovely ladies at my daycare provide my children. When I ask my two-year-old who his best friend is, he often tells me his teacher. In a world where so many children, teens and young adults are left without positive role models, I am grateful for this “village” to help provide my children with additional love and support in addition to their family. I know they are being emotionally cared for and I am grateful that my daycare provides an excellent learning environment to challenge them mentally as well as provide meals and a safe environment to care for them physically.

I met one of my adulthood best friends in daycare when we were two. She was present at my fifth child’s birth when my husband was too sick and taking care of our four sick children. We both have a set of twins. She is converting to Catholicism. We are linked forever and never would have known each other without daycare.

I don’t even know where to start. I found my daycare provider when my oldest daughter was two. She is now 8. She excels at school always gets the good Citizenship Award and has been asked to join the gifted talented program. She reads several grade levels above her grade and she has a vocabulary that beat even some adults I know.her 3 year old sister was also attends the same daycare, also has above-average verbal skills and at three and a half is able to write her own name. The daycare lady runs the daycare out of her own home; she is young and has never had her own kids. She is excellent with all the kids in her care and knows exactly how to meet the needs of each individual child. She also has a small farm and garden so the kids in her care are able to learn a little bit about those things. not sure if this is something I should really tell people haha, but my husband was nearly deported from this country and she willingly stepped up and wrote a letter to include in an immigration packet. I was also unreasonably investigated by CPS and she said that if the kids were taken away she would step up to be the foster parent. Thank goodness that was unnecessary. Even though I did not know her before she became my daycare lady and we do not socialize outside of our work relationship, I am very much considering asking her if she would be the guardian of my kids if anything happened to my husband and me. Her parents and in-laws also visit the daycare and treat all the kids like they were their own grandchildren.

We LOVE our daycare. We use Bright Horizons but I knew them prior to BH buying them because my nephew went there and I picked him up twice a week. When we had our daughter, it was a no brainer of where she would go. I have never felt bad about taking her there. I truly have felt like the staff loves my daughter and cares for her wellbeing. She is smart and learns so much there! More than I could ever do for her if I was home full time. I have received calls from them when she bumps her head or runs into another kiddo. I am never left in the dark about anything. I recommend it to all my friends who are looking because I truly feel it’s a safe and nurturing place that cares for all of us as a family. We just had a son and he will be going there. They made sure he will get the same lovely caregiver my daughter had. I don’t know what I would do without them in my corner.

I was just writing a letter to our daycare because at the end of the summer my younger son will start preschool. I’ve had kids in daycare for over four years and my experience has been so amazing. They both love going to “school” where they have music, outdoor play time, art, Spanish, and field trips. The teachers adore them and greet my boys with huge hugs every morning. My son told me the other day that his teacher is his “best friend.” When my older son started preschool he was way ahead of his classmates thanks to amazing teaching from our daycare — he already knew his letters and numbers and could write his name. Of course it is hard for a parent to leave a child, but I have nothing but positive things to say about the outcome!

My previous daycare provider was incredible. She made healthy organic food for all meals and played games outside all morning long and made crafts with the kids. She encouraged the kids to play together and to be kind. I felt that she and her assistant were particularly excellent in many of the areas where I was weakest, it was as though she filled in the gaps. My son adored her and the other children there. He was always so excited to go. I felt comfortable taking him and I still think that I was at my very best during that time. I was accomplishing so many good things for myself and others but most importantly for and with my son. He was so healthy and happy and I received daily reports on what he ate and did. I cried so much when we had to move and she and my son did too. My son was like another child to her. I was nervous about childcare but my experience with her was beyond my best expectations. We have a new place here that I think will be great as well. There are certainly some terrible places and situations out there but there are many incredible daycares as well, run by people who care deeply for our children. One reason my head daycare provider was so great was that she took her children to daycare so she did everything the way she wished it was when she took her kids. The other point worth making is how people with this anti-daycare view have such a limited understanding of the diversity of people. Women have talents and vocations outside the home just like men. It’s not just about needing to work but for some about wanting to fulfill a God-given desire. And their children are given to them by God, specifically for them. And children are all different. Some love daycare and some don’t but it can be beneficial. I once her another working mom, a professor with six children say the best way to describe it was to quote Eric Liddell from Chariots of Fire, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.” And that can be in combination with motherhood.

My kids go part time to the parish preschool, which also provides summer care for my school aged child. It has our adoration chapel connected to it so we say “hi” to Jesus coming and going. they get access to the lovely Catechesis of the Good Shepherd Montessori based religious education. The teachers are sisters of mine through the Christ Renews His Parish retreat that we see at mass on Sunday. My children have access to outdoors, messy art, field trips, visit the school library, and have all sorts of fun while learning. They have a prayer table in their classroom. We are so blessed.

My oldest son went to an in home daycare until kindergarten. She and her day watched 5 other kids (including my daughter when she was born ). She was great! My parents and in-laws both moved to FL when my son was born. She was so sweet and gave great advice when I had panicky mommy moments. When my son started kindergarten we had to switch to a “regular” daycare for my then 3 y.o. daughter. It was great too! My kids are super social. They excel in school. I loved both of their daycare sand they did too!

I work at a community college. There is an childcare center on-campus and my children have attended the last four years. While breastfeeding my daughters, I was able to nursing my daughters during the day for their first year. It was awesome to visit her during the day and not have to pump the entire time I worked.

I found an at home daycare near my work that is owned by a devout Catholic grandma from Argentina. My kids learned quite a few words in Spanish. They are well cared for with good Latin food, naps and 5 playmates of various ages. They love her. Most of the other kids are her grandchildren, and my babies are treated as part of the family. We are even included in some family gatherings.

Our home sitter is absolutely wonderful!! We gave her permission to drive our little guy around so he can have the same type of experiences he’d have if he was home with me (changing the oil, going to the store, going to the park, etc). She loves him so much, as do her daughters, who even wake up early to play with him before school on days I’m picking him up early. She sends us pictures and videos throughout the day, too, so we can see what he’s doing. We couldn’t have a better experience!

Our daycare center does more than I would ever think to with our 11 month old son! He’s been there 5 months and loves it. I can come & visit him as I please. I nurse him on my lunch break, on one of my days off I actually got to do a “craft” with them (painting with food-dyed ice cubes). He is held, rocked, kissed, & loved on 9 hours a day two days a week. He gets to play outside, interact with other babies, and is exploring the world around him. I have to work for my family and it makes it so much easier knowing he is loved on as if he was with family at the center. When my son got a fever & they called me to pick him up, they emailed me to check up on him later that day! It’s more than I could ever ask for. Also, that article talks about “non-maternal” care. I’d like them to say the interaction my son has with his two daycare teachers not maternal, because they might as well be his aunts!

I know our kids learn so much more at daycare than they would if they were home with me. I am totally confident that my kids will be academically prepared for school when the time comes. Also, I am so thankful that they allow us to pull our kids out for the summer since my husband will be home with them (teacher).

I love our daycare. The staff and teachers are happy to be there and the students feed off of that. I know they love my boys as much as I do. My 4 year old has has stitches twice while there because he is crazy and reckless. Both times I have have come to get him after getting “the call” his teacher was sitting on the floor holding him in her arms. She left her class to be with him until I got there and held him as if it were her own son.

Our daycare is an in-home daycare that is run by a young “Grandma” that has a daycare just because she enjoys having children around. There are two other children (besides our two) that are there full time, and there are a couple of part-timers that are there at various times. My daughter has blossomed since having a consistent daily routine (rather than babysitters with odd hours). Both my son and daughter love her, as well as all the family that comes around–they are a traditional Mexican family with lots of extended family that visits frequently. They look forward to seeing her and the other children, freely give her hugs and kisses every day. It is obvious that she doesn’t need the money, and is doing it exclusively for the love of the children she cares for–we are very blessed!

My children went to a great daycare! My son was speech delayed barely spoke 5 words by age 2. Worked with the teachers at daycare that I still talk to and we came up with a plan to work with a log to write down new words so we could all repeat them. He was still delayed in reading til 5th grade but made honor role in his middle school years! Without the help of these daycare teachers who knows where my son would be academically?

My children have a sitter who treats them like they are her own. Every day she tells me and them how much she loves them. She take them to programs and play dates I never could and has the patience of a saint. Her own children are role models to my own. I wish I could be as good a mom as my baby sitter is! Also, my kids’ vocabulary is through the roof which I totally attribute to being around her children when they are not in school.

I love, love, love dropping my kid(s) off at the play area at the YMCA. They play, have fun, meet other kids, and I get to workout for 1-2 hours. It’s great for everyone! As far as daycares go, we used a friend for one, and I occasionally use our parish daycare. It seems to be okay, but I have to admit that I haven’t done much research. In all, I have probably used it 3 full days and 8 hours or so other than that. Since I work for our parish, I can get free daycare when working, so when I have to go to the diocese–2 hours away–and my friend cannot watch our youngest, I take her there. It’s only once or twice a month. Sometimes when I have tons to do, I’ll drop her in for a few hours. I would not ever be able to complete these two parts of my job without it! Plus, having it be free is the only thing that makes it possible to use it because, well, parish ministry isn’t a super-high paying field.

My DH is a sahd to care of my son. The article states non-maternial childcare. I take offense to that because it makes it seem like even a dad isn’t as good of a caregiver as a mom. I am a paramedic and had to go back to work at 6 weeks. I work 24 hour shifts so dad had to do all the feedings, diaper changes, bedtime routine every 3rd day. He is an amazing dad and I don’t think I could have done all that.

My son’s daycare discovered a developmental delay in our son. He had early intervention services and lots of help along the way and is now thriving in high school!

In closing, I can only echo the comments offered by Molly Walter on NCR’s Facebook page:

“The author could have used this as a platform to discuss how we as Catholics can strive to do better in the care of our children – perhaps better salaries for fathers so two incomes becomes less necessary in high cost of living areas, more Catholic based care centers, more work at home and flexible hour options or job sharing, etc., but instead she hit “publish” on this which offers little emphasis on support and understanding and leaves a lot of room to assume judgement underneath some very broad blanket statements. We can do better. Instead of announcing something like this is “always bad” and cast stones at thousands of families of various needs, abilities and backgrounds let’s take the time and the space to build constructive avenues of discussion to find ways to better support our wonderful Catholic families, to do as the Pope suggests and meet them where they’re at and offer true pastoral support and care.”

The Job of a Mother

Have you read this news story about the advertisement that has had many working mothers in an uproar?

If not, here’s the ad in question. It was sent out by a real estate firm, Costello & Costell0, in Issaquah, WA.

costello and costello real estate ad working mother

Offensive, isn’t it?

The back is even worse:

costello and costello real estate ad working mother

But frankly, I was even more offended when I read the “apology” that the Costellos issued. It said,

There are thousands of professional agents working in our area who are also dedicated mothers, including several members of our team. Our original hope with this message was to show the value of having a full-time agent in a competitive market, but we completely failed. We have the upmost [sic] respect for moms and working mothers, and we know that the job of a mother is far more demanding than what we do as real estate professionals. Again, we are truly sorry.

It was this line that made me grind my teeth: “we know that the job of a mother is far more demanding than what we do as real estate professionals…”

They entirely missed the point as to why their ad was so offensive.

I wasn’t offended by this ad because I thought they undervalued the job of a mother. I was offended by this ad because it very strongly implies that a mother can’t successfully run a business out of her home if she also has small children. It’s a slap in the fact to mothers who DO work hard, every day, to succeed as a mother and a businesswoman. It’s a giant middle finger to all the mothers who stay up late and get up early so they can devote hours to their businesses while the kids are still asleep. It’s a rude “F— you” to the mothers who do hire babysitters, or depend on relatives or spouses, or even their older kids, so they can attend meetings or perform other client-facing activities.

The Costellos didn’t devalue the job of a mother. They devalued a woman’s ability to be a success at more than just motherhood, and they implied that only people (or perhaps just men, apparently) who are able to devote 40+ hours outside the home can be a success at their jobs. They also seem to be under the impression that women who run a business from home only work “part-time.” What about the moms who work early mornings, late nights, and many weekend days — often putting in 40 hours a week (if not more) to their businesses, while using the daytime hours to cook, clean, run errands, change diapers, etc.?

These mothers work hard so that they can give their best to their clients and their families, and I’m willing to bet they work harder to do it than two guys in fancy suits with cushy offices, who (I’m willing to bet) never have to give a second thought to who is watching their children while they’re working. Based on the bright idea they had to run this ad, I’m guessing they either have no offspring at all, or they have spouses utterly devoted to the 24/7 care of their children. Working moms by definition don’t have the former circumstance, and hardly ever have the latter luxury (the vast majority of working moms with whom I am acquainted having spouses who work full-time as well).

Kids are expensive. Daycare is expensive. Both facts are why so many mothers have attempted to find a source of income that doesn’t require them to pay for daycare yet still contributes to the family finances. And there may be some mothers as caricatured in the ad who only make a halfhearted effort to make their businesses succeed. But in my experience, working moms who set out to run a business out of their home pour their heart and soul into it, and make an effort to give their clients the best work that they have, while also making sure that their children don’t suffer as a result.

It’s an exhausting life to live, but many mothers do it anyway, because they don’t have the luxury of being able to choose to parent full-time or earn money for their families – they have to do both just to be able to afford the basic necessities. And what doesn’t help is when companies like Costello & Costello seek to denigrate and disdain the work that they do. Perhaps they should reconsider their (ungrammatical) apology and start supporting working mothers instead of insulting them.

An Anniversary

Mommy and Peter
Peter with his mommy — August 7, 2014

One year ago today, I was sitting in a small conference room at my workplace, pumping breastmilk for my then-10-month-old son, Peter, and thinking about a recent Facebook PM I’d received from a new Facebook friend. A mutual friend had directed her to my blog, and she was glad to find another Catholic mom of many who also worked full-time outside the home. I was happy that she’d contacted me, because it was rare to find someone else who could understand the joys and challenges of being a Catholic working mother.

Which got me to thinking — I knew we couldn’t be the only two Catholic working mothers out there; in fact, a recent thread in another Facebook group for Catholic moms had asked how many of its members worked outside the home, and I was surprised by the number of respondents.

I wondered, not for the first time, why wasn’t there a Facebook group specifically for Catholic working mothers? We really needed a source of community given that it seemed no one around us understood what it was like to live as we did — constantly trying to balance faith, work, and family in a culture that was increasingly hostile to Catholicism.

As I listened to the whirring and hissing of my breastpump — an object that was, to me, a symbol of my working mother status — the Holy Spirit slapped me upside the head. If you want a group like that, maybe you should start one.

I pulled out my iPhone and the Catholic Working Mothers Facebook group was born.

I was kept busy the next several weeks welcoming new members. “I’m so happy to have found this group! I thought I was the only one!” was a common refrain.

One year later, we have nearly 700 members [edit: as of 6:15pm MST on August 8, we have 701 members!) — Catholic working mothers from all walks of life. We have mothers who work full-time, part-time, work at home, or do freelance work. We have mothers who are pregnant with their first child and mothers of large families. We have mothers who are nurses, pharmacists, teachers, software engineers, military officers, editors, and countless other professions. We have mothers who are married and mothers who are single. We have mothers who are wholly committed to their careers and mothers who are only reluctantly working because their family needs their income. Most importantly, we are all faithful Catholics, striving to live our vocations as mothers and employees in accordance with Church teaching.

The success of the Catholic Working Mothers Facebook group was the inspiration for the start of this blog. To commemorate this anniversary, I’m going to have a great giveaway, featuring some prizes created by a few of our members! Be sure to come by the blog on Monday to check out the available prizes and find out how to enter!

The Case for Maternity Leave

newbornYears ago I was firmly encamped on the “why should anyone have to pay for my choices?” side of the equation. It seemed pretty straight forward to me. An employer pays you to work and while on maternity leave you are *not* working so why should a paycheck come along with your leave? It wasn’t fair to the other employees and gave mothers a benefit that other workers didn’t get.

I was all about the equality. Then a funny thing happened along the way. I started working full time and got pregnant.

We had not intended to be pregnant so soon after I started work. I looked at the calendar and realized two things: 1) I could not afford to take any time off during the pregnancy if I wanted to get a paycheck during maternity leave and 2) if I had gotten pregnant a month earlier, I would not be eligible for any maternity leave at all. We barely dodged a bullet on that one. For the remainder of that pregnancy, I doggedly dragged myself to work no matter how bad I felt because I wanted to be able to take as much time as possible after the baby was born, but we could not afford to go unpaid. It was a hard pregnancy, not from a medical standpoint, but from a physical endurance standpoint. Oh, the places I threw up… Even still, I only managed to save about six weeks of leave. Luckily that leave happened to fall over Christmas time so the built-in work holidays extended my time to about seven weeks. It is very hard to leave a seven week old baby to go to work, but this was the choice we had made and it was just the way it was.

After that pregnancy we decided that amassing enough maternity leave for the next potential pregnancy would be a top priority. I scrimped and saved days, only taking time when it was absolutely required or over Christmas time. Family vacations were pretty much out. We did manage to take three days to go to Chattanooga for a long weekend once, but that was it.

Every possible day went into the bank and by the time I was pregnant again, I had built up enough time to be able to take a handful of days off during the pregnancy and then take nine full weeks off after the baby was born.

That pregnancy was a little bit easier because I didn’t get quite as sick–is that a boy thing?–and on the very worst days, I had enough time to call in sick. It wasn’t very many days, less than a week over the whole pregnancy, but enough so I felt like I could stay home if I was feeling especially horrible every now and again.

It is very hard leaving a nine week old baby to go back to work, but this was the choice we made and it was just the way it was. I was generally pleased with my second maternity leave. We made a plan and executed it. I got to stay home for nine weeks this time. I imposed no undue burden on my employer and I was only paid for days that everyone else got paid. Why should my decision to bear children obligate my employer?

Again after that pregnancy we decided that amassing enough maternity leave for the next potential pregnancy was a top priority. Again I scrimped and saved days. Again family vacations were out. With each maternity leave, my leave time was emptied out to zero and I had to start all over again every time. Every day put in the time bank was security for the potential of next time.

It was during this interim between pregnancies that my thoughts about maternity leave began to change. I admit my changing opinions were prompted by my own flagging energy. I was tired. I needed a vacation. I worried about children getting sick, me getting sick, something happening which required time from me. I had exhausted my paid time and almost all of my FMLA time. If something unexpected happened that required more than a day or two off, I would quickly go unpaid which would be catastrophic for our family. With FMLA I only had three weeks of time off left of guaranteed employment which had to last an entire year. If anything major went wrong, we would be totally screwed. It was very stressful.

As I had to deal with this cloud of unease over my head, I watched my non-childbearing coworkers go on leisurely vacations to the Bahamas, take regular extended weekend gambling trips, go on impromptu vacations all over the country, and take whole weeks to visit family far away. None of this was possible for me. I wasn’t exactly jealous–well, perhaps–but the inequity of my equality began to clarify itself in my mind. While our employer treated us exactly the same, I was using my time to create and foster the next generation, which is exhausting, and my coworkers were using their time to relax and recharge their batteries. I was excluded from this renewal because I “chose” to have a baby and then another one and, maybe soon, another one. It was wasn’t that I regretted my decision to have babies, but that I realized that having babies is a fundamentally different activity than going on vacation. And given the length of my childbearing years, I could potentially go another decade without a vacation.

I came to the conclusion that there is no fair way to treat maternity in the workplace. You can either make allowance for women to have babies which means that non-childbearing employees will not get as much paid time off as the one who bears a child, or you treat pregnant women exactly the same which effectively means they forfeit any potential time off in favor of maternity leave. No wonder most women abandon childbearing after once or twice. It is an exhausting way to live. The question for society to decide is who will bear the brunt of the unfairness: grown adults who would be restricted from a benefit that did not apply or newly delivered mothers and their newborns?

Soon enough I was pregnant again. This pregnancy proceeded in a similar manner to the second working pregnancy. I had enough time to be able to take a handful of days off during the pregnancy, could even take time at the end of the pregnancy to start my leave before I actually delivered, and stayed home until the baby was nine weeks old. I suppose I could have been stricter with myself during the pregnancy and squeezed out another postpartum week, but coming to work day after day after day while pregnant after not having had a vacation for multiple years is a drag. I returned to work and had to start my time bank from scratch again, but a change in leave policies means that finally, after all these years, I can regularly go on vacation again.

Thus far I have whined a lot about my inability to use my vacation time as vacation time because that is the general extent of my problem, assuming all goes well. I am a professional, white-collar employee with paid sick and vacation time who was previously allowed to bank almost as much as I could. Since my income is our family’s only income, we could not afford for me to take unpaid time during maternity leave. The consequence is that I go to work everyday, we don’t go on vacation, and my leave is never as long as I am technically, legally entitled. This is tiring, but also the best case scenario for the majority of working mothers in the United States. Once my eyes were opened, through my own self-pity, to plight of pregnant women trying to live the ideal that “no one should have any obligation to pay for my choices,” I didn’t have to look far to find horror stories. I am supremely pampered and privileged compared to other women dependent on their own incomes to survive.

One woman I know had to have an unexpected, surprise emergency C-section, ending her first pregnancy when she was rushed directly from a regular prenatal visit into the operating room at the hospital. The extreme discomfort she was experiencing, which she had dismissed as the normal pains of late pregnancy because she didn’t know any better, was actually her son’s foot hanging out of her cervix at 37 weeks. Her employer at the time was a small company which did not have to comply with FMLA. She did not have paid time off. Two weeks after delivering a baby through major abdominal surgery, she returned to work. Two weeks was as long as she could afford to go unpaid. What choice did she have?

Another woman I know was a coach at a small college for a few minor sports. She had been pregnant when she got the job so FMLA, which guarantees time off after a full year of employment, did not apply to her. Her employer would not make any allowances for her to miss any time during the seasons. It just so happened she was due in the middle of one of the seasons. She looked at her game calendar and her due date. She found a stretch of time around her due date where there were five days between games. She coached a game on one day, scheduled an induction for the next day, delivered the baby, and then returned to her full coaching duties on the fifth day. What choice did she have? Missing a game opened the door for her to be fired and the law did not protect her.

Another woman I know is an immigrant to the US. She had been planning a trip back to her home country for years with her high school class reunion being the occasion. She had saved money and days for years to make it happen. Less than a year before this event was scheduled, she discovered she was unexpectedly pregnant. She had previously had some problems with infertility so this pregnancy was a joyous surprise, but also presented a conundrum. If she took a maternity leave, her time bank would be depleted and she would have to cancel her long-planned trip home. This was a severe disappointment to her. As her pregnancy progressed and she was generally healthy, she decided to shortchange her maternity leave, return to work early, and take her long anticipated trip home. Three weeks after delivering her baby, she returned to work. This is not necessarily the choice I would have made, but her opportunities for going home and seeing family and friends were extremely limited and I understand why she made it.

mother and childThese stories are not uncommon and they range from mildly vexing to unbelievably cruel. It isn’t that I know a whole bunch of unlucky pregnant women. It is that the average working pregnant woman faces these situations. As I take them in, what surprises me the most is the general unawareness that others have about the choices pregnant women have to make. I have been asked at work by coworkers how much extra paid leave I get for maternity. They are shocked when I say there is nothing extra. They have access to the same policies and documents that I do. Why do they think there is extra maternity leave? Consultants come through the building and ask pregnant women when they are going to start their maternity leave. They are aghast when the standard answer is “when the baby is born.” It is explained repeatedly that every day taken before birth is a day missed with the baby later, but they do not seem to comprehend. There seems to be this blind adherence to the widely held image of maternity leave beginning weeks before birth and extending three full months afterwards. This image has no basis in the reality of the lives of most working pregnant women. The reality is that the vast majority of every pregnant woman you see in any type of employment have had to make difficult, calculated, and usually exhausting choices to balance their health, their babies’ health, the demands of their employer, and their need for income. Most of the time, the woman’s health is deemed the most expendable by the woman herself.

If we, as a society, have decided we want women well represented in the workplace–and we have–we need to come to grips with the fact that women have babies. The act of bearing children is not aberrational but fundamental to human society. There needs to be allowances made for this one unique task that only a minority of the population can complete. An allowance that does not function on the assumption that one employee’s periodic gambling habit has the same value as another employee producing a baby. Mothers and babies deserve paid maternity leave.

Every time I make this declaration, someone always clutches his pearls and fears for the Republic. I don’t really understand this reaction. We make demands on employers and general society all the time. The standard benefit package required by law includes unemployment insurance, worker’s comp insurance, retirement insurance, old age medical insurance, and now, rightly or wrongly, medical insurance. Why couldn’t maternity coverage be added to these basic requirements? We have to stop viewing maternity leave with suspicion or idealization and begin seeing it as a normal part of a woman’s life.

What could this look like in the United States? It could take a variety of forms and I am open to many of them. We could impose a requirement on employers to provide the income, or we could impose a tax that would be paid out as a benefit by the government. Or, most interesting to me, we could require the widespread availability of maternity insurance subsidized by employers. This maternity insurance would look a lot like currently existing short-term disability, except it would be specially designed for pregnancy and the postpartum period. I don’t have a problem with employees having to pay into such insurance as long as the employers are also required to pay into the system. Currently this type of insurance is generally limited to companies who provide access to it instead of it being available to all workers, regardless of company.

I support a limited but guaranteed income for employed women on maternity leave. I do not support or approve of European or Canadian-style maternity leave. In my mind, their overly generous policies go far beyond the basic support necessary for the health and welfare of mothers and babies and have become lifestyle support. Onerous taxes are imposed, which force some mothers into employment who never would have chosen it on their own. They also set up a situation where one woman who happened to be employed at the right time can keep a paycheck coming for years while staying home with children and another women living a very similar life, but unemployed at the wrong moment, gets nothing. Long, open-ended paid leaves are not my goal, only that the health and well-being of pregnant mothers and babies are protected around the natal period.

To me, the ideal balance of the wants and needs of mothers and babies with the desire to not create extended lifestyle support would be a maternity leave policy that would begin at 38 weeks of pregnancy, to allow the mother a little time to prepare for birth, and continue until the baby is 12 weeks old. This period of time would allow the mother to completely heal, establish a good supply of milk, and bond with her baby for a short period of time beyond the intense and exhausting newborn phase. Again, this is an ideal. In my mind, anything has to be better than what currently exists which is nothing.

It is time for this country to understand that there is no equality or fairness when dealing with issues around childbirth. The burden will be borne. The question we have to answer is do we choose compassion or do we choose cruelty towards those bearing the burden. Thus far, we have chosen cruelty. I can only hope that someday we change our minds.

In Defense of Catholic Working Mothers

Le Messie by Albert-Ernest Carrier Belleuse
By Antiochus (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
“How can Catholic moms balance work and family?” asks Lea Singh in her article on Ironically, the author says she chose to stay home, a choice I completely respect, but it does make me wonder how she is qualified to write about something she’s never attempted herself. Ms. Singh’s thoughts on Catholic working mothers are misguided and hurtful to women whose vocation includes both motherhood and work outside the home.

As a mother who has chosen to work, I would like to counter her perspective with my own experience and insights.

I want to be clear: all moms work, and I am not trying to start a debate about whether stay at home mothers work harder than moms who work outside the home or vice versa. For the sake of this post, however, I will use the term “working mother” to refer to mothers who work outside the home in addition to their work of raising a family.

Singh lists the main reason she feels it is difficult for Catholic moms to balance work and family; namely, that Catholic women are supposed to have babies until our fertility runs out. She goes on to list some of the work/childcare arrangements that she feels are acceptable.

Her faulty NFP logic might lead an uneducated reader to believe that Catholic women are obligated to have as many children as they physically can for the duration of their fertile years (barring dire health or financial difficulties). However, this viewpoint is simply not consistent with Catholic teaching.

Then the author gets to the heart of it, the part that stings for many of us Catholic working mothers. She admits that Catholic teaching does not preclude the use of paid caregivers, but goes on to say:

“At the same time, it does strike me as not exactly in the spirit of Catholic teaching to have your children be raised by strangers so that you can both pursue your own careers. Working to bring bread to the table is one thing, but working for reasons of personal choice is quite another thing.”

First and foremost, paid caregivers are not strangers and they do not raise our children. As a fellow Catholic working mother said,

“Who are these parents who let ‘strangers’ raise their children, the parents who supposedly completely abdicate their primary role in their children’s lives? I’ve never met one, and I know a lot of families where both parents work. We, who send our children to daycares or employ nannies, choose our care providers VERY carefully. We do background checks, we interview them, we call references, we do trial periods to see if they complement our children’s personalities, and we try to involve them in our family life and become involved in theirs. Our ideal care situation is one in which the nanny or daycare worker becomes almost a member of our own family.”

Singh insists that there are “indeed psychological and emotional consequences to being raised by paid caregivers” but she does not cite any studies to back up this claim. In fact, many studies show just the opposite.

Secondly, Catholic teaching reaffirms that women who are mothers can work outside the home – and there is no caveat that working outside the home is only permissible if you need the income.

As Familiaris Consortio says:

“…the true advancement of women requires that clear recognition be given to the value of their maternal and family role, by comparison with all other public roles and all other professions. Furthermore, these roles and professions should be harmoniously combined, if we wish the evolution of society and culture to be truly and fully human.”

St. Gianna Beretta Molla
© José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / , via Wikimedia Commons

We need only to look to the example of St. Gianna Beretta Molla to see a beautiful portrayal of a woman who was a devoted wife, mother, and dedicated physician. St. Gianna and her husband Pietro had a paid caregiver, who helped with the domestic duties of their home and with their children. The Mollas were well-to-do, but always generous and prudent with their time and resources. St. Gianna considered her work her mission, as we read in Giuliana Pelucchi’s biography of the Saint. It is evident that St. Gianna felt that her work as a doctor was part of her vocation; she felt God called her to help others in addition to her primary vocation as a wife and mother. Harmoniously combining work and motherhood is not an easy task, nor is there a set formula to achieve balance. It’s something most of us working mothers are continually striving for. How blessed we are to have St. Gianna as a role model!

The author asks, “How different are you from your secular neighbors if your family looks like this: parents at work full time, small kids at daycare or with nanny?” I’d like to offer just a few examples of how we are different. We are at Church every Sunday, and we are involved in our Church community. We are open to having many children, if God chooses to bless us with them. When we are at work, we are living our faith by example to the best of our abilities. What would the workforce look like if there were no mothers? What would it look like if there were no Catholic mothers?

The author also claims, “As practising Catholics, it does seem to me that we should be setting a higher standard of childcare for ourselves, and that we should be willing to sacrifice more in order live out our vocations.” Really? Last week, my seven month old awoke at 3:30am and would not go back to sleep until 5am.  At 5:15am, my alarm went off; it was time to get up and get ready for work. This happens regularly while my husband works the night shift and isn’t around to help. Being a working mother is hard enough as it is, do I really need to hear a fellow Catholic mother tell me I should be willing to sacrifice more to live out my vocation?

Instead of telling other women how they should live out their vocations, why not offer to support each other in our different roles and responsibilities? I have friends who are both working mothers and stay at home mothers, and I respect each of their choices tremendously. I am also open to becoming a stay at home mother one day if God calls me to that. Just because I’m a working mother does not make me “anti-stay at home mother.” My vocation as wife and mother will always be primary; as I have already discussed, however, our vocations may also include that of teacher, doctor, nurse, etc. As a woman’s family grows and their circumstances change, she and her husband can discern whether God is still calling her to serve in that role.

Let’s stop treating career-minded Catholic mothers as if they are somehow harming their families. Let’s start acknowledging that God gives each of us unique talents and gifts – and we are each called to manifest those talents in different ways. All work, whether within or outside of the home, can be a means of sanctification. The path to holiness is not the same for everyone.

Noelle Kitenko is wife to Joshua and mother to a wonderful 8 month old baby boy, John Paul. She is a 2010 graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, where she earned her Bachelor of Science in Operations Research and Computer Analysis. She is currently serving her third tour of active duty as a Coast Guard Officer at the Pacific Area Maritime Homeland Security/Defense Division in Alameda, CA.

Making You a Priority

“What do you do all day?”

As a working mother, I rarely get this question. It’s most often posed to stay-at-home-moms, and it really makes no sense to me. Do the people who ask this question really have no idea of the massive amount of work it takes to manage a home, especially if you have multiple small children? There’s cleaning, laundry, meal planning, cooking, homework/homeschooling, home repair, yard work, paying bills… the list seems endless, and even if one parent stays at home there often don’t seem to be enough hours in the day to get everything done.

As one member of the Catholic Working Mothers Facebook group quipped in response to a discussion about this question,

What do you mean what do they [SAHMs] do?! They do everything we’re desperately cramming in on the evenings and weekends with no time – plus, you know, all that childcare. You know exactly what they do; it’s everything we need more time to do.

The flip side of this question is one that I am asked frequently, especially in the aforementioned Catholic Working Mother’s group: “How do you find time to get it all done?”

The short answer is: I don’t.

That’s the plain truth of it. Something always suffers. It’s just a matter of prioritizing. Every evening, when I look at my long to-do list, I identify which items are the most important, and try to tackle those. Everything else has to wait.

Meals and clothes are what I focus on. We need to eat and we need clean clothes to wear. I try to keep up with meal planning but that’s a work in progress. The laundry gets done but it doesn’t always get put away. But we have food to eat and clean clothes to wear.

Then there are a few other essential tasks depending on the day — the garbage truck comes early Thursday morning so the trash and recycling need to be taken out Wednesday night, for example. We need our trash hauled away on a regular basis so that gets bumped up on the Wednesday task list.

Other housework goes by the wayside. For example, my floors are constantly dirty. With an active, mobile toddler we’ve had to pay a bit more attention to the state of the floors, but luckily my ten-year-old still thinks sweeping the floor is fun (she likes to pretend she’s Cinderella). I’m teaching her how to mop, too. Sometimes the rug in the living room gets vacuumed; sometimes it doesn’t. There is generally clutter everywhere. I try to spend time each weekend decluttering but it feels like shoveling snow in a blizzard.

It's a metaphor. I'm the house and the snow is my to-do list...
It’s a metaphor. I’m the house and the snow is my to-do list…

I’ve implemented daily chores for my older kids (10, 7, 5) and I have my 3-year-old pitch in where he can. This is helping to keep the mess level somewhere above “Department of Health Violation,” which is a pleasant change of pace, but I have a toddler who loves making messes (and he’s in that delightful “let’s throw random objects into the toilet” phase) so it’s a constant work in progress.

So what do you do when you feel like you’re drowning in work and there aren’t enough hours in the day? It’s all about prioritizing. Top of the list needs to be your own self-care. In many households, regardless of which parent works outside the home (or even if both of them do), the mother is the spoke that keeps the wheel of the household turning. If the spoke cracks or breaks, the wheel crashes to the ground.

I’ve found Jen Fulwiler’s tips for survival mode helpful to working moms. Specifically:

1. Don’t let your sleep suffer. Easier said than done if you have babies or toddlers (or older children who don’t sleep well), but it’s so important to make sure you’re getting as much sleep as you can manage. Lack of sleep magnifies problems and makes everything seem a thousand times worse, and it doesn’t do anything to improve your work performance, either. I usually go to bed shortly after the kids do, even if it means leaving housework undone. Sometimes during the work day (weather permitting) I might sneak out to my car and take a quick power nap, if I didn’t get decent sleep the night before.

2. Don’t neglect your spiritual life. Again, easier said than done, especially when the thought of going to Mass with your frequently rowdy and misbehaving children causes you to break out in a cold sweat. But we can’t do this alone. God will give us the strength to keep going but we need to remember to ask for it. Even if you take the entire day to say the rosary, one Hail Mary at a time, that’s better than nothing. Even just a, “Lord, please help me through this” at a difficult moment. I may not have the time to read an entire book about theology or the saints, but I’ve signed up for a Daily C.S. Lewis e-mail so I can fit a little spiritual reading into the day.

3. Fit in quality time with your husband. It’s so important to take time to connect with one another, especially after a hectic day or a busy week. Date nights out on the town every week would be awesome, but we don’t have the time or the budget for that. So we’ll spend an hour watching something on Netflix before bed, or just talk while we have a glass of wine. If we have the luxury if a little extra time, we might play a board game together.

4. Make your load lighter. Can you afford to hire someone to help with the housework, even just once a month or once every six weeks? Do it! Has someone offered to watch the kids so you can have some “me” time? Take them up on it! I know many moms struggle with guilt when they try to fit in “me” time, saying that they already feel so bad that they are away from their kids while they’re working. And I understand that. At the same time, while we love our kids, being a parent is stressful. We need to take time to recharge our own batteries or we’ll completely run out of energy at a certain point. Even if it’s just 30 minutes at a coffee shop or 60 minutes at Adoration, find time for you. Every day would be great but that’s often not realistic, so at least once per week. I like to shut myself in my bathroom with a bubble bath, a glass of wine, and good book for 60 minutes of uninterrupted bliss.

Find something that works for you and make it a priority, just as important as the cooking, the laundry, and getting the garbage out every Wednesday. You are important – your mental health, your spiritual health, and your physical health. If one suffers, they all will, and that means your family suffers by extension.

Extenuating Circumstances

Elizabeth Duffy published a piece about finding the middle ground between the noxious Prosperity Gospel and forever playing the martyr in order to be miserable for God:

Barring serious illness or extenuating circumstances, times of extreme difficulty with normal life should be temporary.

 If they are not temporary, it could be time to wonder if we’re setting traps for ourselves or creating a life of soft controversy because joy seems untrustworthy, or undeserved, or we have past associations with fun and sin, or maybe we just don’t feel good about feeling good when there’s so much suffering in the world.

Extenuating circumstances. How do you discern if you have them? What is extreme difficulty? What is temporary?

Mary and JesusFor several years now I have been haunted by an enduring sadness. That’s not to say I am sad all the time, but it doesn’t take much scratching under the surface to find it. Depression runs in my family so I have thoroughly questioned myself to search for symptoms of that illness, but no, I don’t think I am depressed, just sad.

I started my career, fresh out of graduate school, at about the same time I became a mother. This was not an accident. The decision for me to work was made because my potential career was much more lucrative and because I do not know how to cook very well. That’s it. No grand statements about “having it all” or overriding feminist philosophies or really any deep thought. Only that I could make more money and not cook at the same time.

I began this journey of career and motherhood and it was hard. Physically hard. Mentally hard. More challenging than I had ever imagined. Being pregnant and working was dreadful. Having a newborn and working was maybe worse. But I managed. I missed my babies, but they were with their Daddy so I never worried about them. I was working because I could make more money and we would be financially sound. I also wouldn’t have to touch raw meat. I liked my job and it suited me. I busted my rear in the beginning knowing the money would come, the opportunities would open, and I would provide for my family.

After awhile it became apparent that my job was a dead end. The expected payday never came. I got rave reviews and few raises. I was denied promotions, never given any new job responsibilities, but was told I was a vital member of the team. I was shunted to an obsolete system which had no concrete transferable skills with which I could run to another company. I had lots of recognition as a dependable and steady worker and not a lot else. A new job meant another entry level position. This is not how the script was supposed to play out.

At the same time, my attitude toward the vocation of motherhood was undergoing a radical change. The wisdom of protecting the mother as she protects the child shone like a light in my ever-reasonable mind. I was running myself ragged for rewards that were not coming.

And then my oldest started school. This was the touchpoint of a crisis. It became very obvious to me that swooping in at suppertime for an hour or two of company with my family was not enough for me. I’ve always laughed at the notion of “quality time” because it seemed such an absurd notion. Children need and demand quantity in addition to quality, but there I was with “quality time” being the only option. I wanted to be highly involved in her school and her education and the truth was I didn’t have time. Every day was a whirlwind of events and I could barely grasp what was happening in her life. I also wanted to sit and rock my baby.

These two distinct strands in my life suddenly began to make sense together. My job was not panning out and I wanted to be home anyway. It is hard to describe the thought process without it sounding like sour grapes so just believe me when I say it wasn’t. All at once I could see the blessing of being denied these promotions and raises because it made it easier to walk away from work. I wanted to come home, there was not much holding me to work, and the gap in income was not as great as it might have been. I could even learn to cook.

That was three years ago.

For whatever reason or set of reasons, this simple reordering of our employment arrangement has not been so simple. I thought it would be the work of a few months or maybe a whole year, but that has not turned out to be the case. I mourn for what I have missed, for what I am currently missing, for what I will miss. I do not remember the infancy of my second child. Memory is closely tied to sleep and I was severely sleep deprived. I search for a tangible memory and find an 18 month hole. This fact stabs me.

What is extreme difficulty? Over these years I have discovered that my acceptance of this situation depends a lot on the seasons. In the spring and summer, I am usually hopeful and accepting. The possibility of change is palpable. The work is not so daunting, the commute not so deadening, and I vow that I can endure for as long as it takes. In the fall and winter, I struggle with despair. It seems like this will never end. Nothing will ever change. I cry driving into work more times than I care to recall. My mood is as dark as the weather. I struggle with anger that this has been so unsolvable.

What is temporary? Over the course of a lifetime, three years is temporary even if it feels long while living it. I hope for the day when I can look back and point at this time and say, “It was temporary.” But when does it cease to be temporary? What if it isn’t temporary? I can’t bear to think it. Even in this “temporary” time, my children continue to grow and I am not home.

What are extenuating circumstances? From a modern perspective this angst is absurd. My life is completely normal. Mothers work every day. Society encourages mothers to work. You go, girl. A mother at home is wasting her potential or “has never worked a day in her life,” right? The idea that there is something unusual about my situation is not true. There are millions of mothers all around the country doing exactly what I am doing every day: leaving their children and driving to work. Many of these women are in far worse situations than I am. How arrogant and expectant for me not to be satisfied. I have a stable marriage, four wonderful and healthy children, and a job that allows us to live comfortably even if there is not much left for extras. The list of people who would change places with me is quite long, but I can’t help but feel there is something deeply wrong here and the sadness remains.

…and her consciousness of misery was therefore increased by the idea of its being a wicked thing for her not to be happy.  –Jane Austen

What is God’s Will in all this? I have no idea. Surely there is more intended in this situation than for me to play the starring role in a cautionary tale. It seems that if I were meant to fully live out my vocation at home, the job situation would not be so impenetrable. It also seems that if I were meant to continue working, there would be some kind of encouragement in my employment: a raise, increased responsibility, something. The truth is I don’t want that kind of encouragement. If I am supposed to work, it would also seem that my yearning to be home would soften and lessen. If anything, my longing is stronger now than it was at the beginning. Three years is definitely not a phase. To be given this desire to live this vocation full time but only be allowed to fulfill its duties poorly, part-time, and incompletely is agony. I cry out to be rescued. I am supposed to want what God wants, but the truth is I want to be home, beg for my way, and find cold comfort in the notion of sacrificing my children’s childhood.

I cling to hope even when it tastes bitter. When a new opportunity arises, I tell myself not to get excited, not to daydream about the future, not to get ahead of the process, but even with these internal precautions, I am devastated all over again when it doesn’t work out. I hope in spite of myself.

Even among all this sadness, there is still joy and blessing to be found. The clarity of mind and purpose this period of waiting has brought is a tremendous blessing. The space I have had to ponder about vocation and faith, beauty and truth is nothing but blessing. The time I have been given to develop friendships in this strange purgatory is blessing again.

When people wonder why God allows suffering, I think the answer is so much about God’s knowledge of joy. That somehow, strangely, the relief and shock of being rescued from something is greater and more wonderful than never having been in trouble at all. We want never to be in trouble, but God knows that by us being in trouble, being in the way of perishing, and then him snatching us out and setting us on dry ground in safety, we will have seen who he is where we couldn’t have before.  —Anne Kennedy

I am awaiting rescue, confident it is coming, doubting it will ever get here. I am ready to learn how to cook.

Coping with Miscarriage at Work

Having a miscarriage is awful in and of itself, but an extra layer of difficulty can be added if you’re working outside the home. Pregnancy can be tricky to deal with in the workplace, especially if you’re in an unsupportive environment, and navigating a miscarriage can be a thousand times worse (especially if you didn’t want anyone, including your boss, to know that you’re pregnant).

Sadly, I had to deal with this situation last week, when I miscarried my eighth child, whom we named Francis, at 12 weeks. My situation was made slightly less awful due to a few factors:

  • My boss already knew I was pregnant. I had told my boss about my pregnancy very early on, at about 5 weeks, because my pregnancy nausea was so severe that I had to leave work early – only a few hours after arriving for the day – due to a bad vomiting episode. I was comfortable doing this because I knew my boss would be both congratulatory and supportive. I also knew he’d keep the news confidential until I announced it myself. (This was my third pregnancy with him as my supervisor.)
  • I was working from home at the time. I work from home (WFH) three days per week, and that particular day (June 1) was one of my regular WFH days. I used my lunch break to go to a prenatal appointment, and while at that appointment it was discovered that my baby had passed away. I texted my boss to tell him the situation and told him I’d need the rest of the day off. He offered immediate condolences and told me to take off as much time as I needed. (Thankfully, my husband’s boss, who also knew about my pregnancy, was similarly understanding.)

My situation was slangel with babyightly more awful due to the fact that I had already told my co-workers about the baby. Just four weeks earlier, an ultrasound had showed a baby with a heartbeat, measuring spot-on and presumptively healthy, so I told my coworkers about my pregnancy at about 10 weeks.

After the miscarriage, it was very hard knowing I was going to have to “un-tell” everyone. I took three days off and arranged to work from home for an additional week; on my first day of work after the miscarriage I sent out an e-mail to my team (five co-workers, plus my boss). It was easier than telling everyone in person.

I kept the e-mail short and simple: “I have sad news. I lost the baby to miscarriage on Monday. I’ll be working from home the next 5 business days and will be back in the office on Thursday.”

Here are some additional tips for navigating an early pregnancy loss situation in the workplace:

1. If you’re in an unsupportive environment, you don’t have to tell your boss that you were pregnant or that you’re miscarrying or have miscarried; you can simply tell him/her that you are undergoing health complications. You can also tell this to HR if needed. However, if practicable, I do recommend telling your immediate supervisor and/or HR, if relevant, the nature of your health issues. It’s easier to explain your exact needs, and it will also give him/her a head’s up that while your physical healing may only take a few days, your emotional healing will likely take longer.

2. Similarly, I recommend telling your co-workers the nature of your health issues, or at least telling the co-workers you work most intimately with; I’ve found that co-workers may be less resentful and/or more willing to help pick up some slack if they understand why you’ve had to take such sudden time off, and why you may have trouble concentrating once you do return to work. It may also help stem any nosy questions about when you and your husband plan to have kids/more kids.

3. If you’re in a client-facing situation, that’s a bit trickier. If your clients already knew you were pregnant, then a brief e-mail (similar to what I sent my co-workers, above) is likely the easiest way to let them know. If not, it’s probably best just to let them know you’ll be out of the office or working a modified schedule due to sudden health issues.

4. If you’ve been struggling with infertility, you may want to consider being honest about it with your boss/co-workers. You don’t have to go into any great detail, but a simple, “We’re dealing with infertility,” when asked about plans for children can make people stop and reconsider asking those personal questions. I’ve never had to bear that particular cross, but I have had co-workers in that situation, and their honesty with others helped prevent some (but not all) nosy questions as mentioned above.

5.  Take as much time off as you can. I can’t emphasize this enough. You are grieving the loss of a child, even if our society doesn’t recognize it that way. If your company has bereavement leave policies, inquire about using that leave in lieu of paid time off. If you have available PTO, take as much time as you can afford. If your loss is later in pregnancy or if you experience complications, you should also investigate FMLA or short-term disability leave, if offered. Sometimes working can help as a distraction, but if you don’t give yourself adequate time and space to grieve your loss, as well as recover physically, it can just get worse in the long run.

On a related note, I’ve written a blog post for Catholic Stand about the logistics of burying your baby after a miscarriage, which I hope will be helpful for others in similar situations. 

Mothers Who Work for the Church Need Our Support

Note: The following post was not authored by me. It was submitted by a personal friend who asked to remain anonymous. 

I always thought that working at a Catholic Church and having children would be the dream. However, after having my first, a daughter, I’ve found that the dream isn’t what I thought it would be.

I work as a Director of Religious Education at a large metropolitan parish with over 6,000 registered families. Needless to say, my job entails a lot of different responsibilities. I gave birth just before Easter, which meant that I was on leave for, arguably, the busiest time of year for my department. I did everything that I could before I went on leave (including working from home as I labored before going to the hospital) to ensure that things would be taken care of and in order while I was gone.

Mary and JesusI returned after just under six weeks of leave. I chose to use all of my sick time during my leave so that I could get paid. (Side note: my parish actually had to figure out what the policy for leave was when I became pregnant. They nearly made the decision to force me to use all of my vacation AND sick time on my leave. Fortunately, they let me decide how much, if any, of my vacation/sick time to use.) My first day back was actually pretty fun. My coworkers were excited to see me again and to see my daughter. That ‘fun’ feeling only lasted for that first day.

Before my maternity leave began I worked out an arrangement with my boss, the pastor, that I would return to work after 6 weeks, so long as I could bring my daughter with me until my husband, a teacher, finished teaching for the school year. This plan was then communicated to the staff. I hoped and believed that since the Church is a pro-life, pro-family organization, returning to work with my daughter in tow would be accepted and respected, especially since the pastor endorsed this plan. What I was met with in those first few weeks surprised me.

I attended a staff meeting (with my daughter sleeping as I wore her) in which the staff were told by the pastor that we are not allowed to deal with “personal” things while at work. I understand the idea, but my daughter is there – per my pre-arranged agreement with my boss. Coworkers began making comments about how much work I was or was not getting done. Sometimes they made them to my face, other times they made them not knowing I could hear what they were saying. I was shocked and hurt, to say the very least.

Among the most shocking days was when I arrived to work and another coworker began a very blunt conversation with me about how I should not and could not close my office door and cover the window on my office door while I nursed my daughter. I informed her of laws protecting working mothers who are to be given a space to express milk that is not a bathroom. Since there are no such rooms in our parish, I covered the window to my office door and called it good. She vehemently disagreed and the conversation only ended because I walked away.

The fact of the matter is that going back to work six weeks after giving birth is incredibly difficult – more so than I imagined it would be. I’m grateful that I get to bring my daughter with me, but at the same time, I feel divided. I love my job and want to keep working, but I love my daughter and don’t want to miss a second of her development. My job is a job – a great job working with children and introducing them to Jesus. But my life as wife and mother is a vocation and that’s not going to change. Jobs come and go, but this vocation is here to stay.

Harder still is going back to work only to be met with judgment, rude comments and unsupportive coworkers. I could have taken a longer maternity leave, but I didn’t. I felt some sort of Catholic guilt at the thought of my work being put on someone else’s shoulders should I extend my leave (which I could have done, per FMLA, though it would have been unpaid). I didn’t and don’t expect to be lauded for doing my job, but I do hope for and expect at least a modicum of respect in the workplace.

It is interesting, though, that people want to see and play with my daughter, but are also completely okay with questioning my work, talking behind my back and telling me how I’m breaking work policy (I’m not) and that I should just find a closet to breastfeed/pump in (there are none into which I can fit). If given the choice, would my coworkers rather I have extended my leave, thus putting my work on their shoulders? I think not.

As I’ve been reflecting on all of this, I’ve realized that there is a disconnect between priests (who are the boss) and lay employees. Priests have their vocation as their job – they are tied up into the same thing. They married the Church. They married ministry. Lay people, however, are not married to the Church, they are married to a spouse. Lay people are not married to ministry, they have a spouse and children to look after and care for. In no way is that meant to disrespect priests or their vocation, but I think it makes it harder for priests to relate to or understand the struggle their lay employees (especially working mothers) face. That disconnect then trickles ‘downhill’, so to speak, with the other employees. Since, more often than not, priests struggle to understand the plight of a working mother, the other employees lack a clear example of what it is like to support rather than tear down a working mother.

There are, as far as I can see, no easy answers here. The options are:

1. Return to work as soon as possible which would put my infant in childcare OR in my office (leading to the aforementioned workplace strife).

2. Extend my unpaid leave, strain my family financially and put my workload on my coworkers.

3. Hire someone to fill in for me while I’m gone (who would’ve had little to no training), thus potentially straining the parish finances.


4. Allow me to bring my daughter to work while supporting me in my efforts to balance my vocation as wife and mother with my job responsibilities.

In a sense, there is an easy answer, but no one seems to be choosing it in my situation. That support could be as simple as the pastor, at our usual staff meeting, informing/reminding the staff that he and I have come to this agreement and telling the staff that if they have any questions, they can take them up with him, otherwise they would do well to be quiet about it. Perhaps he could even remind them that this is the Catholic Church, a pro-life, pro-woman, pro-family entity.

Instead, I’ve been met with annoyed coworkers, snide comments and made to feel shame for breastfeeding my child. After my first few weeks back, I remarked to my husband that if my faith were shaky such treatment inside the walls of a parish would seriously make me question my faith. I wouldn’t wish that on any working mother, whether she works for the Church or not, especially when more can and should be done to support a working mother.

[Note from Admin: What do you think can be done in our parish environments to encourage more support for working mothers, whether they work for the church or elsewhere? Please leave your thoughts in the combox!]