Tuesday, February 17, 2009

From DINK to Family of Five

Aztec-rose has asked for "post-birth" stories - stories about how becoming a parent affected you, both personally and with respect to work.

I'm writing it here so that I can spend enough time to make it worth the effort.

When we had our first child, we were both earning substantial incomes. We were making enough money to renovate our house to make it big enough for kids, which we did at the end of the pregnancy. We moved back into our house when Ben was about 8 weeks old.

Like Aztec-rose, I lost all interest in work when I was pregnant. I pretty much lost all interest in anything that didn't involve the couch. It took me quite a while to work out that it was the pregnancy, and not just uncontrolled laziness. Then again, maybe it was both. There was a fair bit of self doubt happening.

Then the kid actually arrived. Nasty but uneventful delivery, but he looked like a purple octopus when he was born, which might have horrified me if I hadn't been so busy thinking he was dead. Fortunately I had the presence of mind to look at the midwife and obs and decided that they wouldn't look so bored if the baby was dead. He needed a bit of oxygen, but not for long and he was fine.

I know this is supposed to be "post-birth" but the fact that it was a less than rosy birth experience just played into my innate dislike of babies. The fact that I find breastfeeding painful and Ben was a grumpy, grumpy baby just piled it on. I wasn't disappointed, just reinforced.

On the plus side, our ridiculous pre-baby devotion to work left us with a lot of leave. Crash took 6 weeks when Ben was born, which made a massive difference to my sanity. I used up all my annual leave at half pay for my 6 months of maternity leave. I was happy to go back to work at 6 months. I went back full time, but I was much less inclined to work indefinite hours. My sister was looking after Ben, so I didn't feel he was abandoned. And I was in a much better state to deal with him when I was home.

At 10 months he walked, and he turned into a whole new baby. It was about then I was actually prepared to consider another child - despite always wanting two kids the whole concept had given me the willies me up until then.

I had a miscarriage when Ben was about 18 months old. Work was fantastic about it - told me to stay at home until I was ready to come back in, and I had about 2 weeks off (time between ultrasound and D&C). However, it did start to change my focus. As work got more stressful, I made the decision that my health and that of the family were more important than the income. When I was pregnant with Charlie, I quit and started my own business. As a result, I had no maternity leave at all with Charlie (did a big install 2 hours away when he was 2 weeks old - he came with me). However, I did get to arrange my time so that I spent time with them.

This day to day balance definitely contributed to my decision to have a 3rd baby. That and the fact that Charlie was an angel baby and gave me hope that I might not have another 6 months like Ben's first. Crash eventually made the same sanity decision as me, and we now work together in our business. Maternity leave was also non-existent with Elissa - I took her to a work site at 7 days, with Crash to look after her between feeds.

Income is much lower, but, most of the time, we can get to the really big events. We can spend time with them all. The trade-off is that we virtually never get a block of time (like a week or more) away from work. Hopefully this will not be forever. Even the work punctuated week we took in January was great therapy for the whole family. I want to be able to take more family holidays, especially as they get older.

Looking at it from the other side, my work life has absolutely had a massive impact on my parenting. I had no idea how to be a parent. I had to ask the midwife to show me how to change a nappy. However, since I had always worked outside my comfort zone, I just naturally approached parenting the same way I had all the other projects I was way out of my depth with.

I read up on the theory, with a healthy amount of skepticism that still wasn't enough to stop me believing some awful rot (exactly the same as at work). I read Up the Duff, Baby Love, Kid Wrangling and Babies!. Then I started the bootstrap process - assume what I know is right, see if it works, if not, ask people who know (friends and family) and look for other expert advice (Tanya Byron was and is a guiding light for me) from people who actually do this stuff in practice. Then try another approach as gleaned from others, always assuming that there will be holes in the conventional wisdom, and that there is always the possibility of another approach that might work better for me. This is a process that has stood me in good stead at work before and after kids. I never assume that I am incapable of anything, I just don't have enough information (or in some cases, inclination). So parenting was much the same. This isn't working? OK, try another approach. I am capable but not psychic. It's been a blessing to have this experience at work, because while I am constantly appraising my techniques, I don't question myself as a parent.

Huh, I actually effectively practise "criticise the action, not the person" on myself as a parent. I hope I do it as well with the kids!

If you are inclined, tell your story to Aztec-rose. She's doing a PhD on this stuff, which I think is an excellent thing.


  1. Thanks Ariane. What a fascinating insight into the world of 'the juggle'. I really enjoyed your story, and I hope like me, you felt it strangely cathartic to tell your story. As our lives are so busy, it's not often we get to sit down a tell a yarn about the really important transitions in our lives.

  2. It was also instructive. I hadn't actually realised how similar my parenting was to my professional life until I started to think about it that way. Thanks. This is why I love the blogosphere - it keeps making me think about things in whole new ways!