Saturday, August 30, 2008

Help Comes to Those Who Seek It

I have often wished that I had started blogging about a year or two before I finally did. I really wonder what I would have written during the time just after Thing 2 was born, when everything was crushing me from every direction - so much so that I couldn't even fall down.

When I got pregnant with Thing 2, hubby had been looking for a job here in New City for some time, without luck. He'd had a couple of interviews, but somehow nothing had panned out. But we really wanted to have a second child, and I didn't want to wait any longer. My work load was never going to get any lighter, and I wasn't getting any younger, so we just went for it, thinking that conception to end of maternity leave is a year - of course something will come along in a year.

It didn't.

I found myself at the end of the leave I'd agreed upon with my PI and department, and I had only gotten childcare for the baby arranged by the skin of my teeth. After putting my name on every wait list of every childcare center I didn't hate that was not completely out of the way of my home or the lab, only one had called with a spot. I knew that I was going to be starting over on my thesis research from scratch when I returned because someone else had taken over and nearly completed the fledgling project I had gotten rolling just before I was hospitalized half-way through my pregnancy and ended up unable to work at the bench for the rest of it. Not only was hubby going to be forced to continue working in Old City, while Things 1 and 2 were living in New City, but also his boss was insisting that instead of working from our home one day a week, as he had been doing for some time, hubby really needed to be in the office five days a week from now on.

But after everything that had gone down in the past year, it was really like just another wave going across the bow. Sure, I worried about how we'd manage, but Thing 2 was here, and she was totally healthy and adorable, and Thing 1 had really grown to be a sweet and helpful young lady. So I thought we'd just hold out a little bit longer.

I went into extreme survival mode:

  • Almost every night I went to bed with the kids.
  • If Thing 2 fell asleep early, I was sometimes awakened by Thing 1 kissing my cheek on her way to bed and telling me that I shouldn't sleep on the couch.
  • I did 100% of the night-time duties every night, and still had to get up when the baby woke up for good in the morning.
  • Thing 2 is a morning person - she usually woke up at about 5:30 am, ready to go with a gigantic smile. (I've worn her down so that she now sleeps until 6:30, and occasionally sleeps late - until 7:30 or so.)
  • Thing 1 is not a morning person. And if I couldn't muster the joy of spring in my waking technique, well, let's just say things were not going to go well from then on.
  • I pumped milk for more than a year, and, as it turned out, found it very difficult to achieve let-down if I was preoccupied with other things. It also turned out that I was often preoccupied with other things, like timers that were about to go off, even though the milk wasn't coming yet.
  • Many days I had to pump three or even four times to get enough for the poor baby. Sometimes I tried to make up the difference by pumping while nursing at home. Anyone who has done this knows that it is no fun for any of the involved parties, especially when using a manual pump.
  • Nobody I worked with understood that I couldn't just pump whenever they didn't feel like talking to me.
  • Nobody I worked with understood that even though it was only 10 am, I really needed to know how long the protocol we were doing was going to take, because 5 pm rolls around really quickly. And the $1/min late pick up charge for each child can really add up.
  • I did 100% of the cooking during the week.
  • No dinner could take more than 30 minutes to prepare, or else all hell was likely to break loose. And we are not talking Rachel Ray style 30 minutes. I do not have a prep cook in residence.
  • The kitchen had to be cleaned every night after dinner, including the floor thoroughly swept and mopped. Otherwise, there was no way I'd ever manage to feed baby, coax Thing 1 to eat something, suck down some coffee and sustenance myself, pack the lunches and pumping supplies and not turn around to find the baby with something unidentifiable in her mouth in the middle of it all.
  • Thing 1 could not seem to grasp the concept of thoroughly sweeping and mopping, and therefore could not help with that. She wasn't much help with the cooking either. Something about being only eight years old, I think.
  • Every weekend was spent running all the errands I couldn't do during the week.
  • I had to actually go along for most of the errands because hubby didn't have a driver's license (only his Lerner's permit) and he wasn't the one who needed all the stuff anyway.

And so on.

We did what we had to do to make it work. I napped with the baby on the weekends. We used a grocery delivery service. I discovered a set of five nearly instant meals that didn't make me want to barf, and we had those every week. Hubby snuck out of the office as early as he could on Fridays and stayed over on Mondays whenever he could get away with it. But there was no end in sight. Nobody was looking to hire someone as talented and hardworking as my hubby. Sometimes I secretly worried that he wasn't looking hard enough, that he didn't want to move here anyway and that I'd have to finish grad school without him. And when I considered that option, I suspected that this was something that I could not do. I found the wall that I could not break through.

And one night on the phone, I broke down, and I told him that I could not live like this for much longer, and something was going to have to change. I had tried for so long not to let him know how close I was to drowning. I didn't want him to feel any worse than he already did, because I knew that he had his own version of extreme survival mode, and it included not seeing his children all week long. But that night, I was so tired, my head so muddled, and I felt like such a failure in every single area of my life, that I couldn't hold it in any longer, and it poured out of me like a river bursting a levee.

The next day, he talked with his boss, and they agreed that he would leave his job in three months, regardless of whether he had found other employment. He would receive a decent severance package, since the company was likely going to be sold, and the bottom line would look better without his position on the books. About a month later, a company hubby had interviewed for nearly a year previously offered him a job in New City.

And so, suddenly, there was a light, and the wall was gone.

Best wishes to ScienceWoman tonight. She made me want to share this.


Nat Blair said...

I just want to let you know that I find your story very inspirational. Maybe it didn't feel that way while you were slogging through it, but it is.

We have one child and another one coming, and while it's been hard at times to balance it all, it's nothing like the thought of taking care of two kids alone while in graduate school.

So, you ROCK!

Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde said...

I am in awe.

ScienceWoman said...

Thank you for sharing your story. I often feel like a single parent, but I have to remember that most days I do manage to get 10-15 minutes to myself at home and that I wouldn't get that without my spouse. You are amazing for having survived as long as you did.

acmegirl said...

Well, ScienceWoman, to be fair, when I was "single parenting" I didn't have the stress of worrying about keeping my job. I did freak out a bit during the month that hubby didn't have a new job lined up, but if I get kicked out of grad school I would be embarrased and upset that I caused so much disruption for no real gain (ie: no PhD). But we wouldn't be in danger of losing our home or going bankrupt, because my meagre stipend really only covers the childcare expenses these days. I don't know how I would have felt if I were doing all that AND bringing home the bacon.

You are the one who is amazing in my opinion.

drdrA said...

I think all of us working mothers go through times like this- and the real world and colleagues we work with don't understand the depths of our exhaustion at times.

I'm glad that things changed for the better :-), easier on everyone on the family!!

ScienceGirl said...

Soo glad things got easier, but you are amazing for pulling through this.

chall said...

wow, it is stories like this that get me through the day. Tere is hope and there are solutions.

I guess I am still a bit envious about the children and family but at least it seems like one can pull off a few months of not too good things.

I'm happy your husband got a job and that it all worked out. Thanks for sharing!

Abel Pharmboy said...

Your perseverance is beyond admirable - it is superhuman.

The next time I complain about not being able to get something done b/c of the needs of our one child while my wife and I are lucky to live in the same town, please hunt me down and smack me upside the head. (Then again, you're probably way too busy to do so!)

Great post.

River Tam said...

Acmegirl, you are a truly remarkable individual. Thank you for sharing your story. A nice reminder that you have to fight for the things worth having in this world and that asking for help in that struggle is not a sign of weakness!

Amelie said...

Thank you for sharing your amazing story. I'm glad your husband finally found a job close to you. And very impressed how you managed to do everything on your own for so long.

acmegirl said...

Thanks, everyone.

Anonymous said...

Don't stop posting such stories. I love to read stories like this. By the way add more pics :)

Amy Rangel said...

I agree with you that help would certainly come to those who seek it. For example, it would be hard to write the thesis by just yourself by think and formulating thesis topic ideas can be hard and tedious. But with the help of people around as that would serve as inspiration and motivation, we can overcome anything.