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Oct 6, 2009

Juggling career & baby

Juggling career & baby was written by Janet Reid who introduced Megan Pedersen’s daughter, Millie, who was about 10 weeks old when Pedersen dropped her off at day care for the first time and then headed back to work.

“When I dropped her off, I left, and I cried the whole way to work,” Pedersen says. “It was just so traumatic, and she was crying when I left. I just thought it was the most awful thing.”

New moms in some countries have the luxury of one or more years of maternity leave, but American moms don't get that kind of reprieve.

Megan Pedersen, of Lawrence, picks up her daughter Millie from day care, Pederson met Millie’s caretaker, Melanie Gabel, while working at the Lawrence Family Dental Vision Clinic, 3111 W. Sixth St. Now that she has two children, Gabel operates a day care business, while Pedersen recently returned to work after a nine-week maternity leave.

Lawrence dentist Nealy Newkirk returned to work just two-and-a-half weeks after the birth of her third child, despite undergoing a C-section.

“If I don’t work, the bills don’t get paid, so that makes a big difference,” Newkirk says. “It does make a difference when you own or co-own the business.”

It’s something new moms everywhere struggle with: returning to work, usually less than three months after bringing a new little human being into this world.

In the United States, the Family Medical Leave Act guarantees new moms up to 12 weeks unpaid leave from work after the birth of a child. That’s in stark contrast to the benefits new mothers receive in places such as Canada, the United Kingdom and some countries in Europe, where moms have the luxury of spending the first year of their child’s life — or even longer — at home, before returning to their jobs.

“Ready or not, they know how much time they have,” says Melissa Hoffman, a community education specialist for pre-natal and parenting programs at Lawrence Memorial Hospital.

But Hoffman does have some tips for making that transition from maternity leave back into the working world smoother.

“I always say take as much time as you can,” Hoffman says, “because until you’re there, you don’t know what you are going to feel like, and most times women are not feeling ready to go back to work because they’re going to want to stay home with the baby as long as they can.”

Pedersen, who has worked as the practice manager for Lawrence Family Vision for eight years, found herself surprised at how her feelings changed once Millie came along.

“I did not want to stay at home at all, absolutely not,” she says. “I thought that I would be a terrible stay-at-home mom, and I would just be miserable.”

But as the weeks went by and she continued to bond with her new baby girl, Pedersen dreaded the thought of being away from her daughter.

“It was awful,” she says. “For the first time in my life, I thought, maybe I do want to be a stay-at-home mom. And actually, the night before I went back to work, I got our bills out and tried to figure out, can we do it? Can we make it if I quit my job?”

“You just have to know that it’s hard for a lot of people,” says Hoffman, who leads a support group for new moms on Mondays from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at LMH. “I don’t know that there’s a magic answer, as far as when you feel like you are ready emotionally. If you are feeling the sadness about leaving the baby or guilt about going back to work, you just kind of push through, and it does get easier as things fall into a routine.”

Hoffman says the best advice she can offer new mothers is easing back into work, perhaps returning part-time for a few weeks if your employer will allow it, or take the first few Wednesdays off. Hoffman says that way you only have to make it through a couple of days before having a break and then two more days of work before the weekend.

Pedersen actually shortened her maternity leave. Instead of taking the full 12 weeks, she went back a little earlier so that she could work part-time. She says that made all the difference.

“Definitely, I would recommend it if anybody can, because it was such a transition sending her to day care,” Pedersen says. “I didn’t realize what a difficult situation it would be. To be able to just go part-time for a little bit is letting her ease into it and me, so we’re just able to function a little bit better.”

For Newkirk, she found returning to work after the birth of her child easier than working while in the late stages of pregnancy. She also has help at home — a relative watches the newborn so she doesn’t have to drop the baby off at a day care center, but, she says, there are still some challenges.

“The hardest part is the breast feeding,” Newkirk says. “Pumping at work and figuring that all out.”

Hoffman says choosing when to return to work, or even if to return at all, is a personal decision, one that all new families have to make for themselves.

“You can’t let society’s ideas of what the perfect mom is influence you, you have to do what’s best for you,” Hoffman says. “There’s people who really thrive on the satisfaction of a job outside of the home and that’s what makes them a better parent and vice versa. There’s the moms and dads who really do thrive on being the parent inside the home, 24 hours a day, and that’s their job.”

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