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That Time I Tried to Work and Mother Simultaneously

I love being a work-at-home mom, but sometimes my four-year-old daughter stages protests over that “work” part.

The other day I raced home from her speech and physical therapy sessions for an hour of conference calls with my editor. We made it home with eight minutes to spare. In my head, I was fist bumping myself for my amazing juggling skills.

I got said four-year-old settled on the couch with a drink, a snack, and some entertainment so I could head to my office and take these calls. We had the “Mommy has to work for a bit, but then we’ll do something fun” talk. Do you know this talk? I’ve had it many times: A bargain I strike with a preschooler so I can be a work-at-home mom. She agreed, and I was the definition of Having It All in those eight minutes.

Then the first call started. It was a video call, and a few minutes in I noticed a small head pop up on my screen next to my right arm. I turned to look, and there was my child, stealthily creeping up on me while I tried to focus on my editor and the researcher on the call.

She refused my quiet requests to “go play.” She began to noisily protest that “Mommy can’t work right now,” and at one point she noticed the faces on my computer screen and actually yelled at them. “Leave my mom alone! She not work now!”

I left teaching so I could freelance and be home for my daughter, managing her two weekly sessions of speech therapy, OT, PT, her preschool, the insurance, evaluations, appointments, and follow-ups. An interrupted phone call? Psssshhh, I’ve got this.    

My sewing table was next to me, so I grabbed a spool of thread without dropping the work conversation. My kid loves thread, I have seen her spend half an hour unraveling it and dragging it around the house. I thought it would keep her busy long enough for me to finish my first call and get her re-situated before my second call started. I am working mother, hear me roar.

I put my headphones on in an attempt to drown out her play noises and refocus. My favorite headphones, a bright orange birthday present – and though it was working beautifully. And then my call went completely silent.

I looked, and there was my headphone wire, cut in half. There was my four-year-old, holding the scissors like she couldn’t believe she really, actually did it. I couldn’t believe she really, actually did it, either.

She knew almost immediately that she was in trouble and began to cry. I didn’t even have to give her The Look. I took off the dead headphones and tried to keep the call going while my daughter sobbed and wandered off into her room.

My wonderful editor had no idea what was going on, she just knew there were tears and distractions and a small child, so she wrapped up the call quickly and gave me 10 minutes to try and get a handle on things before starting our second call.

I found my four-year-old and tried not to shoot lasers at her from my eyeballs while I calmly (but sternly) told her to never, ever do anything like that ever again. I told her that cutting wires is very dangerous. I told her that Mommy has to work sometimes, and that’s okay, and it doesn’t mean she isn’t still my favorite small person. She’s already sorry, I know she’s sorry.

She cried a little harder until she got the last of it out of her system, and I did not lose it. I’m pretty proud of that last bit, because in the moment, on that phone call, I was fairly positive that I would.

Again with maybe eight minutes to spare, I calmed her down, get her settled in our bed with a snack, a drink, and entertainment. I promised her that after the phone call we would do something fun and tried to explain that her future happiness and privileges depended on her not interrupting this second phone call. Thirty minutes, that’s all I was asking.     

When I logged back in, only my editor was there. I was actually early! I showed my editor the headphone wire, explained what happened, and we shared a wide-eyed moment of astonishment and begrudging respect for this child who made it known in no uncertain terms that sometimes my juggling doesn’t work for her. The call went on, the work got done, my daughter and I went and did something fun.

I pushed away any guilt I may have felt for simultaneously working and mothering. I texted my husband a photo of the cut wire, and I told my writing group of moms. There was a lot of sympathy, but mostly there was laughter. She went there, she really went there.

The four-year-old may think I’ve got some nerve, but she is four. By the end of that second phone call she’d forgotten all about it. And by the next day, she was grabbing one of my notebooks and pretending to be a writer. And in a few years, hopefully she’ll understand that it is perfectly alright for a mom to be something else sometimes, even just for an hour. And I think, I have got this.

Besides, I can replace the headphone wire, and her occupational therapist would have really loved her scissor grip.

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Going back to work after having a baby is hard. Regaining your footing in a world where working mothers are so often penalized is tough, and (just like most things during the postpartum period) it takes time.

The challenges we face as working women returning from a maternity leave can be so different from those we faced before, it can feel like we're starting over from scratch. But mothers will not be deterred, even if our return to the working world doesn't go exactly as planned.

We are resilient, as Serena Williams proved at Wimbledon this weekend.

She lost to Angelique Kerber in the final, just 10 months after welcoming daughter Alexis Olympia and recovering from a physically and emotionally traumatic birth experience.

Williams didn't get her eighth Wimbledon title this weekend, but when we consider all the challenges she (and all new moms) faced in resuming her career, her presence was still a huge achievement.

"It was such an amazing tournament for me, I was really happy to get this far!" Williams explained in an emotional post-match interview.

"For all the moms out there, I was playing for you today. And I tried. I look forward to continuing to be back out here and doing what I do best."

The loss at Wimbledon isn't what she wanted, of course, but Williams says it does not mean there won't be wins in her near future.

"These two weeks have showed me I can really compete and be a contender to win grand slams. This is literally just the beginning. I took a giant step at Wimbledon but my journey has just began."

When asked what she hopes other new moms take away from her journey, Williams noted her postpartum recovery was really difficult, and hopes that other moms who face challenges early in motherhood know that they don't have to give up on whatever dreams they have for themselves, whether it involves working or not.

"Honestly, I feel like if I can do it, they can do it. I'm just that person, that vessel that's saying, 'You can be whatever you want to be.' If you want to go back to workand to me, after becoming a mom, I feel like there's no pressure to do that because having a child is a completely full-time job," she said.

"But to those that do want to go back, you can do it, you can really do it."

Thank you, Serena. You may not have won, but this was still a victory.

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Since baby Crew became the newest member of Chip and Joanna Gaines' family three weeks ago, his proud parents have been keeping the world updated, sharing sweet snaps of their youngest and even giving us a glimpse into his nursery.

Now, Chip Gaines is showing off a pic that proves there is nothing cuter than a floppy, sleepy baby.

"My heart is full..." the proud father of five captioned the photo he posted on his Instagram and Twitter accounts.

Earlier this week Crew's mama shared how she gets him so sleepy in the first place, posting an Instagram Story showing how she walks around the family's gardens on their Waco, Texas farm to lull her newborn boy to sleep.

The couple are clearly enjoying every single moment of Crew's babyhood. As recently as 7 days ago Chip was still sporting his hospital bracelet. Joanna says with each child he's worn his maternity ward ID until it finally wears off. We can't blame Chip for wanting to make the newborn phase last as long as possible.

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It was a changing table must-have a generation ago, but these days, many parents are forgoing baby powder, and now, the leading manufacturer of the sweet smelling powder was dealt a big financial blow.

Johnson & Johnson was just ordered to pay almost $4.7 billion to 22 women who sued, alleging baby powder caused their ovarian cancer.

A St. Louis jury says the women are right, but what does The American Academy of Pediatrics say about baby powder?

It was classified "a hazard" before many of today's parents were even born

The organization has actually been recommending against baby powder for years, but not due to cancer risks, but inhalation risks.

Way back in 1981 the AAP declared baby powder "a hazard," issuing a report pointing out the frequency of babies aspirating the powder, which can be dangerous and even fatal in the most severe cases.

That warning didn't stop all parents from using the powder though, as its continued presence on store shelves to this day indicates.

In 1998 Dr. Hugh MacDonald, then the director of neonatology at Santa Monica Hospital and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Fetus and Newborn, told the Los Angeles Times "Most pediatricians recommend that it not be used," adding that the consensus at the time was that "anybody using talcum powder be aware that it could cause inhalation of the talc, resulting in a pneumonic reaction."

Recent updates

A 2015 update to the AAP's Healthy Children website suggests the organization was even very recently still more concerned about the risk of aspiration than cancer risks like those alleged in the lawsuit. It suggests that parents who choose to use baby powder "pour it out carefully and keep the powder away from baby's face [as] published reports indicate that talc or cornstarch in baby powder can injure a baby's lungs."

In a 2017 interview with USA Today, Dr. David Soma, a pediatrician with the Mayo Clinic Children's Hospital, explained that baby powder use had decreased a lot over the previous five to eight years, but he didn't believe it was going to disappear from baby shower gift baskets any time soon.

"There are a lot of things that are used out of a matter of tradition, or the fact it seems to work for specific children," he said. "I'm not sure if it will get phased out or not, until we know more about the details of other powders and creams and what works best for skin conditions—I think it will stick around for a while."

Talc-based baby powder is the kind alleged to have caused ovarian cancer in the lawsuit (which Johnson & Johnson plans to appeal), but corn starch varieties of baby powder are also available and not linked to increased cancer risks as alleged in the case.

Bottom line: If you are going to use baby powder on your baby's bottom, make sure they're not getting a cloud of baby powder in their face, and if you're concerned, talk to your health care provider about alternative methods and products to use on your baby's delicate skin.

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In the days since a The New York Times report revealed a resolution meant to encourage breastfeeding was blocked by U.S. delegates at the World Health Assembly, breastfeeding advocates, political pundits, parents, doctors—and just about everyone else—have been talking about breastfeeding, and whether or not America and other countries are doing enough to support it.

The presidents of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians say the controversy at the World Health Assembly reveals that mothers need more support when it comes to breastfeeding, while others, including The Council on Foreign Relations, suggest the national conversation needs more nuance, and less focus on the "breast is best" rhetoric.

The one thing everyone agrees on is that parents need more support when it comes to infant feeding, and in that respect, the controversy over the World Health Assembly resolution may be a good thing.

In their joint letter to the editor published in the New York Times this week, the presidents of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians, Dr. Colleen Kraft and Dr. Lisa Hollier urge "the United States and every country to protect, promote and support breast-feeding for the health of all women, children and families."

The doctors go on to describe how breastfeeding "provides protection against newborn, infant and child infections, allergies, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease and sudden infant death syndrome," and note the health benefits to mothers, including reduced risks for "breast cancer, ovarian cancer, diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.

"Helping mothers to breastfeed takes a multifaceted approach, including advancing public policies like paid family leave, access to quality child care, break time and a location other than a bathroom for expressing milk," say Kraft and Hollier.

Certainly such policies would support breastfeeding mothers (and all mothers) in America, but some critics say framing the discussion around domestic policy is a mistake, because the World Health Assembly resolution is a global matter and women and babies in other parts of the world face very different feeding challenges than we do here at home.

In an op-ed published by CNN, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations suggests the laudable goal of breastfeeding promotion can backfire when mothers in conflict-riddled areas can't access formula due to well-meaning policy. Lemmon points to a 2017 statement by Doctors Without Borders calling for fewer barriers to formula distribution in war-torn areas.

"International organizations like UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) promote breastfeeding ... and provide infant formula, but only by prescription. We believe that distributing infant formula in a conflict situation like Iraq is the only way to avoid children having to be hospitalized for malnutrition," Manuel Lannaud, the head of Doctors Without Borders Iraq mission wrote.

The various viewpoints presented this week prove that infant feeding is not a black and white issue, and policy debates should not be framed as formula versus breast milk—there is more nuance than that.

A recent study in the Journal of Pediatrics found opting to supplement with formula after first breastfeeding improves outcomes for infants and results in higher rates of breastfeeding afterward, and while the benefits of breastfeeding are numerous, they are sometimes overstated. Another recent study published in the journal PLOS Medicine found breastfeeding has no impact on a child's overall neurocognitive function by the time they are 16. Basically, parents should not be shamed for supplementing or choosing to use formula.

This, according to Department of Health and Human Services says national spokesperson Caitlin Oakley is why the HHS opposed the original draft of the breastfeeding resolution at the World Health Assembly (although critics and the initial NYT report suggest the United States delegation were acting in the interests of infant formula manufacturers).

"Many women are not able to breastfeed for a variety of reasons, these women should not be stigmatized; they should be equally supported with information and access to alternatives for the health of themselves and their babies," Oakley said in a statement.

That's true, but so is everything the presidents of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians presented in their op-ed, and that's why the U.S. should support breastfeeding policy.

Here's another truth: This is an issue with many perspectives and many voices. And we need to hear them all, because all parents need support in feeding their babies, whether it's with a breast, a bottle or both—and we're not getting it yet.

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