Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Stressed?

(WARNING:  feelings about children and parenthood discussed.  If that is something you don't feel like reading at the present time, feel free to click away.)

I returned to work full time when my sons were 10 weeks old (just over 4 weeks adjusted age, since they were 34-week preemies).  My doing so was not entirely due to my own free choice: all things being equal, I would have preferred to take a longer maternity leave.  However, my employer would only permit me to take a total of 12 weeks of FMLA leave, and I was on bedrest for two weeks prior to delivery.   (This even though my leave was entirely unpaid and it would have cost them nothing to allow me additional time off, but that's a topic for another post.)

Even if my employer had been amenable to granting me additional (unpaid) time off, our financial situation would not have permitted it.  Between the cost of our DE IVF cycle and our other financial commitments, we simply did not have enough money saved to replace my income for any extended period of time.

(Yes, here is the opportunity for any of my non-U.S. readers to feel gratitude for the more favorable family leave policies in your countries.  My Irish cousins were appalled to learn that employers here in the U.S. are only required to grant 12 weeks[!] of unpaid [!] leave to new mothers.)

We were fortunate in that MM was able to take a full 12 weeks of paid leave through his (government) employer, due to the fact that he has been in his same job for nearly fifteen years and had a lot of sick leave and vacation time stored up.  (He has flexible scheduling, and so he rarely takes a sick day, preferring to make up the hours later in a pay period on the rare occasions when he is sick enough to miss work.)  It was nice that our boys had at least one parent home taking care of them until they were about five-and-a-half months old.

We have been fortunate again in that the nanny we chose for our children has worked out well.  "L" has been with us for just over three months now, and she seems to have genuine affection for the boys and to handle taking care of them very well.  They clearly like her as well, as evidenced by their interactions with her.

So although I was not thrilled to return to my full-time job 10 weeks after giving birth, I do not feel that our sons have suffered for it.  They have been well cared-for, first by my husband and then by L, at all times since I returned to work.  I know that my working is likely much harder on me than it is on them.

When I first came back to work, although it was an adjustment, I honestly felt that I was handling things OK.  Yes, I was a little tired at times, but who wouldn't be, with two young babies at home.  My mood overall was good-to-excellent most of the time, sleep deprivation notwithstanding.

That changed not too long after MM returned to work full time.  I started feeling more anxious and overwhelmed.  Nowadays, three months later, my anxiety waxes and wanes, but it never totally goes away.  In addition to feeling anxious a lot of the time--something that is not usual for me--I also feel down at times, when I really have no good reason to feel down.

Don't get me wrong: I adore my boys, and I love being their mother.  There isn't a day, an hour even, that I regret having them or second-guess the lengths to which we went to become parents.  Being with them makes me happy in a way I never knew I could be. 

It's not my sons themselves but all the life changes and stress that have come with them that I am finding hard to handle.  Anyone who tells you that becoming a parent is not life-changing and stressful is either not being truthful or is in the minority (like people who say "no matter what I eat, I can never gain weight").  Becoming a parent to two babies at once is even more challenging.

A friend and I were talking about the stressors she has had in her life over the past few years, which led me to direct her to the Holmes-Rahe Scale Life Stress Scale.  (There are several interactive online tools for this; here is a link to one.)  She and I were not surprised to learn that her total score was close to 300, a level correlated with an increased risk of stress-related illness.  Some of the possible stress-related illnesses it talks about are headache, diabetes, fatigue, hypertension, chest and back pain, ulcers, infectious diseases, etc.

What did surprise me was when I decided to score myself on this same scale, just out of curiosity.  Where my friend, who was feeling stressed to her limits and unable to cope and considering asking her doctor to prescribe an anti-depressant for her, had scored around 295, my score was 347.  The test states that a score of over 300 points "indicates a major life crisis and is highly predictive (80%) of serious physical illness within the next two years." 


(For comparison's sake, I'd note that just a normal, uncomplicated pregnancy and delivery and adjustment to new parenthood would probably yield a score of 201, which is correlated with a moderate life crisis and a 50%increase in risk of stress-related illness.)

Um, yeah.  So I guess it's not unreasonable that I feel stressed.

Although MM has always had lots of anxiety himself, he never accepts it when I tell him that I don't know why I am anxious or feel down.  He always says "there has to be a reason."  So I wrack my brain to try to figure out why, and apart from feeling tired sometimes and being discontent at work, I can never really come up with one.  And neither of those reasons seems to me to be an adequate explanation for the anxiety I have been feeling.

In addition to wanting to be happy and feel peaceful for my own sake, I never want my moods to adversely affect my sons or my interactions with them.  So far, I have mostly been able to put these negative feelings aside when I am with them--the fact that they are so cute and sweet and so entertaining and fun helps a lot--but I am concerned that if I don't address this issue, I won't continue to be able to.

Also, I find myself irritable much more often than I think I should be, and I take it out on MM more often than anyone.  I realize that my reactions to the things he does that annoy me are often disproportionate, and excessive when I compare them to how we interacted pre-parenthood, but I have a hard time controlling them.  (I better be careful: divorce scores 73 points on the stress scale, more than anything else but the death of a spouse.)

One seemingly simple solution would seem to be to change my work situation, but where I normally do not shy away from a job search, just the thought of adding that task to my already-over-full to-do list makes me feel physically sick.  And looking at the whole picture, I'm not even sure that a change to a more meaningful job would solve the problem, at least in the short term.  In fact, I think a job search and a job change would just add to my stress.

I honestly don't know what the solution is.  But I am going back to see NC, the counselor who helped me when I was coming to terms with DE, this weekend to see if she can help me figure it out.

6 comments:

  1. I think the truth is that although it may feel like it, you are not alone.

    I only have one, so I am sure the stress you are feeling is at least double, if not tripled what I feel.

    I have chosen to accept the fact that I will be a half-assed professor, half-assed friend, half-assed wife, and half-assed everything if it means I can be a whole parent to my son. This admission has made all the difference because I no longer have unrealistic expectations of myself. And for that, I have found contentment and happiness.

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    1. I have accepted all those things, too, and more, and so far it hasn't helped. Which is why I'm going back to the counselor.

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  2. I'm so glad you're seeing someone about this. Sometimes you just need to talk it out to release all of your anxiety and frustration on a private 3rd party. And I'm sure there are little things you can do to better your day to day life, and I'm hoping this therapist can help you plan those out.

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  3. Being a working mom is incredibly stressful...and having twins, to boot? Well, I hear you. And counseling sounds like a good starting point for dealing with it.

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  4. I'm so glad to read this post. I went back to work when S was 7 weeks old (and I'm a lawyer like you, but with my own practice so there's that added stress). DH (like MM) got 12 weeks off paid but he's back next week. I'm so, so stressed and glad to hear I'm not the only one.

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  5. How you're feeling seems very warranted to me, and the fact that you recognize it and want to try to right the ship is admirable. I think a lot of people would pretend everything is fine, or at least try to convince themselves of it.

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