I made a crazy and caring decision recently. I turned my daughter into a daycare drop-out.
Crazy, because this decision is costing us loads of extra money. Crazy, because I’m working full-time, but decided that we could try getting by with a part-time nanny – which doesn’t quite allow me enough hours of childcare to accomplish what I need to each day.
Caring, because the person who ran the daycare program in her house was simply not kind and sensitive enough to be taking care of my baby. Caring, because I needed some place far more loving for my baby girl, and the thought of dropping her off for up to eight hours each day with a stranger who might not be as loving as she presented herself at the start was killing me. I found myself crying in bed at night, wondering if I had signed my daughter up for spending long days in a crucial developmental stage of her life - 6 month to 18 months – in a less-than-loving environment.
What do I mean by less-than-loving? When I started baby Z in the daycare at six months old this September, I was still nursing full-time. As I only live a five-minute walk away, I decided that I wanted to visit once during the day to breast-feed. After all, why attach myself to a pump when I could scoot down the road around lunchtime and spend a precious half hour with my baby?
The Woman In Charge (who will henceforth be referred to as the WIC) clearly didn’t like this idea. She threw up all kinds of reasons why it wasn’t good, but reluctantly said she was willing to tolerate it temporarily. But each time I arrived, I felt unwelcome. I snaked off with the baby into a darkened bedroom of the apartment, where I nursed her and let her drift off happily for her nap.
Although I closed the door, I heard things.
A baby would begin to cry. “Noa,” the WIC said. “What?!” There was a petulance in her voice, a patience wearing thin. On another occasion, I heard her snap at a baby, “You’d better not spit up what I just fed you.”
Other statements began to rub me the wrong way. One time, when I was in the process of pick-up, just as the WIC was handing her over to me, baby Z started to cry. “What?!” the WIC said threateningly, pushing big, bossy eyes at baby Z. “No crying here!” The WIC grinned widely. She apparently takes pride in how seldom her babies cry. In fact, her biggest concern with me coming over to breast-feed was that baby Z would suddenly go hungry waiting for me and cry. “I don’t like it when my babies cry,” she boasted.
I wish I would have heard one statement of support for my attempts to make it a priority to continue breastfeeding my baby even after my return to work. I wish I would have heard some indication that some crying was okay, even natural, among babies – it’s all they have to express their needs and discomforts. I wish I could have believed that the WIC had read any of the child development literature written in the last 30 years, which indicate that a baby of six months or a year really does understand language and moods. So if you tell a baby she’d better not spit up and better not cry, well, she gets it, on some level. She gets the message that she can’t feel safe to express her feelings.
There were many other things that bothered me about the WIC’s set-up for caring for eight babies. She’d promised two adults for an 8:2 ratio. It turned out that the other adult only stayed until 2 p.m. each day, while the daycare goes until 4 p.m. And it turned out that one of the adults on rotation was her unfriendly mother-in-law, who sat on the dining table or on the couch – and just sat. In all my visits, I never once saw her pick up a baby or engage with one of them. And then there was the matter of the WIC going to pick up her own youngest child every day sometime after 1 – leaving the babies with this lethargic and aloof mother-in-law.
I told the WIC we might be leaving, and gave her an honest part of the story. My job had changed, and now most of my hours were spent working from home. Being at home – but not having baby around – was downright depressing. Plus, a reporter’s work day often doesn’t get going at 8 a.m. It starts later and ends later, making standard daycare hours a bit off from what I needed.
But here’s the Primigravida part of the story, where having babies “later” made the difference.
Having waited so long to have babies, I want to be around them more. Further, it occurred to me that baby Z might be our last, and she was growing fast. How would I feel to look back and realize that her first year flew by, really flew, because so many of her waking hours were not with me?
Then came the final straw. I went to pick up baby Z. The WIC was holding her, while her three young children, already home from school, stood nearby, itching to leave the house. They couldn’t wait until the last of the babies was picked up because their mom had promised to take them shopping. The WIC handed baby Z over to me as if she was happy to be relieved of her and said, “Ugh! Your baby is so heavy.” That was when she was hardly 17 pounds (about 8 kilos). If this baby is heavy for you now, I thought, how will you feel about her in almost a year when our contract with you runs out?
I came home and shared my distress with my husband. “It’s over,” he said. “Let’s just leave now,” he added, like the good man he is, the kind who likes to make a decision and not deliberate over it for weeks, as I often do.
The WIC was not kind about the news. She had little empathy for the fact that I realized I just wanted my baby at home with me. All she cared about was that we’d fulfill the contract, which requires us to pay for two more months after we leave.
So we’re paying. But as one parent reminded me, you need to go with your gut. Mine told me to run the other way. Miraculously, our wonderful part-time nanny was free to work the hours we needed.
And so I’m managing, living with my crazy and caring decision. Perhaps the hardest part is to accept that the decision is not just about caring for my baby, but caring for myself. Not wanting to be apart from my baby all day isn’t a weakness. It’s a wonder.
I’m going on booktour in London! Baghdad Fixer, my first novel, is due to be released this coming Thursday, Nov. 15th at a launch party at Daunt Books (Marylebone). See here for more details about the book and various author appearances, or see these links on Amazon or the Book Depository to order. And since you may be wondering, yes, baby is coming on booktour! As is her grandma.