The double shift persists

I found out I was in preterm labor with my first child about 31½ weeks into my pregnancy.

So I spent seven weeks on bedrest working from my laptop — I was even supposed to limit my trips to the bathroom — because I had to save my short-term disability pay for maternity leave. 

The possibility of a NICU stay was looming, so I was scrimping and saving each hour as best I could. Luckily, her birth was early term, we didn’t need the NICU and back to work I went after 12 weeks.

By the time I got pregnant with Remy, I had “quit my job” and started freelancing. During that second pregnancy, I had debilitating nausea right up until the labor, so I often stopped writing to puke for a while. I spent more weeks on bedrest. After he was born, I took about 48 hours off, and then was back working, a new beautiful baby sleeping on my chest. There was no short-term disability (a term I abhor for maternity leave) and no benefits. This was called a certain kind of freedom. 

Both children, meanwhile, fought the bottle with everything they had. With Ruby, I was called away from my office job to feed her. My milk started to tank from the stress. Remy started reverse cycling, so I was up all night feeding him. Then he refused to sleep at daycare. 

Totally sleep deprived and freaking out, I pulled them both out of daycare — her at age 3 and him at 6 months — and resolved to work from home with both of them in tow. I was supposed to be grateful. 

When I was in preterm labor with our third, Eero, I called a client from my hospital bed, because we were under a tight deadline for a huge launch and I didn’t want to lose the project. (To their credit they called me “nuts,” but I had learned from prior experience with others.) I took a “luxurious” two-week break, and then worked from home with him until he was 9 months old. 

Writer Amy Westervelt tweeted recently: “We expect women to parent like they don’t work, and work like they don’t parent.” Hooooooo, did I feel that. 

I’ve lived this. And I fully acknowledge the privilege I have, being able to set my hours, to make enough to live on, to be able to cover my medical bills with some careful money management, to not be held to an hourly job where one missed shift means your timecard is burned. 

But I’ve been moved off projects because of my kids’ needs, including our family’s serial influenza/pneumonia/RSV extravaganza of 2018. I’ve struggled to balance all the demands, despite an ever-present, task-sharing partner. 

I’ve also done some of the very best, most creative work I’ve had the privilege to do. I’m better at my job — which does feed my soul — than I have ever been. 

I saw a piece by Emma Jacobs recently in the Financial Times that acknowledged how women’s issues, particularly parenting, have always been examined with a lens that considers them “twee.” 

Until you live it yourself. 

There’s literally nothing fluffy about being a working parent. It’s hard as hell, even when you have it easy. I know parents who have had to go back to work after two weeks, after six weeks. As the podcast The Double Shift recently acknowledged, even dogs get more time with their puppies BY LAW than humans do.

But neither side of me ever turns off. My life informs my writing, even when I’m not writing this column. And my reflections that come from my working ideas inform my parenting, too. Plus, my work feeds my children and I love and worry about them every moment of every day. 

I am not one without the other. None of us are. I am stronger, smarter, more compassionate, more creative because of that. And that’s why we need to be loud and demand to be respected and acknowledged. 

Don’t make yourself small. Parent and work, work and parent, we are WHOLE pieces. We cannot be halved. 


Katie Dohman is currently living in the midst of a total full-house renovation with her three kids, two pets and one husband. Follow her adventures at instagram.com/dohmicile.