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How to survive business travel as a Mom

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By Jenifer from www.onenjen.com

When my son was 10 months old, the opportunity to travel to Germany for work was presented to me on a silver platter alongside a small promotion. At first, the prospect of leaving my still-breastfeeding son for a solid week seemed crazy. I wasn’t ready to wean him (nor did he seem ready to be weaned), but was it feasible to keep it up by lugging my breast pump all the way to Europe and stopping whatever it was I was doing, be it on the 10-hour flight there and back or at an international convention center in a glorified port-a-potty next to the German sausage carts, so I could, ahem, painstakingly (emphasis on the pain) express myself? (Ugh. That bathroom.)

Outside of the logistical ramifications, many other questions swirled around in my head. If I were gone that many days, would my son forget who I was? Would he take his first steps while I was gone? Would my husband curse my name during every middle-of-the-night wakeup? (And would he resent me for months afterward?) How would my little family survive while I was on a completely different continent?

I hemmed and hawed for a good two weeks before deciding that yes, this business trip was not only a really smart move for me career-wise but indeed extremely doable, and here’s how I made it happen without upsetting the delicate balance of our domestic ecosystem.

A supportive partner

When I was pregnant, my husband took a prenatal class called “Conscious Fathering,” and there he learned that dads can pretty much do anything moms can do, save for breastfeeding (and even then, dads can still assist by offering mom a pillow for her feet or a glass of water). Since day one, he and I have shared the duties of caring for our baby (now toddler!) as equals. So I wasn’t worried he wouldn’t be able to handle the diaper changes or bottle feedings or laundry when I was in Germany. I knew it would be harder than if I was there, just having that second set of hands to help with baths, but I also knew our son was in very capable hands. Still, I asked (and asked again) my husband if he was OK with the temporary solo parenting arrangement, and he assured me many times that he was, that he understood traveling for work was important to me. Even more important than that, though, he had my back, which I think is more than half the battle. I can’t imagine traveling for work without a supportive partner (even if it’s not a spouse, but another family member or close friend) by your side.

Organization and preparation

I’ve always been an organized person, a list maker from the womb, and my trip to Germany called for not only a packing list for myself, but also various detailed lists for dad, too. Normally, I get our son ready for daycare in the mornings, but now my husband would be responsible for preparing the bottles (which entailed defrosting bags of frozen breast milk), packing his snacks (yogurt, apple sauce, Cheerios), getting him dressed (make sure he’s warm enough!) and dropping him off at daycare each weekday morning (but not before 7:30!). Additionally, I had to ramp up my breast pumping frequency in order to create a decent supply of frozen milk so we wouldn’t have to solely rely on formula.

Flexibility

Our son goes to an in-home daycare center that’s nowhere near my husband’s work (though right up the street from mine). Unfortunately, this meant extra drive time for my two boys. (See again: supportive partner!) But I let our daycare provider know about my travel plans well in advance, that there could be a day or two when dad would be there a little later than normal to pick up our son. This gave my husband some breathing room within his work schedule, too, not having to rush out of the office too early in order to fight traffic to avoid a late pickup charge (which there wouldn’t have been anyway, but I know that some daycare centers do have late policies).

Constant communication

Even though I wasn’t nervous about leaving my husband and son on their own for a week, I was feeling a little melancholy about the thought of not being able see their smiling faces whenever I wanted to. But thank goodness for Skype (oh, what did the world do before Skype?) and free wireless internet connections. My laptop already had a built-in camera, so we picked up an external web cam for our (ancient, neglected) desktop computer so that we could talk and see each other via Skype every day FOR FREE. We figured out the time difference between Seattle and Frankfurt (NINE hours!), and then set a time for a standing Skype call (very early morning for me, before bedtime the previous day for them), and this allowed all three of us to feel not so far away from each other that week. Incidentally, I had my 30th birthday that same week, and the best gift I got was my son recognizing and smiling back at my face on the web cam.

Understanding employer

I didn’t want my having to pump while I was in Germany to be an issue. In fact, I didn’t even plan on telling my boss that I was going to, and for the first few days, I managed to keep it under wraps, surreptitiously sneaking away every few hours to relieve myself. Eventually, though, I told my colleague and boss (both women, thank goodness), and I’m pretty sure they were equal parts impressed and horrified (both unmarried, without children). But as with my twice-daily pumping back home at the office, my boss had no issue with it whatsoever, I think because I didn’t make it an issue. I just did what I had to do, when I had to do it.

Realistic expectations

Speaking of “what I had to do,” I was a little stressed out about having to pump while I was in Germany. I was worried my efforts to keep up my milk would be all for naught, and my son would wean himself on his own. I was worried he’d reject me upon my return. I was worried I was somehow shortchanging him by supplementing him with formula in place of breast milk. This worry translated into decreased milk production right before the trip, when I really needed it to increase so I could stockpile the freezer. I had to tell myself to chill out, that my son would be FINE when I was away. That if pumping was too difficult, it would be OK to stop. Basically, I had to give myself a break.

I had to focus on the task at hand (my full-time job that helps pays the bills), knowing that travel to faraway places was only a small (but exciting!) part of my job, and thank goodness I didn’t have to do it all the time. And, if at all possible, I should try to have a little bit of fun, too. (And I did!)

Next up is New York City in late May for another trade show, and I’m already preparing my husband for that trip, too.

Post script: When I came back after a week, my son continued breastfeeding as if I hadn’t been gone at all. He held off on walking for about another month, too. THANK GOD I DIDN’T MISS THAT.

Do any of you have tips to share about making business trips as a Mom?



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