By Guest Blogger Brett Stewart
Three and a half years ago I was an executive at a global hotel company, married (at this point) less than two years to the most amazing man I had ever met, and pregnant with our first child. Life had never been better. Then suddenly and somewhat unexpectedly, I was jolted into a new reality. My first son arrived more than 5 weeks early, and given our demanding careers and therefore very limited time outside our jobs (and commuting—curse you, DC area traffic!!), my husband and I were ill-prepared for his arrival. No crib, no paint on the walls, no preemie clothes, no nursing bras. Nothing…except a coveted slot at one of the highest rated daycare facilities in Fairfax County, Virginia.
I was fortunate to be afforded 3 months’ maternity leave from my job to adjust to my new life. These few months involved a crash course in new parenthood, sleep deprivation, and newly discovered tear ducts that I could swear I never had previously. We eventually bought what we needed and set up his room with the help of family, and began settling into the experience of our new life as a family. But during this time, I experienced a dramatic shift in myself. About halfway into my leave I began dreading the inevitable return to work—a surprise in itself given I loved my job. A part of me wanted to stay home with him, and another part of me wanted to continue my career, but no part of me wanted to leave him some place with people I did not know all day every day in a room full of other people’s babies. (No offense, other people’s babies.)
Nonetheless, I did it. The first week I sobbed the entire 11 miles to work (45 minutes—curse you again, DC area traffic!!) When he was 6 months old and big enough to understand where he was being taken, he began crying in the car, then again as soon as we would enter the infants’ room. Between my guilt and my own separation anxiety, I finally began carrying my makeup bag with me and applying it in the parking lot before entering the office. I went to work and wondered all day if he was doing alright. I knew I could not keep this up and maintain at least some semblance of normalcy in my working life, so I began looking into and interviewing nanny candidates.
I searched for months. I interviewed at least two dozen candidates, none of whom gave me any sense of comfort that they would be better than the well-trained and wonderful women at the daycare facility. Some even made me uncomfortable talking to them on the phone. And all of them were more expensive than the daycare. Sometime during my pregnancy with our second child, I was chatting at work with a lady who said she had matched with an au pair through Au Pair In America and was thrilled to be picking her up from the airport the following week. I had no idea what an au pair was, but after a brief education from her on the program and the cost, I returned to my office, jumped on their website and read everything I could. The next day I applied.
It was amazing. I gained instant access to hundreds of profiles of qualified childcare providers—far more than the number of nanny applications I received—and the information available on their background, work history, personal information, family and culture was so thorough I regretted wasting time looking for a nanny.
Four months and another maternity leave later, I drove to the airport and picked up our au pair. A smart, kind, loving and responsible Brazilian woman joined our family that day, and I can honestly say she changed our lives. She took care of my babies as if they were her own. She was creative, attentive, patient (with them and me), neat and a happy person. She fit perfectly with our family, loved our children instantly, and gave me the one gift that truly no one else in this world could give me—peace of mind. I am now on my second au pair and could not be happier. In fact, I believe in this program so much that I joined the agency early this year as a community counselor to support other host families and au pairs. I know this must read as if I am over-dramatizing the impact one person or one decision made on me, but it is no dramatization.
Childcare was the most difficult decision and situation for me personally. Some parents and children are ok with and even thrive in daycare or other childcare arrangements. But there are many other working moms out there who may feel stuck and stressed as I did. To those of you reading this post, do yourselves and your families a favor and learn about au pairs. Visit www.aupairinamerica.com for detailed information or talk to host parents of au pairs near you. It may change your life.
*Sponsored by Au Pair in America