“Woman, what are you doing in front of the computer already?” or “How come you didn’t answer the email I sent you half an hour ago?”
These were the two completely opposite reactions some of my clients had when I got back to work a few days after my children were born. The original plan was to take at least 45 days off for my maternity leave, then ease back into working part time to learn how to balance being a mother and a translator. I was back before the first 30 days were up…
Marissa was born September 2008 and Lorenzo was born August 2012. Both were born naturally in a birth tub at a small clinic, under the supervision of a midwife. In both occasions, I was released from the clinic a few hours later, and was back home to start my recovery, enjoy all the love from friends and family, and fall in love with my babies.
But it was not all a bed of roses. Raising a little one inside you demands a lot of energy during 40 weeks (or more!) Despite the immediate relief when your baby is finally in your arms, your body still needs time to go back to normal. You have to learn how to walk and sit down again after nine months doing things differently to accommodate the growing belly, the swollen feet, and the achy lower back.
What about your mind? Ah, your cheating mind… You end up switching day and night, depending on the routine imposed by your baby. Your thoughts may be clear in your head, but exhaustion and lack of sleep will end up interfering with your reasoning. You can bet it will!
Am I Going Crazy?
You open your mouth to say something you can’t finish a sentence, trying to save up some energy and hoping everybody around you can read your mind.
You get frustrated when you drop everything, except for the baby and the precious milk you’re pumping. By the way, if you want to enjoy the convenience of having bottles ready to go in the fridge, you’ll spend at least three hours using a pump in four to five daily sessions. And here’s a tip: fenugreek tea really works if your goal is to become a milking cow and produce 42 ounces of milk a day…
You actually start hearing voices! In my case, I couldn’t fall asleep one night because the neighbors next door had a karaoke party going on and wouldn’t stop singing Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” over and over again. The thing is that, when I opened the slide-glass door to the backyard, I realized it was all in my head. Maybe a mother’s brain works in a different frequency when she has a newborn at home, so much so that it starts to pick up mysterious sound waves…
Despite all these unforeseen circumstances and what people may believe, taking care of a baby is not as complicated as it sounds. Actually, the complicated part is running after a four-year-old girl full of energy, who is going to half-day preschool Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, does gymnastics on Tuesdays and Thursdays, dance on Fridays and still finds energy to outlast the Duracell bunny.
Four-year-olds can talk and their answer to everything is, “No!” They also work on a schedule: eating, bathing, doing homework, and going to bed. However, four-year-olds are capable of helping out, can go get the burp cloth, and give you a tight hug that recharges your own batteries.
Yes, babies depend on you for everything, but you soon get used to the cycle: feeding, changing diapers, putting down for a nap. And, if you’re recovering without any surprises along the way, you can start planning to go back to work during the quieter times.
Making the Most of The Day
I’m the kind of person that can’t sit still for too long. I need to always be doing something productive, so a few days after giving birth I already missed the sound of my keyboard as I type. However, taking into account all that physical, psychological, and emotional ups and downs, mothers need to be honest with themselves and ask the dreaded question: “Am I really ready?”
The last thing you want to do now is go back to work and turn your world upside down, making unforgivable mistakes, missing deadlines, and then blaming it all on sleepless nights. You need to know yourself well, learn when you’re more productive, and plan everything accordingly.
Are you one of those who wakes up when it’s still dark outside and can translate a thousand words before your stomach starts growling and demanding some breakfast? Great! If you went to bed at midnight, after walking around the house and singing all the lullabies you could remember until your baby finally fell asleep, just to wake up at three in the morning for another feeding, try to make the most of your insomnia and work for a couple of hours after your baby goes back to sleep. This way, you will get an early start and adapt yourself to your baby’s routine.
Are you a night owl? Wonderful! Try to nap for at least one hour every time your baby falls asleep after a nice feeding and diaper change. The night will then be all yours to type your keyboard senseless.
When you find yourself stuck on an annoying expression, and the dictionary becomes useless when you try to render it naturally, take 15 minutes off to put a blanket on the floor and lay your baby on their belly, so he can work out their little arms and legs and learn how to support their head while training for some crawling. While you have fun watching your baby develop their motor skills, your mommy’s mind will do some passive thinking. Several studies have found that your brain works better at finding a solution when you stop thinking about the problem and preoccupy yourself with another task, such as taking a shower, doing the dishes, doing the laundry, etc.
Use the minutes you spend breastfeeding or pumping to read the documents you’re getting ready to translate, thus working on a preliminary sight translation while you skim through the original and “interpret” your translation out loud.
By the way, considering your hands will be busy very often, it could be a good idea to acquire some voice recognition software and dictate your translations to the computer. I have to confess that this option doesn’t really work for me, because my brain works better with my fingers, rather than my mouth, so I’d rather type to dictate. But, go ahead and see if it suits you.
No matter which technique works better for you, whenever you find a window to get back to work, focus on it and make the most of your productive minutes without feeling guilty before you get back to your mommy duties.
Your Baby and Your “Other Children”
Just like no two babies are exactly the same, translators are unique and have their own peculiarities. A couple of these tips may work for you, while you’ll find others on your own. Still, remember that you’re only one person and, the moment you become a mother, that’s your main occupation.
Yes, it’s hard to meet all of your baby’s needs, as well as all the requirements made by your “other children.” Nevertheless, good clients will understand you—they most likely went through the same thing—and, if they really like your work and appreciate your business relationship, they won’t walk away.
Sometimes even the strictest clients will let their hearts melt when you send out a notice, months in advance, that you’ll be taking maternity leave. I bet they—both men and women—will ask you a thousand questions about how you’re feeling, if you’ve already chosen the baby’s name, and when you’ll be due. Then they make you promise to send them some pictures as soon as the baby is born.
However, you’ll find out that other clients really lack some empathy… In those cases, the best thing you can do is be realistic and bring your client back to Earth, insisting that you absolutely cannot translate 5,000 words worth of an extremely technical project by the end of the business day.
If your client still can’t take “no” for an answer after you reminded him that you’re on maternity leave, explained that you’ve given birth only three days ago, and are in no condition to go back to working regular business hours at the moment, the best thing you can do is to get graphic.
Tell your client you need to keep your feet elevated, because they’re still a little puffy. It didn’t work? Move on to the next level: explain that you can’t sit for hours on end, because your lower belly still hurts from the pressure that your uterus is making on your nether regions, since the swell hasn’t come down yet after spending nine-month in free expansion.
That still wasn’t graphic enough? Ask your client—especially if you’re talking to a female client—whether she knew that, after giving birth, women may bleed for six weeks and you still feel uncomfortable sitting down to work, even so during the first week, when you need to wear an adult diaper…
In most cases, when you’re really driven to this kind of extreme, such a graphic image will help put your clients in perspective. They’ll stop and think, “Wow! My translator has just had a baby and, here I am, asking her to do something that is already practically impossible under normal conditions!”
One of the following two things will most likely happen: you’ll either find out that the project isn’t really that urgent and can then negotiate a more realistic deadline, or your client will ask you whether you know someone you trust who could take on the project.
When you’re ready to transition from maternity leave to part-time work, whether it is three days or three months after giving birth, it’s always good to have a “secret weapon” to help you focus on your job.
In my case, the card I have up my sleeve is my husband, an A+ daddy who changes diapers, heats up a bottle, puts the baby on a rocking chair or on their tummy to get a work out. Your secret weapon could be your parents, in-laws, siblings, friends…
Finding support is crucial and everybody wins: you can go back to organizing your schedule and your company enjoys some one-on-one time with the baby. The little one will also benefit from this arrangement, since interacting with different people will help their developing brain to study different facial expressions, identify other voices, and memorize characteristics of people who will play an important role in their little life.
Believe me: juggling the thousands of things you need to do throughout the day is possible. Plan ahead and rely on your organization skills, making notes on your good-old paper planner or your Google calendar. The secret is not biting off more than you can chew and being honest with yourself.
Thinking about all these pros and cons, all these ups and downs, if I had a chance to do it all over again I actually wouldn’t change a single comma in my story.
NOTE: The original article in Portuguese was first published as a guest blog on Lorena Leandro's "Ao principiante" about two months after my son was born, while the English translation was added to the Recommended Reading section of "Tools and Technology in Translation," published in October 2014.
RAFA LOMBARDINO is a translator and journalist from Brazil who lives in California. She is the author of "Tools and Technology in Translation ― The Profile of Beginning Language Professionals in the Digital Age," which is based on her UCSD Extension class. Rafa has been working as a translator since 1997 and, in 2011, started to join forces with self-published authors to translate their work into Portuguese and English. In addition to acting as content curator at eWordNews, a collective blog about translation and literature, she also runs Word Awareness, a small network of professional translators, and coordinates Contemporary Brazilian Short Stories (CBSS), a project to promote Brazilian literature worldwide.