“Weekends and Christmas are sacred .
One of my reasons for leaving the hospital was so that I’d never miss Christmas Eve or Christmas morning with my husband and kids.”
For the twelfth instalment in the Office Mum interview series, I meet Nicola O’Byrne who is a lactation consultant in Dublin. She is married and has five children. She started Breastfeeding Support in 2005 after leaving her job in one of the maternity hospitals.
Eight years later, she juggles a successful business with a hectic family life.
When I asked Nicola what the optimal solution is – what her perfect job would be, she replied
“Yes, I think I have the perfect solution, the only downside is that if I don’t work there’s no income ….”
To hear more about life as a self-employed mother of five, read on….
I have 5 children and I’m going to give them all new names just like in your blog Office Mum! I have 3 boys and 2 girls. Eli is 16 years old, Oliver (12), Tessa (9) Charlie (5) and Juliette is 3.
I love the names! Now could you tell me a little about your job – what do you do and for how long have you been working at this?
I’m a IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant ) since 2005. Before that I worked in a neonatal NICU. I see mums and babies who are having problems breastfeeding. I run an antenatal class for mums who want to breastfeed or where it didn’t work out before. I also teach health professionals about breastfeeding and run workshops on topics related to lactation.
I decided to start my own business as I saw the need for professional breastfeeding help for new mothers and babies. It probably was a big risk to leave my permanent pensionable job but I’ve never looked back.
What kind of hours do you work?
I generally work 4 days per week , however most office work and email responses takes place after 8pm so in reality it’s probably fulltime. Weekends and Christmas are sacred . One of my reasons for leaving the hospital was so that I’d never miss Christmas Eve or Christmas morning with my husband and kids.
What kind of childcare do you use?
At the moment, the oldest four are in school, the youngest is in preschool . We have an au-pair in the afternoons. So I drop them to school and do the collection between clients. It works well as I’m always checking in and out over the day. Summer holidays are not as easy though. Last year, I took most of the summer off, it was wonderful and I am lucky to have the flexibility to do that.
Is your childcare solution working well for you?
I have tried every form of childcare over the past 16 years: crèche, childminder in her home, childminder in our home, disastrous au-pairs and wonderful au-pairs, afterschool clubs . While a childcare arrangement was working it’s wonderful but as soon as something wasn’t working for one of the kids or me , then it was time to reassess . Some of my kids loved crèche, others I knew it wasn’t for them. I’m lucky that I’ve always had flexibility around working hours – there is only one childminder that I really regret employing. Hindsight is a great thing …
Are your children in school and has that made balancing work and home easier or more difficult?
Yes, absolutely, it’s much easier now they are all out in the mornings. I work around their schedules with afterschool activities and play-dates etc…
On a practical level, what do you find most difficult about balancing work and home?
It’s really difficult when one of them gets sick and you just know the whole house is going to go down with it (vomiting bugs multiplied by five kids is no joke).
I have to clear the calendar. My husband can work from home and that’s really handy as we would share time off for those situations. I do all of the drop offs and collections of the younger kids, most of my clients are near me or if not they come to my office.
And psychologically, do you find it challenging or stressful to work outside the home – do you suffer from working-mother guilt?
Every so often I do, if one of the kids is going through a rough period I’d think “oh if I wasn’t so busy would this not be happening?” or “I should do more with them individually“. The reality is that I need to work, I love my work and I do have great flexibility so the guilt doesn’t last long.
Do you think there’s an optimal solution out there – a perfect balance that enables a mother to have a fulfilling career while being there for her children?
Yes, I think I have the perfect solution, the only downside is that if I don’t work there’s no income ….
If you could do any job, what would it be?
Honestly I’m doing it…. I would love to open a breastfeeding centre. I’d have pregnancy/breastfeeding classes , support groups, baby yoga/ massage, have a really nice coffee shop. There would be a non-profit side to it too so mums that can’t afford a private IBCLC would benefit too. That’s my long-term goal – I might be sixty before I reach it!
Do you think there’s a glass ceiling for women, or is it a perception based on the fact that mothers often look for flexibility or part-time hours, which in turn limits their opportunities?
Yes I do, without a doubt believe there is a glass ceiling. I think it becomes more invisible the higher a woman rises in an organization.
Do you have three top tips that you could give any mother returning to work, to make her life easier?
Get everything ready the night before.
Make regular time with your partner away from the kids.
Look after yourself too.
Any other comments?
My favourite time of the day is when I come home after dropping them off in the morning. I have 30-60 minutes before starting with my first client. The peace is wonderful, I sit, drink coffee and listen to the stillness. It’s bliss.
Thank you Nicola for taking the time to answer my questions – I was particularly drawn to your comment about guilt: I have a similar tendency whenever something goes wrong – I question whether it’s because I work outside the home. I like that you are able to rein it back in and see that you have great flexibility and are therefore able to give your children the attention that they need. We all need to practice that more!
To contact Nicola for help with breastfeeding (which I would highly recommend based on personal experience!), go to her wonderful website www.Breastfeedingsupport.ie