In mid-June, I got word that I had received a National Health Journalism Fellowship from the California Endowment. This was wonderful news, of course, but it presented some logistical tangles. My story about the effects of pesticides on neurodevelopment (subscription required) was slated to run in August, so I needed to travel to northern California for reporting in early July. And the fellowship included five days of immersion in community health reporting at the University of Southern California in mid-July.
Oh, and beyond the normal travel issues, I have three children, including a then 9-month-old baby. Leaving the baby at home just wasn’t an option. I’m still nursing her often, and I loathe pumping. So if I was going to California, my baby (Mia) was going with me.
Oh heck, what now?
This meant that I needed to find sitters for Mia during my working hours.
SciLancer Doug Fox (bio), who lives in the Bay Area and is a father of two young children, put me in touch with a highly trusted sitter. Within a week, my reporting trip was set.
So on a sunny July afternoon in Berkeley, I met up with the Spanish-speaking
nanny, named Vere, and her 13-year-old daughter on a street near the University of California. In my rusty Spanish, I introduced her to Mia, gave her a few instructions about pacifiers, naps, and food, showed her the stroller and diaper bag, and headed inside for my first interview. Yes, I admit it felt a little uncomfortable to hand my baby to basically a complete stranger. But when we met up a couple hours later, Mia was well rested and giggling with her new friends.
Early the next morning, Mia and I picked Vere up from her home in Oakland, with backyard roosters crowing in the background. The three of us headed to Salinas — a two-hour drive — where I was reporting on pesticide use in an agricultural community. Between interviews, I took breaks to nurse and snuggle Mia. To pass the time, Vere took Mia on strolls around the area. At 9:30 pm I arrived back at a friend’s home where I was staying in Berkeley
. I was all set to collapse in exhaustion. But since Mia had napped on the way home, she had just gotten her second wind. Long day.
Trust that it will work out
Setting up childcare arrangements for the fellowship program in Los Angeles the following week was not so straightforward. I had originally hoped my mom could join me and watch Mia, but she couldn’t
. I emailed, Facebooked, and called numerous friends and acquaintances in the area, desperately trying to find a good fit. At one point, I even seriously considered having 13-year-old twin girls babysit Mia. Four days before my departure and still without a sitter, I was in a panic. In the nick of time, a friend lined me up with two of her regular sitters . They shared the hours, strolling with Mia between my hotel and the USC campus, joining the fellowship program for lunch, and bringing Mia to nurse during breaks. We texted regularly, so I knew where they were at all times. Still, it required some wrangling. For instance, after a field trip to Skid Row, I made a mad dash back to the hotel by cab, rather than waiting for the group bus, to nurse.
In the end, it was a complete joy (albeit a slight distraction
) to have Mia along on my work travels. She became the unofficial fellowship mascot, and I’m relieved to report that there were no crises. I (mostly) recommend traveling for work with a baby, if it’s feasible. Sometimes it’s not. When my 3-year-old, Isabella, was Mia’s age, I traveled to the Gulf of Mexico for six looong days to report a story about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. I pumped on a small boat with no privacy. And Isabella refused her milk the entire time I was gone. That trip wouldn’t have been possible with a baby, but I’m really glad this time around I was able to tote my little one along for the ride(s).
Tips for planning work travel with a child:
- Make sure your sources and settings are amenable to occasional appearances of baby. In my case, the sources and the fellowship program were gracious and happy to accommodate.
- If taking baby along on any planned activities, such as luncheons or dinners, make sure to ask in advance which ones are informal and appropriate for a baby
- Line up childcare well in advance (if you can).
- Prepare to pay well. Hours really add up. If you have a family member that can come along to help out, even better, but you’ll
have to arrange to pay (or help pay) their way.
- Give yourself PLENTY of time to navigate the airport. Aim for two hours — at least. I learned this lesson on our trip to northern California after enduring stares as we were the last to board the plane — both ways. Remember that you are not only packing your laptop or iPad, recording equipment, and camera, but also toys, baby books, baby food and snacks, diapers and wipes, and more — and all of that has to make it through the security checks. And there’s always the chance you’ll find that your gate is the VERY LAST ONE in the terminal. Ahem. For the Los Angeles trip, our timing improved dramatically.
- Expect exhaustion. There is no ‘down time.’ Field reporting, conferences, and training programs can be utterly exhausting — in a good way. But there’s no collapsing onto the bed after a long day. Instead, you’ll be giving the baby a bath, getting her dressed, and throwing toys to her while you (attempt to) clean up and head out for dinner.
- Be prepared to upgrade your cell phone texting plan.
Image credits: James Mascarelli, Amanda Mascarelli