Monday, October 31, 2011

WAHM - Meet Rebecca Stenberg: WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselor

~What is the name of your business and what do you do?

My name is Rebecca Stenberg and I work part-time, mostly at home, for my county’s WIC office as a Breastfeeding Peer Counselor. I also coordinate our county’s Breastfeeding Coalition. WIC (Women-Infants & Children) provides Federal grants to States for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk. As a Peer Counselor, I provide primarily over-the-phone breastfeeding support and referrals. I also teach a breastfeeding class and provide at-home visits when necessary.

 ~Tell us how you decided to begin doing what you do and how it has changed your life.

Everything I thought about my life changed after the birth of my first daughter. I had a son at the age of sixteen and never even thought about breastfeeding him. But, eleven years later, when I had my daughter, I never doubted that she would happily snuggle at my breast. I didn’t anticipate the myriad problems we would encounter. Our Lactation Consultant saved our breastfeeding relationship and I continued to nurse her past her second birthday. But, more than just breastfeeding, this sweet little girl refocused my priorities. I had been enjoying an engaging and successful career as a project manager in a major city and my circle of friends included the best and the brightest in government and non-profit. I was going places and having a wonderful time in the process! But when I held that little girl, as so often happens with mothers, I understood that life as I knew it was over. Although I desperately wanted to stay home, I took some time weaning off of that life and worked part-time for a couple of years. But when daughter number two came along, I was done. The pull to be home was so strong. The pull to help other moms and babies was even stronger! I knew God was leading me to my “higher calling” and my bags were packed.

Becoming a Lactation Consultant seemed a logical fit, but it wasn’t nearly as easy as I thought to gain the education and experience necessary to qualify me to take the certification exam. Working for WIC allowed me to get the training I needed to start helping moms with breastfeeding. I primarily work with mothers over the phone, from home, but also teach a class once per month and now can also do home visits if needed. Over the past three years or so, I’ve been able to attend several training sessions and became a Certified Lactation Specialist. I also earned enough hours to qualify to sit for the exam last July. (I am currently waiting to find out if I passed.)

~Tell us about your family…kids, husband, pets, etc

My talented husband, Steve, and I met in college and have been married for more than 13 years. We have a 20-year-old son and four daughters, ages 8, 5, 3 and 1. My husband works for a local manufacturing plant as a supervisor and, although their industry was hit very hard by the recession, he has been able to maintain a stable-enough salary for me to stay and work at home. We live in rural Wisconsin, not too far from St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota, and enjoy the outdoors, gardening, cooking, hiking, boating, and swimming. My husband and I both agree that our children are the greatest blessings of our lives. Watching all of our children together brings us more joy than we ever could have hoped for!

~Tell us about how you are able to do what you do and balance your family life…how do you make it work?

Working from home isn’t nearly as easy as everyone thinks it is, but it does seem to work best for our family. The work I do is primarily on the phone and does take a bit of concentration. I’ve learned that I can’t take care of a child’s needs, or even cook or clean, while I’m on the phone with a client. I try to do my phone calling when the house is quiet and my children are busy. On a typical day, I get kids out the door for school and then reserve the morning for a few household tasks, errands, or play dates with my two youngest. Around noon, I put the baby down for a nap, make lunch for my 3-year-old, and put her at a table with lots of art supplies. Then I “work.” I use an online program to track clients and keep notes. I find out which moms need a call right away and try to be on the phone as much as possible during this time, so that we’re not interrupted. If I need to do a home visit, I try to arrange that when my husband will be home. Then, late at night, I’ll hop on the computer again to finish charting my notes from each phone call. I also use evening hours to do my work for the Breastfeeding Coalition, scheduling meetings, creating educational materials, etc.

Of course there are days when my grand plan fails miserably. The cable man comes and wakes up the baby. A friend asks me to watch her kids. Someone needs to go to the doctor or dentist. Any number of things can ultimately make the day go wrong. Although I have to “check-in” nearly every day for my job, I don’t always have to put in a lot of time. Some days I work for three hours, other days, only one (or none). My husband’s job is very stressful and he’s often busy in the evenings, so I can’t always count on that time to get my work done. My house suffers miserably, and sometimes the kids suffer a bit, too. More times than I’d like to admit, I’ve had to resort to unsavory tactics to avoid being a parent so that I can work – putting in a movie, bribing with treats, etc. Once I even locked myself in my room, while my daughter threw a fit out in the hall, so I could finish up a phone call.

There are days when I wonder, “Is it worth it?” But the answer is always, “Yes!”

~Do you do anything in addition to your at-home business?

I’m currently on the Steering Team of a new MOPS (Mothers With Pre-Schoolers) chapter. I also serve on my church’s Nursery Committee and attend regular Bible studies.

~Is there any advice you would give to other WAHMs or those that aspire to work at home?

- Be realistic about your time. Think about how much time you’ll need to do the work that you want to do. Can it be done while doing other mothering or household tasks or do you need to have dedicated time? What will your day actually look like (do some trial runs)?

- Once you know what kind of time you’ll have to invest, have a conversation with your husband and children about how things will change. It may seem small, but even a little change is change. Talk about how your working at home will affect the family, whether it means someone else has to pick the kids up from school or your husband needs to cook supper five nights a week. My children have benefited from me working at home in ways I never anticipated – they’ve had to become more responsible than some of their friends, they are good at entertaining themselves, and they are very helpful with younger siblings. However, there are days when they hate hearing that mom has to work. There have also been times when I’ve had to be away for a few days for trainings. My husband sacrifices greatly to be the stay-at-home dad while I’m gone, or to bring the kids with and entertain them at hotels. Including everyone in the discussion and planning ahead of time helps everyone gain control over a new schedule.

- Try to find a friend to exchange childcare with, or find a daytime babysitter. There are times when I need to work out of the home, without my children. Finding friends in similar situations (WAHMs) has been wonderful. I’ve also found many homeschooled children in our area that can get away for a couple of hours to play with my kids while I work.

- Unlike many WAHMs I know, I’m unable to do most of my “work” during evening hours. I use this time to organize my home life as much as possible. It took me awhile to figure this out, but if I spend a little time to plan my life as a wife/mother, my work time is less stressful. I try to plan meals a week or two in advance. This has saved money, time going to the store more often than I really need to, and time trying to figure out what to cook. I try to really clean the kitchen every single night so that it’s ready to go the next day. I also use a simple housework schedule from Time-Warp Wife. Every day is dedicated to one part of the house – Monday is bathrooms, Tuesday is bedrooms, etc. It sounds so simple, but this is saving my house from falling apart!

- Don’t ever forget why you wanted to stay at home in the first place. Being clear about WHY you’re doing what you’re doing helps keep you from losing focus. I find it helpful to actually write out benchmarks that indicate whether or not I’m meeting my goals. During a particularly busy week, I discovered that I had actually paid more in childcare than I earned – definitely NOT meeting the goal! When things feel like they’re not going well, it helps me to look at that list and actually be concrete rather than relying on gut feelings. And check in with your husband and family to see how they’re doing. I am often surprised to hear the lengths to which my husband will go in order for me to be successful as a WAHM.


Rebecca Stenberg said...

A little update since I answered these questions for Elegant Mommy...I just found out that I passed my Lactation Consultant exam. I'm not sure what this new title means for my future (my heart is still at home with my family), but it does open up some possibilities. Congrats to anyone else out there who just became an IBCLC!

Evie said...

Oh, Rebecca! That's fantastic! Congratulations from all of us at Elegant Mommy!! May you be blessed in the work you do as you help other mommies be the best they can be for their babes.