Wow! Denise is a mom to two little ones in the Los Angeles area and works the overnight shift as a 911 dispatcher. She is expecting baby #3 (yay!), and due in February. Denise writes over at Coffee with a Shot of Cynicism and I think you’ll enjoy our conversation as much as I did! Read on to hear how Denise manages sleep deprivation, stress from work, and pumping while breastfeeding.
What has your career path been like to become a 911 dispatcher? What drew you to that job?
I was in college part time to be a teacher and working part time in retail, but was not sure about my degree and it was taking a long time. I have a lot of family members in law enforcement in Los Angeles and one cousin, in particular, encouraged me to apply to be a dispatcher. I was 20 when I first applied and 22 by the time I started training. The main draw for me was the security, both financial and future-wise. My cousin really sold me on the fact that this could be a very rewarding career along with being meaningful in impact.
I imagine that your schedule can be really exhausting at times. What are the challenges and advantages of working the overnight shift?How do you take care of yourself?
One of the best perks of my job is the schedule flexibility, I get to choose the types of hours I work and it has allowed my husband and I to be able to start our family without having to pay or rely on day care for our babies. It’s very challenging, and I’ve surprised myself in how I’ve been able to adjust to working nights with toddlers at home during the day but we’re somehow making it work. My husband is very supportive of making sure I get all the rest I can when he’s home and has really stepped up in caring for the kids and house so I can sleep, especially now that I’m pregnant again.
As a 911 dispatcher, it probably gets pretty crazy during your shift. How do you turn it off and go into mommy mode?
Work can be very high-stress, and I think I was fortunate to develop a mental on/off switch for my time at home but I am a very different person, and because of that, a different parent, than I was before this job. Even though I make an effort to not let my job affect my personal life, I am probably a little more cautious and strict, just due to the types of things I know for a fact can happen. And I can have to monitor myself from getting too easily frustrated or impatient when talking to people. that’s one of the most common issues for dispatchers, we go into an information hunt and start to get annoyed by long stories or side tracks so it always takes an effort to remember that not everyone we talk to is a caller giving us a hard time 🙂
What’s been different about being a working mom than you expected?
I’m amazed at how little sleep I can actually get by on. Some days are just tough no matter how much I prioritize sleep and I never expected to just be the type of person who can keep it together and keep my house running during times like that.
How do you and your husband balance the household and child responsibilities?
We have an unofficial system for catching up on most chores on Sundays, he spends a while on yard work and I give the inside a go over. During the past year, since I’ve been working nights, I hired a cleaning lady to come in every other week to do a deep clean. That’s been a major game changer and so worth it. It gives me a clean slate, I still have to clean and maintain almost daily but I used to have to spend a whole day off doing what she can do in a couple of hours so now we get a lot more free time to do family outings or just hanging out with the kids. For child care, my husband and I alternate, he takes over in the evenings and a lot of the weekend. This includes cooking meals, baths, and bedtimes.
You’re expecting #3 in February! You share that you have to curb your coffee intake while nursing. Do you find it hard to pump in your work environment? Is it tough to continue breastfeeding with the schedule you have?
Yes! pumping is another full time job all in itself. I nursed my 2 older kids for about a year each, and came back to work at 12 and 15 weeks after having them, so I spent about 9-10 months nursing in the daytime and pumping during work at night to keep up. It was such a test of patience and endurance to keep pumping every 2 hours for 15 minutes ( my break times at work) plus my whole lunch hour. I invested in an awesome pump (Medela!), a handpump to keep in my locker for random mommy-brain days where I forgot a part, and a mini cooler to save time having to go out to the fridge after pumping. I had my little system down to a science by the 2nd kid.
How long of a maternity leave will you take? How do you prepare yourself for the transition back to work?
I took 12 weeks with my first and 15 with my second. I am very blessed to have a great opportunity to actually take more time off than the average 6 weeks because of my job. I am able to save up vacation and overtime in the form of usable hours before the baby is born to extend my leave past the recovery time. I know that is very rare and was so thankful to have as much time as I did, even though in the moment it never feels quite like enough. After my second I found myself suffering postpartum depression and anxiety over returning to work. I reached out to my doctor who was very proactive and got me some help in the form of both one-on-one and group therapy to overcome it.
What’s your number one tip for working moms?
The best advice I can think of is to cut yourself slack and give yourself credit. Working and raising a family are such difficult things to do and we beat ourselves up so much if things aren’t how we would have wanted, or how we think they are going for other people. And I say this fully knowing I am still guilty of it too, I have days where everything feels like a fail and I think I’m not putting enough into any aspect of my life. I just have to periodically keep reminding myself to acknowledge what a kick-ass job I’m doing and to enjoy the ride as we go along. I believe I’m going to look back at this time as the craziest and most fun time.