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Office Babies : Employees Combine a Career and Motherhood at Work

August 06, 1992| Maureen Brown | Maureen Brown is a writer and mother of four.

When Bruno Magana, 7 months, of Vista fills out his first job application form, he may note that "work experience" included accompanying his mother, Julia, 21, every morning during his infancy to the offices of Barbara Browne Health Care in Vista.

Adjacent to his mother's computer and phone at her work station are Bruno's crib, walker, toys and diapers. Bruno is evidence of agency owner Barbara Browne's concept of integrating a working mother and infant in the office.

Browne, a registered nurse and owner of the agency that provides home nursing and therapy care, recognizes the difficulty of blending parenting and infant with working.

"Thirty years ago, when I was raising children, there was no such thing as child care," Browne recalls. "You either had a parent to help out or you asked a friend. I worked as a nurse right up until the delivery of each of my four children. When the baby was 6 weeks old, I returned to work on the night shift. My husband worked days. It was terrible."

Four years ago, Sandy Seaman, 28, of San Diego, a secretary in the office since she graduated from high school, found herself reluctant to leave her 8-week-old son, Mitchel, at home to return to work.

Sandy approached Browne with the question: "I wonder if it would be all right if I brought Mitchel into the office?"

Mitchel, now 4, came to "work" with his diapers, porta-crib and nursing mother, thus paving the way for a host of "office babies" including his 11-month-old sister, Jessica, who now accompanies Sandy to work.

While there is no prearranged limit for the babies to graduate to other forms of child care, the babies have made the transition once they started walking.

The office cross-trains many of its staff secretaries and clerical workers, giving them familiarity with the tasks of others. This has proven particularly helpful on days when a baby needs extra attention, as well as eliminating the need to hire temporary help when someone is on sick leave or their children are ill.

"We operate on an honor system here. When a conflict arises, we allow the staff to make up their hours later in the day, week, or on the weekends," Browne said.

Studies indicate, and Browne supports, the conclusion that less job time is sacrificed when parents have adequate child care. Even doctor's appointments, which are frequent during a baby's first year, require less time away from the office for the mothers who have their babies at work.

"The baby is right here," Browne said. "The mother leaves for the appointment and is usually back in an hour. She doesn't have to drive home or to the day-care center to get the baby, go to the appointment, take the child back to the day-care provider, and then return to work."

A typical "work day" for little Bruno begins at 8 when he arrives at the office. His mother nurses him, and by 8:30 he is asleep with the sign "Please Enter Quietly--Bruno Sleeping" affixed to the outer door. When he awakes, his toys and walker await him and the sign "Please Enter Carefully--Bruno in Walker" is in place. His feeding and diaper-changing schedule pigeonhole well into his mother's office routine. In the afternoon, Bruno naps, and like most infants, has his "fussy time" as well.

"That's 2:30," someone offers.

"Yes, and I'm Bruno's 2:30 lady," says Mary Donovan, who has two sons in their 20s and relishes the opportunity to comfort Bruno during his fussy time.

"We call this a 'baby pass,' " notes Bruno's mother, Julia. At times, this ability to pass a baby becomes necessary. "We do billing twice a month, and we really have to concentrate. When one of the babies needs attention during this time, it seems that there is always someone free to whom to pass a baby."

"I call it 'executive time' when they come into my office," says Browne, noting the basket of baby toys near her desk. "I talk to the babies, read my work papers aloud, like letters from medical insurance providers or physicians--the babies don't mind what the papers are about."

"You can definitely combine a career and motherhood here," notes Browne. "If one of the babies is really sick or an older child is ill, we tell the parent to stay home. If there is a program at a child's school, a Christmas play, or someone graduating from kindergarten, we tell the parent to go."

"Crises such as 'tight pants' on an 8-year-old at school cannot be overlooked," notes Joanie Scott, 36, of Vista. She received a call, now famous at the office, from her 8-year-old son's school that he was complaining about his pants being too tight. Joanie left work, got another pair of pants from home to take to his school, and within an hour, the child was happy and she was back at work.

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