Business owner and mom of 5 sets expectations to focus on what really matters
February 07 2020 – Kathryn Wepfer
She’s nursed 5 kids, including a set of twins. This physician and business owner thrives by adjusting expectations and focusing on what matters most to her.
Name: Alexis Kirkland-Miller
Children: 10 year-old boy, 4 year-old boy, 3 year-old boy and twin girls 7 weeks
Occupation: Orthodontist & Owner of Bowie Braces
What was your pumping experience with each of your kids?
I have five kids, and I’ve nursed them all. My oldest is 10, and then we have a four year old, a three year old, and the twins who are 7 weeks.
I nursed my oldest for a full year and pumped when I went back to work. With my four year-old I probably lasted 9 months, and for my three year-old I lasted for about 6 months, so pumping has always been an integral part of new motherhood for me. Now with the twins I’m exclusively nursing again, so pumping is a big part of the process.
That is an amazing accomplishment. You’re on maternity leave now - when do you return to work?
Next week, and I’m a little anxious about going back to work and figuring out how to keep up my supply for two babies. I recently found out about these wireless pumps, which I’ve been trying and they seem to help a lot. With them you have to wear loose-fitting clothing on top, and you still need accessibility, but you can walk around with them. The only downside so far is that they do make you look a little like Dolly Parton!
Tell us about what you do for work:
I’m an orthodontist. I’ve owned my own practice for about five years now. With my first son I was in residency and seeing patients, but with my other children I’ve been at my practice. It’s always been a struggle to juggle the schedule and find the time to get away and pump frequently enough to keep up my milk supply.
Fortunately, with my two oldest kids my business was growing, so I had a little bit more time in my day to work in the pumping and it wasn't as challenging. Now it’s more a matter of having to reschedule patients in order to make the pumping work for my schedule. I think this cordless pump is going to be a lifesaver because at least I can wear it all the time and control it with an app, so I won’t have to stop what I’m doing to pump. I think as long as I wear my lab coat I won’t look too crazy. This could be a game-changer for me because I didn't know how I was going to be able to fit in more traditional pumping sessions into my work days – you know sometimes you have to undress to just to be able to connect the machine, depending on what you wear, and then take 20 minutes of your time to pump.
Do you expect to take a big hit to your bottom line and the number of patients you can see in a day in order to accommodate pumping?
I'm going to try to avoid it. I think the efficiency of my day might change a bit. My patients might wait a little bit longer – of course we’re going to try really hard for that not to happen. In all honesty, I'm not exactly sure how it's going to work. I really hope that I'm able to keep up the pumping and that I don't have to change to formula right away, but not seeing the number of patients that we need to see each day is not really an option either. I have to make it work one way or another. We have a lunch break, and then I’m going to try to schedule in two other 15 minute blocks where I don't have to be on the floor, but what you put on the schedule and what happens in reality is something different. Some days it’s hard enough just to get a chance to pee, so we’ll see how this works. I try not to be stressed over a situation that hasn’t presented itself yet. All I can do is hope for the best. I imagine some days it will be seamless and some days will be challenging.
Now that you’ve been a pumping mom on both sides of that equation – both as an employee and as the boss - do you have any advice for women who are feeling awkward about asking for that accommodation? How can they fit pumping into their work lives in a way that doesn’t negatively impact their productivity?
When you're working you have to be efficient, and make sure that no one has a reason to say that you're not working hard, or even mind if you’re off for a few minutes because, I mean, in all honesty, if you're a really good employee and you're an asset to the business, people are a lot more understanding.
I think we're in a more progressive society now, and although people may not offer those accommodations, if you ask for it, then they have to be accommodating and they can't hold it against you. How someone personally feels about what you chose to do is really insignificant. You have to do what is best for your family, and if breastfeeding is a personal decision that you make, then stand by it, and have a plan. Don’t be afraid to ask.
How someone personally feels about what you chose to do is really insignificant. You have to do what is best for your family, and if breastfeeding is a personal decision that you make, then stand by it, and have a plan. Don’t be afraid to ask.
Has the nursing and pumping experience been pretty consistent for you with your children, or has it varied from kid to kid?
It was easiest with my first child. I know that’s ironic, but for me, I personally produced a lot of milk the first time around. You know, it’s a labor of love. I can't say that I ever loved being connected to a breast pump. It is a little bit life changing - how you travel, how long you can stay out, and you always have to think ahead to know when you’re going to be able to pump. I think you learn from your past mistakes, so I’ve had fewer hiccups doing it multiple times than I did initially when I thought I could just run to the store and not bring my pump because I’ll be back home quickly, and then I’d end up with a wet blouse, or I’d get engorged. Those kind of things don't happen often now because I'm prepared for it. It’s intuitive and ingrained in my thinking to anticipate when I need to bring my pump and supplies with me. It's just something that becomes a part of your everyday life. Your new normal I suppose. And it does get a bit easier.
I can't say that I ever loved being connected to a breast pump. It is a little bit life changing - how you travel, how long you can stay out, and you always have to think ahead to know when you’re going to be able to pump. I think you learn from your past mistakes, so I’ve had fewer hiccups doing it multiple times than I did initially...
What’s your advice for women who are getting ready to go back to work and pump?
- Definitely knowing your pump schedule, so you can know what to ask for. I would start pumping before you return to work so you know your schedule, because everyone’s body is different. With my first child I could pump at lunch and then again before I went home, but I needed to pump more with the other two in order to make the same amount of milk. Have an action plan so you can present it to your boss or supervisor and let them know the times of day when you need to be away. Try to be present at the important meetings. Be present and helpful when you can be, and then pump guilt-free.
- Having a great double electrical pump is important. And they have bras now that are nursing bras and hands-free pumping bras in one, so that can help you get a little work done.
- If you can learn how to pump efficiently and to have all your stuff together before you return to work, then it will save you a lot of time when you do go back.
- Drinking water is huge. That really helps with the milk production.
Do you find that the cordless pumps are as efficient as the regular pumps?
I think so, yes actually, which I was surprised about. I didn't think that they would work as well, but so far, so good. In fact it's working pretty efficiently and it allows me to pump more. If I don't get as much as I expected in a pump session, then I can easily take a break and come back to it 20 minutes later without missing a beat, as opposed to connecting-disconnecting-connecting-disconnecting. I think it allows me to pump more, so while it may not be as efficient in terms of production from each suction, I'm able to pump more frequently so I get more milk from it.
They say that the more relaxed you are the better it is for milk expression. They usually recommend reading a book or watching TV to take your mind off actually pumping, and I’ve literally been at my son's swim practice while pumping and talking to other moms, so I think that helps in that manner, too.
I’ve literally been at my son's swim practice while pumping and talking to other moms
How can working moms find support systems, since none of us can do this alone?
Take people up on their offers of help. Especially when there’s a newborn, people are always wanting to help. Ask them to make you a meal or something. Anything really helps. I'm fortunate enough that our aunt has stayed with us and helped with the twins, so that helps a great deal to take some of the responsibilities.
You know, I hate to say it, but sometimes you just need to lower your standards because everything is not going to be perfect. Every bed is not going to be made and that's okay. There are going to be things where you're going be a perfectionist, but then you just have to let certain things go. Every kid’s socks might not match that day, and that’s okay. It’s not necessarily lowering your standards, but changing the idea of what really is important, and accepting that the house might not look perfect all the time, but everyone is fed and loved, and that’s really what matters.
It’s not necessarily lowering your standards, but changing the idea of what really is important, and accepting that the house might not look perfect all the time, but everyone is fed and loved, and that’s really what matters.
How do you take care of yourself? Is there anything that you've done as a working mom that helps you keep your sanity and take care of yourself?
I don't know if I’ve reached that point yet, but I think trying to get everyone on a schedule, whether it's your older kids sticking to a bed time, or just becoming more regimented, that really helps. I remember when I was a child my mom used to tell me that bedtime wasn’t for me, it was for her. If I told her I wasn’t tired, she said it didn’t matter, I just had to stay in my room and be quiet, and those are words of wisdom now. I used to be more lenient on schedule. Our bedtime aim was 8:00 but it really was 8:45, so we’re really trying to stick to a schedule, because you do need some time to yourself.
Give us a sense for what it’s like to be part of your family. What do you want for your kids?
We’ve got four kids under four, so life is a whirlwind. What's important to me as a mom is to create good memories and to create children who are independent. One great thing about being a parent of multiple children is that you can’t really be a helicopter parent. I try not to over-parent because I think it doesn't allow our kids to learn as many lessons as we probably did in our generation. Kids are supposed to fall because they learn from it, and I think a lot of times now we try to do so much for our children that we’re actually not allowing them to problem solve as effectively – how to face a problem and get through it independently - because we're trying to protect our children from hurt, but hurt to a certain degree as a part of life. It's a little hard to fall down on the playground, but you get up and scrape it off and you keep on playing. Those little life lessons as a child prepare you for life as an adult. I would love each of my kids to gain that independence and I think that being a mom of 5 it’s inevitable that it's going to happen because the kids are going to have to do some things by themselves. Even if I wanted to do it all for them I can’t. I also really want my children to look out for their siblings. So, now if one person gets some juice for themselves, they also get juice for everyone. It's fun, and it’s a little bit overwhelming at times, but it's a learning process.
Our days are always busy, from after school to bedtime, and also in the mornings getting to school, and that really hasn't changed now with 5 kids. You just take it day by day and feel happy for the successes you had, and then for the things that didn't go well you know tomorrow you can put a different foot forward to make it go right. And then just really enjoying the time, because they don’t stay little for very long.
This was an amazing article not because she’s my sister friend but it helped to put things in perspective.