Balancing Motherhood and Career Here At #open #MothersDay
I always knew motherhood was something I wanted for myself. My entire life before kids, I found ways to engage with children: snuggling my best friend’s brand new baby brother, babysitting jobs, teaching preschool dance classes, working in an afterschool program through college; the role of nurturer fit and I really enjoyed it.
But even with such an adoration for children, I imagined a life for myself that allowed for both parenting and a career. For as much of a nurturer I am, I also have a fierce drive to work, create and collaborate; needs that are fulfilled when I’m engaging in a career that I’m passionate about.
What I was not prepared for was how difficult it would be for me to balance these two opposing roles and the guilt/mom shame that came as a result of that struggle.
Into the blur
I became a mom at 21. I started job hunting when my baby was eight weeks old. By ten weeks I was interviewing and by twelve weeks I was away from my sweet babe full-time. I struggled to balance work while learning to be a mother and also felt pressured to continue online college courses at the same time. Amongst the lovely memories I have of my daughter at this time, I just as vividly remember the intense sleep deprivation. There was a piece of me that felt I had something to prove as a young mom and there was such a strong sense of shame when I couldn’t hold it all together.
When I got pregnant 4 years later after meeting my husband, I was in a supervisory position at the hospital I worked for. I spent my pregnancy working in a high stress environment on my feet until 2am, five days a week. I was so burnt out by the end of my pregnancy that I used one week of my precious maternity leave to stop working early. I regretted that immensely when it was time for me to go back to work when my baby was 11 weeks old.
Thinking back on those days of mothering and building my career, it may sound cliche, but it’s truly a blur. Long days away from my nursing babies, a work environment that says they’re ‘breastfeeding friendly’ but makes it impossible for pumping breaks, the devastation of realizing I couldn’t sustain breastfeeding by the time my second baby was 6 months, trying to bond with a baby when you’re left with so painfully little time each day…the mother I wanted and envisioned myself to be was so terribly far from the reality I was living day to day. I hated the way parenting made me feel inadequate and overstimulated.
I didn’t have words for it then, but TikToker @yourejustliz explains the struggles of American working moms here. She so poignantly touches on the way that the stresses of parenting in corporate America places many parents in a constant fight or flight mode, and I think so many parents can relate.
Maternity Leave in the US Doesn’t Support Motherhood
When we compare the US to pretty much every developed country in the world, our policies to support working parents are severely lacking. Central to this issue is parental leave. According to Pew Research Center, “the U.S. is the only country among 41 nations that does not mandate any paid leave for new parents.”
When I think back to my experience with my older two kids, I can pinpoint the onset of most of my stress and post-partum depression/anxiety with the return to work at less than 12 weeks. That horrible feeling of dread as I approached my return to work date will forever be seared into my mind.
The twelve week mark has become somewhat of a norm in corporate America, as it’s the maximum amount of time that is covered by FMLA parental leave protections, for those employees who are covered by this policy. What this means is that after 12 weeks of leave, a parent’s employer is no longer required to protect their job, they can hire someone new for the position and the parent will loose their employment. Because of this, the vast majority of working moms have returned to work full time around that 12 week mark, or much sooner for those who don’t have FMLA protections.
Why is this problematic? There is absolutely no scientific evidence to back up a return to work at three months post-partum, because when we look at what is happening in the birthing parent’s body at the 12 week mark, it’s clear that there is more healing to do.
Considering the hormonal changes in the first year post-birth, 3 months is not an adequate amount of time for maternity leave, as the body is still in significant transition. Parents magazine also points out that by 3 months of being home with baby, parents have often established routines, so returning to work at this point is a major upheaval for both mom and baby.
A study by BetterLifeLabs shows that 26 weeks of maternity leave may meet the basic needs of working mothers. This 6 month mark is when most birthing parents have returned to their baseline hormonally. However, we must take into consideration that it’s not just what’s going on in the mother’s body that affects maternal mental health and take a look at the bigger picture: learning to care for a baby that is constantly changing & growing, adjusting to new family dynamics, sleep deprivation and the many many other challenges that come with parenting, it just makes sense that other countries are providing a full year of leave.
This last pregnancy was, admittedly, unplanned. But after the initial shock wore off, excitement set in. By this time, I’d been working full time for #open for 2 years with 1.5 of it being exclusively work from home. In my time with the company, I’d found the work environment to be extremely parent-friendly: a flexible work-day means I can schedule in appointments as needed, meetings are kept to a minimum, independent work is valued and when needed, I can flex my work day (which happens a LOT). Knowing I was going to have so much more flexibility work-wise this time, has made major impact.
During my pregnancy, I got to listen to my body and rest. Those early first-trimester days I would often be perched up on the couch with my laptop, nauseous and miserable, if I felt like I needed a 20 minute mid-day nap, I took one. Later in my pregnancy, I spent hours moderating while bouncing on my exercice ball, I’d go for a walk around the block if I was feeling well, I could take the time to make nutritious meals…
I even made it to not one but TWO social events in NYC with the #open team during my pregnancy. I think about these events with delight. The second event happened just as I entered my third trimester and at seven months pregnant. I really wanted to attend, but knew a whirlwind trip in and out of the city in one day would be too much for my body. I talked to #open co-founders Amanda and David, and asked if spending the night in the city would be an option, they immediately agreed. Later, that night, as the team partied on well into the early morning, I was so grateful to head back to my hotel room when I started to feel woozy and needed to get off my feet.
After not attending any events during the peak of the pandemic, I was so happy to engage with ENM folx at these events while I was on a break from active dating. It helped me to continue feeling connected to community and I felt incredibly supported by a work team that was willing to make accommodations to include me.
In May 2022, my baby was born into the world surrounded by a lot of love and support. I feel humbled and blessed to think about the little cocoon that we were able to wrap our family in during those first few weeks with him.
As the first person to have a baby while working for #open, I feel like I got a chance to be a bit of a trailblazer! During my pregnancy, I communicated with Amanda and David knowing that I wanted to take some dedicated time completely away but wasn’t sure what that would actually look like… and that was ok. I worked hard ahead of time to document all of the work I do on a day to day so that everything would be covered and from there the ‘plan’ was loosely defined: once the baby arrived I would let the team know and I would be completely offline for at least a few weeks, I estimated about 6-8 total.
At 7 weeks post-partum, I logged on for our team’s morning meeting, while holding my baby. Those first couple of weeks, I probably worked about 2-3 hours a day. And that was fine. My team continued to support me and my needs. My hours continued to be flexible, allowing for doctors appointments or other outings, meetings were often taken while breastfeeding a baby in my lap, just out of Zoom view, and slowly, I started to increase my working time. After a while, we started falling into the new routine of work from home. It felt so relaxed to be able to work at my own pace as I got back into things, wearing my baby while getting tasks done, stopping for breastfeeding and play breaks when needed.
Kalani is now ten months old and I will not sugarcoat it – working at home with a busy baby can be HARD. It’s challenging in a lot of ways and I constantly feel like I’m being pulled in multiple directions. But with that said, I could weep when I think about how much more balanced this is, how much more sustainable and how much better I feel as a mom, knowing I get to be with my baby every day. Some days I really feel like I get to have my cake and eat it too.
Breaking My Baby Blues
Removing the stressor of having to go back to in-person work was a major factor in me not developing post partum depression or anxiety this time around. Being home and having so much more work-life balance has really brought me a sense of peace.
I think back to Polysecure and the concept of Safe Haven/Secure Base attachment figures and I know, without a doubt, that I’m creating that for my baby. With my older children, I’m saddened to realize how hard it was to be that secure attachment when I was reduced to spending 2-3 hours with them, while burnt out at the end of a long work day. Comparing that experience to this latest one where I am so present and connected to my baby, has been incredibly healing.
This time, I’m able to not only respond to, but I can anticipate my baby’s needs. I know his schedule, his likes and dislikes and all the little details that make him tick. I’m intentionally taking time to research his developmental stages and then can plan activities and foods and learning that match each stage. I’m just so involved, simply because I can be. And that’s just the baby! My older kids have benefitted so much from my new work life and I’m seeing the positive impact in my relationships with them now that I am more present.
And what I’ve learned through this process is that I am capable– that when I am able to put as much of my valuable time into parenting as I am into building a career, that I can, and do, excel as a mother. This revelation has been a huge ‘aha moment’ of healing for me. Ten years into my journey as a parent, I was harboring so much guilt and shame for not being able to be as present and as all-knowing and as patient as a parent. And for those ten years, I thought there was something inherently deficient with ME– that my mental health made me a bad mom, that my inability to do it all meant that I just couldn’t keep up the way other moms could. I never felt good enough.
I will be eternally grateful that life has given me this unexpected opportunity. This fresh start has allowed me to release years of guilt and shame, because I know that the problem was never me, it was this system where mothers and their work– both in the home and outside of it– are not supported or valued. It’s given me a chance to re-write the story of what it can look like to be a full-time working mom in more sustainable ways. And ultimately, it’s given me the chance to heal pieces of my mom heart that I didn’t even know were broken.
If you or a partner/loved one are struggling with post partum depression, anxiety or other related mental health concerns, there are resources available:
For emergency help:
National Crisis Text Line:
Text HOME to 741741 from anywhere in the USA, anytime, about any type of crisis.
Call for yourself or someone you care about; free and confidential; network of more than 140 crisis centers nationwide; available 24/7
For 24/7 Maternal Mental Health Support:
Call or Text 1-833-943-5746
In English and Spanish, 24/7, Free, Confidential Hotline for Pregnant & New Moms. Interpreter Services available in 60 languages. (US Only) TTY users can use a preferred relay service or dial 711 and then 1-833-943-5746.
For Non-Urgent Support
Call 1-800-944-4773 (4PPD) English & Spanish
Text in English: 800-944-4773
Text en Español: 971-203-7773
Leave a confidential message any time, a trained volunteer will return your call or text. Volunteers return messages during business hours. They will listen, answer questions, offer encouragement and connect you with local resources.