My journey to motherhood lacks the tears, perseverance, and honor that comes with a mother who struggles with infertility. I don’t wear those battle scars, but I admire those who do. Because of some things in my history, I thought for sure that would be me. But it wasn’t. I’ve watched family and friends sink thousands of dollars and an unquantifiable amount of emotion into their fertility journeys. Yet on the “first try”, we ended up pregnant a few weeks later. I know what a blessing that seems it should be, and how lucky I am to be able to tell that story as my truth—but I would not be completely honest with you all if I didn’t also share how that landed for me. It was scary. I was shocked. I wasn’t ready. I still had so much to do. And the guilt I carried for the ease with which I got pregnant was more than I could bear at times.
And from there, I sank into a bit of a pit of prenatal depression and anxiety. This manifested in the typical symptoms one might expect: lethargy, loss of interest, feelings of hopelessness—but I think the hardest one for me was that I wasn’t excited to be a mom. How could I feel this way? This is something I’ve wanted my entire life, and I was a mere months away from achieving that dream. I should be ecstatic. The moments that stick with me the most are when random strangers would approach me to congratulate me. They would ask when I was due, what I was having, how I was feeling, was I ready… all very loaded questions that a passer-by on the street doesn’t really care to uncover the true answers to.
I did all I knew how to do to prepare myself for something I didn’t feel prepared for: I read. I read all. the. things.
While this may seem like a logical tactic to most, it consumed me and further fueled my anxiety. I was apathetic. I would cry; and then I stopped crying. My husband was scared for me. And I felt tremendous guilt that I was ruining this experience for the both of us. I sought help from my OB/GYN and I will forever be grateful for her swift and rapid action. There was no “Oh, that’s normal!” — there was just support, understanding, and a solutions-oriented approach. I saw a maternal mental health specialist, and began my journey of healing to become a mom. I speak openly about it now, but it’s not something I wanted to talk about when I was going through it.
But now, he’s here! My son arrived a month early (surprise) and he has been a little peanut of joy ever since. Yes, it’s been hard (as most motherhood journeys are)… but the warm feeling I get when I see his little nose, his little smile, his little fingers; it makes it all worth it. My favorite moments now are rocking him to sleep (ha!) and just watching his sleepy eyes and sleepy smile as he completely relaxes into me. These will stick with me forever. I know that soon, he will be too big to do this, but I will cherish each night until then. My son is one of the lights in my life, yes, but I’d be lying if I said that being a mom was all I am. A mother is one of the things I always aspired to be, but it is not the only thing I want to be.
I knew that motherhood was a slice of my pie, and not the whole thing.
MOTHERHOOD IN THE WORKPLACE
I remember opening Slack on my phone on the way to the hospital. My water had broken on a Sunday night/early Monday morning almost a month early. At work, I had been starting to lay the groundwork for my maternity leave but I was banking on at least a couple more weeks of organizing my life before the little dude arrived. I work for a fast-growing startup where no day is ever the same, and it’s equally exciting as it is exhausting at times. There are many hats to be worn, and those hats needed to be turned over to the right people so I could duck out for a proper maternity leave. I remember Slacking my group of colleagues letting them know what was happening. The Slack read, “I don’t know if I peed the bed or if my water broke, but we’re on the way to the hospital. I’ll keep you posted!” I also took time to reach out to our administrative assistant to clear everything off my calendar for that day (ha!). At the moment, it felt like naturally the right thing to do, but in hindsight — is it weird that one of the first things I did when I got in the car to go to the hospital was reach out to my colleagues? And (asking for a friend) would your boss ever send you a Slack like that if she was in labor? I actually sincerely hope so, because that is the type of relationship I wish for anyone in the workplace — especially moms!
I find it important as a leader to consider the personal circumstances of everyone you manage, and report to (whether they are caregivers or not). Leading with empathy is something I strive for each and every day. Some days I succeed and some days I don’t. Because of my long standing desire to become a mom, I was especially conscious of the circumstances of my colleagues who were parents. Creating a work environment that was fair and flexible suits everyone; not just parents (although we know what unique challenges there are with that)! And while I truly tried to put my empathy hat on for parents before I was a mom, there are just some things you won’t be able to get until you are a parent yourself.
I’ve read so much about workplaces that do not provide much support to working parents, and the stories of moms having to pump in a closet (which is now illegal in many states, btw). In my journey to motherhood, I did not have to experience that either—and as a leader, I want to make sure none of my colleagues at my company have to as well.
I will leave you with this—my recommendations for making your workplace mom (or parent) – friendly. Take some, take all. I know they aren’t feasible for everyone, but trust me—even small gestures go a long way in making your employees feel valued and cared for.
- Create a nursing room. Bonus points for a good one! Make sure to check with your HR team to make sure you are in compliance, because these requirements vary based on company size and geographic location. A private room with an outlet, comfortable chair and a lock on the door are the bare essentials. Consider also adding a mini-fridge for milk storage, and stocking the room with things like a computer charger, bottled water, snacks, tea, breast pads, and breast pump cleaning supplies. Giving employees access to a hospital-grade breast pump would also be a really amazing thing to consider! There are companies out there, such as Healthy Horizons who can provide these, as well as stock your nursing room on a regular basis. If you are an employee, talk with your HR team about your options!
- Create a flexible work environment, if you don’t have one already. If it wasn’t loud and clear already, the need for childcare for working parents has become blaringly obvious during the pandemic. Many offices quickly shifted to telecommute where possible, and I’m hopeful that this is showing opposing leadership everywhere that work can be done flexibly, and done well. Work with your working parents to assess their needs, and create a schedule that is acceptable to both of you yet flexible if it needs to change. And it will be a long time before “Bring Your Kid To Work Day” will be a thing again, but if you can, allowing your employees to bring their child to the office for short periods is a great opportunity to provide this flexibility as well. Allowing working parents to work modified hours in the office is huge. School and daycare schedules don’t always gel well with regular business hours—so if a working mom can take a call or two at home or on the way to drop her kids off, and then later in the evening after the kids go to bed, that would go a long way for reducing strain on her schedule. Focus on results, not necessarily hours worked (if applicable in your line of work!). Keep in mind that flexibility isn’t just for parents. Just because someone doesn’t have a child doesn’t mean they aren’t entitled to more flexibility as well, so just be mindful of that!
- Create a forum for parents to come together. If you weren’t using Slack before COVID-19, chances are you probably are now. Consider creating a #parenting channel (or something of the sort). Especially with everyone working remotely these days, creating a safe space for working parents to commiserate (or collaborate!) together is an easy, inexpensive gesture that can be amazing. This channel in my workplace gets a ton of traffic; even attracting non-parents to the channel just to read/see all the crazy things our kiddos are doing.
Follow Laura on Instagram at: @thekindamom