This morning, while sitting on Zoom with the engineering leads talking about our roadmap, my left arm was going numb. No, I wasn’t having a heart attack. I was nursing my 3-month-old, Owen, while rigorously taking notes to compensate for the 2-kids-under-2-induced short-term memory loss I seem to have acquired. It was at this point that I realized three fundamental truths at the exact same time (where are my Hamilton fans at?):
#1 - Mom life was steady, I was work-life ready.
I was so ready to close out maternity leave and come back to my Zoom “office”. Life at home was manageable. Owen was mostly sleeping through the night, so I was pretty rested. Sure, I’d have the occasional middle-of-the-night feeding, but overall, I was getting some good sleep. We already had our wonderful nanny taking care of my daughter, and my husband was beginning his paternity leave, so I didn’t have to worry about childcare transition for Owen.
The stability at home paired with the amount of thought my company, Nextmv, puts into creating a culture where employees can feel supported when growing and caring for their families, gave me so much peace of mind. I had 14 weeks of paid leave, gradual ramp-up time at the end of my leave, flexible work hours, the #kids Slack channel, and a 100% remote office which allowed for nursing/bonding time with Owen. Our PeopleOps is constantly finding ways to evolve our benefits, so I knew I was in good hands and supported in my return to work. Additionally, I felt welcome and needed at my company. Instead of feeling forgotten while on leave for 14 weeks, I was promoted to VP of Decision Engineering. That felt exciting, and I couldn’t wait to start back up and exercise those parts of my brain I hadn’t used in a while.
#2 - I had time and support to find my footing.
I felt so much support upon my return to my new position. The team was patient and helpful as I caught up to speed. I was looped in for decision transparency even though I wasn’t particularly useful while I was catching up. Everyone was very conscious to not bombard me with meetings on day 1, and our CTO made sure I knew he didn’t expect a ton from me at the start. He asked me to take a beat and spend my first couple of weeks just gathering information and learning from what’s been going on while I was out.
#3 - Going back was STILL hard.
Even with all the support I had at home and at work, my return to work revealed a whole host of challenges I didn’t anticipate. For example, with feeding Owen, I had planned to pump most of the time and occasionally nurse if I didn't have any meetings. This would leave my hands free for getting work done. For the first few days, I tried this and realized I wasn’t responding well to the pump. Owen wasn’t getting enough milk. That’s when I decided I’d nurse him full time. Hey, I was working at home and was set up to do this, right?!
Once this became my reality, it seemed like every time I would get a block of focus time without meetings, my husband or our nanny would bring Owen to me to nurse, or I’d get a text asking when he woke up or how well he ate that morning, and my brain would shift to mom-mode. It doesn’t sound like much, but that constant switching between mom mode and work mode has taken its toll on my productivity. I found I was forgetting outcomes of conversations I had the previous day - maybe from the context switching or maybe from short-term memory loss due to the dramatic drop in hormones. (I’m not a doctor - but I think this is a thing!) I also found I was fumbling on calls while communicating because I kept forgetting words. I can’t explain that one, but I’ve talked to other moms who’ve experienced something similar after giving birth.
I’m sharing my story today because I want you to know: growing a career is tough. Growing a human is tough. Balancing the growth of a tiny human AND a career is even tougher. A company can provide amazing benefits and foster a supportive culture, but it is STILL tough. To all the return-to-work caregivers out there, remember to stay open about where you’re at in the process to give people an opportunity to empathize. You may be surprised how many have gone through this - and sometimes it helps just to know you aren’t alone and this isn’t forever. If you’re in the trenches now and feeling defeated, know I’m right there with you and we’ll get through this together.