Don’t tell anyone, but I started a new job and my direct reports at work are being real stinkers this week. You wouldn’t believe it. One disobeyed a direct order and the other threw their lunch at me. One never dresses appropriately for the workplace (pajamas? Rude) and the other comes to work in the nude (thank goodness for Zoom, eh?). They’re constantly pushing my boundaries and my buttons and…
I’ve never been happier.
You see, I’m a workin’ Mom alright, but a few things have changed since we last talked:
I traded my 9-5 (and by that, I mean 6 am or 7 am to the end of business) for a job that’s even more work and 24/7.
I moved into something I have zero training in (but thankfully, a natural instinct towards).
My salary absolutely tanked.
So what’s the new gig and why am I so excited to have lost all of my earning power while simultaneously be working more?!
I’m working the original WFH job: being a full-time parent.
My direct reports? Leto and Ollie (The Pantless Duo).
My meeting schedule? We start at 5 am most days and go until the sun sets (which in Alaska means…never).
So, what gives, eh?
I had an amazing job.
I had reached the salary goal I’d made for myself when I first started remote work.
I was miserable.
In November, I went back to work, and oh what a journey it was. I had an incredibly warm welcome from co-workers old and new (the company had more than doubled since I’d left in May). My position and schedule had changed a bit as the company itself had morphed so the return was a bit of a rough landing (especially since I’d jumped in at full speed. Hello, 40+ hours/week!). Yet after a few months, my team found our stride. We did, but me? Stella never quite got her groove back. In the split between old and new selves that is motherhood, my heart was with the new. I never saw it coming. I always “knew” I’d want to go back to work shortly after having a babe. Turns out, it’s hard to know what you’d do until faced with the situation.
While I love working and the sense of pride I get from a job well done, working from home with my infant just a few feet away was torture. I’d be in meetings, trying my best to conjure up from my sleep deprived vocabulary bank the verbal athletics that is acronym-filled corporate speak when I’d hear a wail break through my noise-canceling headphones. Despite knowing in my head that he was in the care of his father’s highly capable hands, my body felt otherwise. Nausea would set in, my heart would start beating rapidly and I’d lose my breath. Panic. My body would rebel against my attempts to stay present in whatever meeting I was in, whatever it was that was keeping me from my babe. The effects would last for hours.
Still, I had a job to do. I had to find a way around it. I’d escape to coffee shops and eventually found a co-working space.
I’d navigate my meeting schedule to find a pocket of time and load up my computer and cords, pack my lunch + snacks (+ more snacks), my pump and bottles, and myself into our shared vehicle, and off I’d go. Then I’d get there, work an hour or so until it would be time to pump. I’d find some corner or bathroom to keep my supply up and my breasts from bursting, store the milk, wash and dry the bottles, and then it would be back to meetings until I needed to do it all over again.
It was tiring and inconvenient and felt like a lot of runaround for little gain but the little gain it gave, we needed. It was my turn to be the breadwinner after a 5-month stint at home with Ollie. I tried to suck it up.
Come January. it was time to start looking for a nanny for the summer in Alaska. I had a few good leads that all sizzled out right around the time that I mentioned “off-grid living” and “outhouse”. Others could commit to helping but not a full-time predictable schedule. My meetings were already mapped out, my days already booked. I had a team that counted on me to at least be as present as a new parent can be. I needed someone 40-50 consistent hours per week.
It wasn’t looking good.
By late February, things were getting serious. In Alaska, we have to start planning for the summer by late winter and here the season was, reaching her end and a nanny felt completely out of reach. The Chief would be back at work in April and we couldn’t both work without help. Originally, I had planned to work from home with Ollie but once he was with us in the flesh, the idea became laughable (I know some people do it but I honestly don’t know how). He was far past the Potted Plant phase, as my girlfriend dubbed it where I could place him somewhere and get a few things done. He was more at the Hell on Wheels phase (aka if you’re not running, you’re not going to keep up). It was on and boy was I feeling off. I kept trying to find a way to make it work but it felt like I was swimming against the current. Luckily, I had a perfect attitude the whole time and was an absolute joy to be around.
One morning, tears stuck in my throat, I called my Mom at 5am and at with first syllables of her “Hi honey, what’s wrong” (Mamas know) the tears came flooding out. “I can’t do this anymore”. “I know”, she replied. And then we began to brainstorm. We came up with endless scenarios some of which were damn creative but in the end, I knew the answer: I had to quit.
The Chief agreed wholeheartedly. While he loved being a stay-at-home Dad, he was ready to go back to work. I, on the other hand, longed to be back with my babe. It just made sense. No more pumping, no more panic-packed meetings. No more feeling like I couldn’t fully be at work or with Ollie because they were both constantly competing for my attention. No more choosing between the two. And no more wandering down childcare dead-ends only to panic further. Heck, even if we had found someone, no more packing and unpacking Ollie and his necessities for the day, coordinating schedules and drop-offs and pick-ups. No finding random corners to pump in to keep up supply. Not yet, at least. For now, I get to be home and boy do I know how lucky that is. Will it mean cutting back? Oh yes, ma’am! Trimming the fat was essential immediately and meant everything from canceling Netflix to selling half of our property.
I know they say not to make your passion your work but so far, it’s working out just fine. They also say having kids changes you and boy were they right about that. Never did I ever think I’d feel fulfilled to change diapers all day but baby, sign me up! It’s not forever, it’s for now and for now, I am over the moon to get to watch this little person blossom.
While it was a hard decision to make (and one I felt I constantly had to apologize for or validate as it felt incredibly irresponsible), and an even harder one to deliver (I cried. I always do) to a company who’d been so great to me, I knew I couldn’t be what they needed or what I needed. So I bid adieu to my salary goal, my 401k, stock options (my first ever), healthcare, and stability and as soon as I did, things started falling into place and not just metaphorically. My wrist which had been cocked at a 45-degree angle for 8 months painfully popped back into place in the middle of the night and for the first time in as long, I was pain-free. I could hold my child without wincing, type without my wrists being on fire. I felt my entire being start to relax. On both small and large scales, doors started opening to us. Suddenly, we felt with the current, no longer fighting its force.
On my last day, I was lucky to have not one but two going away parties at work, plus an amazing e-card filled with memories of our time together and some beautiful conversations with colleagues and then, come 5pm, my computer no longer worked. Whether I was finished or not (I was), I was done.
I haven’t looked back since.
So, what does looking forward look like?
Currently, life looks a lot like this:
Come the fall, I’ll be looking for new opportunities but until then, we have tightened our belts and buckled our seatbelts for a beautiful summer together.
Now excuse me while I go talk to my new co-workers about appropriate workplace behavior.
With love and whole heckuvalotta gratitude,
P.S. To all those who care for, love, or caretake someone or something else, a very happy belated Mother’s Day to you!
P.P.S. How does your family manage it all? What’s your work/childcare/self-care combo that’s working (or not working for you)? Let us know in the comments below!
Well, first off, seeing your sweet little fam bam and hearing your story always warms my heart and brings a smile to my face.. and sometimes a tear.
Motherhood felt almost immediately like a trap, a chore, an obligation that not only terrified me it made me want to scream and run for the hills. I wish I had loved it. I wish I had been more present to enjoy all the millions of sweet moments that passed right before my exhausted, panicked eyes. No, I didn’t love it. I didn’t enjoy it. I’d try and convince myself and others that I didn’t dread waking up to my life every day. That I felt confident in my abilities to be a patient, loving mother. That I had wanted this so why the F did it hurt so much.
After nearly 4 long years of pretty severe (quite honestly scary) postpartum depression I hit a crossroads. I knew all along something wasn’t right. I knew that I should look at my child and be filled with love (sure, we’re human and sometimes our kids are little monsters but we love them anyways) not dread. None of it was her poor fault, but still, the suffering persisted. It felt like a dark storm covered our entire existence and there was absolutely no running from it.
Finally, after way too many years of subjecting myself, my partner, but mainly my beautiful girl to the wrath that is depression, I knew I needed to journey toward health or I would be lost in the fog forever. I started with baby steps. A hike with a friend. A tea with a new Mama acquaintance, a naturopath visit to explore my hormone levels and function and regulate my adrenals.
Then I joined a mothers group. I didn’t expect much from it but I figured it couldn’t hurt, right? What I found was a place where women not only listened and supported my pain, they had also endured the same suffering. They had also felt desperation and despair when they should have been experiencing joy and fulfillment. This group, this truth, this saved my life. And it brought my family back together.
Now, finally, after 5+ years I can proudly say that I do love being a Mom. I adore my beautiful, brilliant little human. And every day I wake up grateful to kiss her and learn from her and share our love. It’s exhausting and it’s challenging, but I wouldn’t change a moment of it for anything.
If you see someone suffering, if you see a Mama in distress, please take a moment to tell her she is doing her best and her needs are important too. We have to support each other cause this job, although amazing and rewarding, it’s hard and not everyone can see through the fog.
Thank you beautiful, amazing Julia for sharing your story. Thank you for your honesty and humor. Thank you for listening to your heart and inspiring others to do so. Looking forward to the next chapter!