By Melissa Neidermeyer
On May 23, 2017, I became a mom. I was 35 years old and my whole world changed in amazing, difficult, and unexpected ways. Now, two years, later, our second child will have arrived by the time you read this. As I prepare for maternity leave and then my transition back to work, I wanted to share a bit about my experiences, with a focus on how the support and flexibility of CG Strategy (CGS) has shaped my journey into working motherhood.
When my daughter was born, I thought maternity leave might be like a vacation. After more than a decade of working, this seemed like a nice ‘break’ to try something else. Wow was I surprised when I learned that my daughter was a night owl who liked to cluster feed (i.e., eat every 1-2 hours) all night long, and then nap during the day. We also had some challenges with feeding, she had some gastrointestinal issues that made it uncomfortable for her to sleep flat on her back (which is required for safety).
Basically, I became a walking zombie who wondered how I went from developing strategic plans, managing complex change, and assessing workforce needs to worrying constantly about when I could get a nap, if supplementing with formula was OK for my daughter, and how I would survive when I went back to work and was up half the night every night.
After 14 weeks at home, pairing the zombie state with incredibly joyful moments such as cuddling with my daughter, watching her interact with my husband, and seeing her become more alert, starting to move her hands, hold her head up, smile, and coo at us, it was time to return to my career leading consulting projects. I did a trial half-day at daycare to see how the routine would go (that night my daughter got the stomach flu), I dusted off my laptop, packed a bag of pumping supplies, and headed off to work.
There are many things I have come to appreciate over the last two years, but in the context of being a working mom a couple stand-out:
- I enjoy my work more. The challenge of helping solve complex issues for the betterment of our society paired with engaging interactions with other professionals is very rewarding for me. In some ways, being back at work felt ‘normal’ to me and helped me learn to authentically be myself as a mother. I know this is not the case for every parent, so it was my clue that choosing to continue working was a good path for me.
- I am incredibly lucky to work for an employer who understands and respects the flexibility sometimes required to be a working parent. Prior to age one, my daughter often needed to be in bed by 6 or 6:30pm. With my commute, I felt like I hardly saw her during the week. So, I spoke with the leadership team at CGS, and they offered me the opportunity to make requests about my schedule. I started coming in at 10am two days a week so I could spend mornings with my daughter and be the one to take her to daycare. My teammates honored this time and I found that I rarely missed something that could not be addressed later in the day. I had to change my habits a bit and find other times to do some of the work (after she went to bed or on the weekends). However, having that precious time with her changed my whole outlook. As she got older and started staying up later, I adjusted my schedule accordingly. I also have tremendous flexibility to block times to attend special events, go to doctors’ appointments, and take time away when she is sick.
Additionally, here are a few things that I experienced and learned.
- Be safe when you travel. Prior to my maternity leave, I drove to work most days so that I could have my car to travel between the CGS office and client sites. I have a commute that can vary between 35 minutes and 2 hours. When you are in zombie mode, if you have access to public transportation, that can often be the safer bet for travel. Rather than feeling like I might fall asleep behind the wheel, I started sitting on a train listening to podcasts and reading books. This gave me a transition time between home and work and gave me space to research parenting questions, hear about other working moms or women in general, and get some extra work done.
- Ask for the accommodations you need. If you choose to pump at work, you need to block time on your calendar and stick to it. You should not be afraid to ask for appropriate accommodations. CGS added a retractable blind to my office door so I could have the privacy required. I also learned that government buildings have nursing mother rooms available to government employees and contractors– you just need to request access codes.
- Find your support network. I think one of the reasons it is possible for my family to have two, full-time+ working parents is that others help us on a regular basis. In talking with other working parents, I have learned that the people who make up your “support network” can vary based on your circumstances – family, friends, neighbors, religious communities, mom’s groups, paid caregivers, and more. I am incredibly lucky that my husband grew up in the area and many of his family live nearby. They babysit so we can have date nights, they pick up our daughter if we both need to work late, or care for her if she is sick and we have big meetings we truly don’t want to miss. Some days it is still hard, and one of us must miss work, but on balance our network makes working parenthood much easier for us.
As our next little will have arrived by the time this is published, I realize we will need to find a new rhythm and balance to our lives. Managing responsibilities at home and work will become even more complex. However, when I reflect on the meaning I find in work, the courage I now possess to ask for what I need, the support of our network, and the willingness of my employer to accommodate the needs of the firm’s working parents, I know we can do it.
I hope this post inspires other parents, and particularly moms, to know that they can find their path, too.