At the peak of my pumping breastmilk, I was in the mother’s room 3 times a day, half an hour each session. I have never been one to easily relax for the pump. My body recognizes that it’s not my baby and gives me the finger when I try to extract milk. Even now that Bear Shark is 10 months old (WHAT???? Where did the time go?), I still have a hard time producing for my one pump session a day. It takes me forever to get relaxed or get my mind off the task of pumping, and I have to go to great lengths to achieve a letdown.
To make matters worse, I kept coming across articles talking about how other nations offered 6 months, 12 months or even 3 years of paid maternity leave. It made me feel really bitter that I had to leave both my kids at 3 months old while I hid away in a tiny windowless space to produce food in my completely sleep deprived state of mind. Parenthood, especially those newborn days, are a special kind of torture in and of itself. To add the pressure and expectation of work on top of it is nothing moms (or dads) can really prepare for. We’re all in a state of survival.
I have two ideal situations in my head on this working motherhood thing.
1. 12 months paid maternity leave so I could skip the whole pumping-at-work thing and come back with a baby who sleeps at least 6-8 hours straight at night, meaning that I would be sleeping 6-8 hours straight at night.
2. (And this is completely impossible) Have a parallel life so that one part of me can continue being a successful working professional without being hindered by parenthood and the other part of me can be a dedicated parent without the pressures of working. Somehow these lives would co-exist so I could earn my max salary and continue on my career trajectory AND be a rockstar, present mom. Impossible, I know.
In all that time when I was pumping, pumping, pumping, I plugged in and listened to podcasts. I tore through the Serial podcast in the winter, and then I discovered The Broad Experience. This was right around the time I was getting confirmation that my Working Moms meet up had been accepted into SXSW Interactive, and also at a time when I was feeling especially low about my ability to be a successful working mother and woman.
Host Ashley Milne-Tyte covers an array of topics around women in the work place, and her interviews with different professional women and the challenges we face really gave me new perspective. A few episodes that stood out to me were:
Episode 35 about Advertising being broken was one I immediately shared with my fellow ad women. This is an industry that has never made it easy for women and minorities, even well beyond the Mad Men era. Guess who has a lot of buying power today? Women and minorities. Mhmm.
Episode 44 about the Motherhood factor was really painful to listen to because so many things rang true. I actually had wonderful, understanding management coming back after both babies, but American work culture in general is a very sobering experience for women.
Episode 48 about Professional women without kids was interesting to me. I remember in my late 20s, pondering whether I really wanted to have children or not. My career was going well, and my husband and I were able to travel freely using the miles and points I had collected from all my business travel. Did we want to give up that lifestyle? Obviously, we made the decision to have kids, and we love these boys beyond words. But, the episode was one of those eye opening moments that in our society, you’re damned if you have kids, and you’re damned if you don’t.
There was another episode (that I can’t find at the moment) that discussed the idea of work/life balance and how it shouldn’t be for parents alone. I agree with this whole-heartedly. I left the office at 5 pm on.the.dot every day because that was the only way I could make it through traffic and get down to daycare on time. I had no choice. Even before kids, I’d work my tail off to get things done by 5 so I could leave and HAVE A LIFE outside of work. Make it to a yoga class. Have time to cook dinner. Enjoy daylight and friends and family.
It’s a wonderful podcast that I think every woman (working or not, kids or not) and every person in a leadership role in an organization should listen to. The only way we can address the challenges that women face is to fully understand all aspects of their experiences.