Looking back, I am embarrassed. I was so sure I knew what I was doing. I did not.
Boy, I did not.
Pregnant at the busiest time in my career, and ready to take on the entire world, I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
Take breastfeeding. I thought it was easy. I did nearly nothing to prepare. I figured it would all happen like the sun rises in the morning. Inevitably.
What actually happened was the doctor took an ultrasound look at my baby and said, “Oh, this child is going to be too big. Look at how long she is! See…See that?”
Um…I see it. I don’t know what it means.
“Based on our estimates this child will be 10 pounds if we wait the week until your due date. We need to induce.”
10 pounds? I wanted my water to break and to have to time the contractions and then be driven to the hospital. My husband had already mapped out three different ways in case there was traffic on any of the routes.
My birth felt industrialized and manufactured now. I wasn’t in control at all.
Me and my doctor agreed on a day. I picked Jan 20th to start the induction because it meant she would be an Aquarius, not a Capricorn like me. I was clutching at crumbs of choice.
Well. She was born two days later, with many dramas and traumas and almost no control on my part. She came out healthy, giving a surprised cry moments after exiting my body.
They placed her little 8lb 6oz body on my chest right after giving my vagina a hemstitch.
“Skin on skin time is vital.”
I had never heard this, but I figured holding her was a good idea. She was fascinated with her fingers, spreading them. We all admired them.
“Put her to your breast!” the nurse said. What? OK. She latched perfectly.
I didn’t know how lucky I was.
I had planned to breastfeed, which everyone said was a good idea. Sure! The world turns, the sun rises and I will use my body to feed my child.
Well. Sort of. I suppose my body would have done better if I hadn’t let my brain get in the way. The doctors kept asking me in the checkups “Do you feel blue?”
I felt something. “I don’t think I feel blue. I feel red. Like every minute I have to panic.”
She laughed. I didn’t.
I made a lot of mistakes. But one thing I did do right:
My job, that I was so eager to return to, didn’t have a lactation facility of any kind when I was pregnant. All the people I worked with were not of a fertile age, so no one had thought of it.
I knew I wanted to breastfeed my baby and that meant pumping milk.
It was embarrassing to think about baring my breasts at work, and hooking up an apparatus. I wanted a safe comfortable place to manage this procedure.
I surveyed the facilities. No one offered to help, but this was important to me. I inspected the cube farm, and down the hallways for different possibilities. I found one closet that had an electric outlet and brought over a chair and a little stack of boxes to act as a table.
I made sure to get a key for my spot. My typically unsupportive supervisor was presented with this arrangement as an accomplished fact. I had made a nest for me to support my little chick even while I was away from her.
Back to my panicked red alarm days at home with the newborn. I did not know what I was doing, and with every passing hour (how slowly those hours passed!) I felt the tide of ignorance rising. I had spent my whole adult life battling ignorance on every front.
That’s what it meant to be a career woman, to have ambition and be good at my chosen profession.
I would work so hard to nail down the answers to questions. Having the right information, not just at the right time but WELL IN ADVANCE of when the decision must be made–that was who I was.
No wonder I felt on red alert all the time. Motherhood is far more nuanced than the engineering field I worked in.
Back in my swollen pregnant days, I thought it would be easy to find out. That’s what people think before they become moms. It all looks so easy from a distance!
At home with my newborn, I wanted everything to be right for her. And I had no certainty at all that I was doing the right thing. I remember thinking, “This is not possible. It will not be possible for me to manage this and go back to work. And I have to go back to work!”
In my terror I could at least picture where I would pump milk when I got back to work. There was a physical space that intersected work and my fledgling motherhood. I clung to that little scrap.
I did pump at work when I got back. I remember it so fondly, a moment in the day to have some privacy and to think of my newborn. It didn’t last as long as I wished. I was able to breastfeed my baby for the first few months, but because of over-confidence and a lack of knowledge on my part I didn’t have enough milk to do it longer.
How did this happen? I am information girl! I’m the one who studies and knows what she is doing.
The next year my baby’s godmother got pregnant for the first time. “Oh my gosh! I am going to write you some things you have to know. There is so much I have to tell you.”
I spent a long time writing. I wrote a book. Literally. That was how the Pregnant Professional was born. I didn’t tell my friend how to breastfeed. I’d failed at that; there are so many people better qualified to advise on how to manage your milk.
What I did write was how to handle the work side. I couldn’t find anyone who had focused in a meaningful way on what a working woman has to think about.
Now I work with career women who are starting their families to help them feel confident, preserve their ambitions, and work with their employers to get what they need. Like me, a huge number of women have worked tirelessly to gain expertise and make their dreams come true. Motherhood is one part of our lives. Our ambitions are also important.
I want every pregnant professional woman a chance to avoid the stupid mistakes I made. I mean it! I took the time and made a whole program to support these superheroes.
We’ve come a long way, and we have so much further we want to go.