When my husband and I decided to get pregnant, I was unaware how it would impact my career. A 26-year-old mom in advertising, I found I was treated like a teen mom. I can’t tell you how many times I was asked, "what are you going to do?" or "was this planned?" Answers: I'm going to keep the baby, and it's none of your goddamn business.
I took to motherhood like a total champ. I managed to grow a ginger who seemed to like me. We bonded, nursed, slept, repeat. What didn’t come easy was going back to work.
One thing to know about me is that I have extreme FOMO. My child’s aversion to naptime mirrors my own disdain for missing a good party. Heading into maternity leave I had a total (Fear of Maternity Leave) moment. I was afraid my peers would pass me and my superiors would forget about me. I made sure to keep in touch during my leave, even showing up to an all-agency meeting. I nursed in a conference room with my ear to the door, so I wouldn’t miss anything.
January felt like a good time to get back to work. #newyearnewme My New Year’s resolution was to keep my kid alive. It should have been to keep my sanity. I arrived back to work to join a new team for a brand with an ad in the Super Bowl. Late nights, early mornings and weekends sounded like a good thing to jump into after a life-changing event...
I was determined to prove to everyone and myself that motherhood hadn’t changed anything except my pants size. I was going to be Beyonce- Instagramming my life as a badass mom with a badass career. I came back to work and said, ”throw me in, and I’ll figure it out.” I didn’t want to appear weak or fall behind. I had this need to spin all the plates. Be a good mom, a good wife, a good employee.
After the first month, I found I didn’t recognize myself anymore. Working Alex looked a lot different than working-mom Alex. I walked around with this perma-smile slapped on my face, saying things like, “Everything’s fine,” my voice reaching octaves only animals could hear. I was writing emails in my sleep and diagnosing diaper rashes in meetings.
It was only when I reached peak self-destruction, which happened to be on Mother’s Day, that I got the confidence to recognize my needs and own them.
If you've had your first Mother's Day, this might look familiar: I had dreams of my six month old bringing me breakfast in bed, I’d enjoy some “me” time, and my husband would plan an elaborate spa day. Turns out the kid still needed to be fed, I hate being alone, and my husband didn’t know that’s what I wanted. And that’s the thing. If no one knows what you want/need, how do you expect it to come to you? For all I know, my co-workers, friends and family thought I was completely fine treading water, when I was really drowning.
One of the biggest challenges women in the workplace have is not asking for what they need, which is why coming back from maternity leave can feel so isolating. The first step for me was recognizing my new self. It’s been the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced- and I’m a black female in advertising!
The next step was being kind to myself. I gave myself permission without guilt to go home by 5:30 and be present in the evenings. Permission to say yes to a night out without the baby. Permission to ignore working mom stereotypes like being too focused on work or too focused on being a mom. Being more present allowed me to be just the right amount of whatever, whenever.
The last step was letting those around me know how I was feeling. I found a great group of mama friends at work who have all gone through the same ups and downs. They made me feel like a good mom, a good wife, a good employee, and they gave me the confidence to ask for support and help when I needed it. Mama or not, I’d strongly suggest everyone get a group of work therapists.
Life isn’t more complicated with a kid, it’s just more. I’m still learning who I am, and in some ways, I think I always will be. The key is to be kind to whichever you shows up on any given day and to have the confidence to get to know her over drinks.