A Body of Work

“I think every working mom probably feels the same thing: You go through big chunks of time where you’re just thinking “This is impossible–oh, this is impossible.” And then you just keep going and keep going, and you sort of do the impossible.”
– Tina Fey

If my memory serves me right, at almost every CEO Bootcamp we’ve had, one of the women in the circle is pregnant. This news is revealed on the final days of the camp. It’s a secret she keeps close. I reckon she does so for many reasons. One of which is that she knows it means big shifts and recalibrations in her world, namely around how she handles the world of work as a mother, with a family at home. 

Motherhood is one of those one-way doors in life. You move in that direction and are changed on the other side. When I first emailed our coaches asking what women face these days, the thread became alive with many responses falling under the wide umbrella of “motherhood and fertility.” Of all the choices related to having a family, choosing to have a family seems to be the biggest one of all. Fertility challenges abound for some women, and others consider freezing their eggs while they are on a startup salary. 

A lot of women are afraid to talk about wanting to have kids and hesitant to tell anyone they are pregnant. “Will I be seen as less credible if I reveal to investors that I’m planning on having kids?” she wonders. Then, there’s the fear about taking maternity leave. How much time will feel right? Does that match company policy? 

As my colleague Heather Jassy notes in this conversation, there’s an identity shift that happens when you become a mother. Your heart gets broken wide open. The going back to work after having a baby has its own diaper bag of issues. Aside from deciding when and how to pump at work, working moms deal with mom-guilt, wondering constantly if they are present enough in the lives of their growing children. 

In her fantastic book, The Making of a Manager, author Julie Zhou begins chapter five with an account of when she first met her coach–which was when she returned to work after taking three months off after having her first baby. “I knew the transition back would be hard,” she writes, “But I was not prepared for a “Winter is Coming” difficult. A few weeks in, I found myself overwhelmed by every little thing. My mind felt like the aftermath of a fourth-grade volcano project, all thick and sticky and slow. When I was at home, I thought about work, and when I was at work, I thought about home.” For Zhou, this juncture began the long, solid look at knowing and understanding herself much more fully (a key to being a good manager).

Motherhood is a feat in and of itself. “Sometimes the strength of motherhood is greater than natural laws,” wrote Barbara Kingsolver. Working mothers carry their life and loves in one (if not both) arms all while running a household and a workload of work with their ever-changing body. A long-standing question for women everywhere, and particularly in the role of working mother is: How can she make room for her needs? 

This Reboot Extra is a conversation with my colleagues Heather Jassy and Ann Mehl. Both are mothers of two. In our conversation, we jump right in with Ann sharing a compelling stat about how much time women on average take off from being in the workforce. This kicks off a conversation between Ann, Heather and I about the choices women face around motherhood and work.