There are many different ways to be a working mom. In Making It Work, a new column, women with kids and careers tell us how they organize their lives. First up: the executive editor, 41, whose husband stays home with their 21-month-old baby.
Matt and I met on OkCupid when we were both living in L.A. It was a whirlwind “when you know, you know” thing, which I didn’t believe was possible until it happened to me. A couple of months after we met, I moved to New York for a job, and he followed me not long after. About a year later, he proposed.
He eventually went back to L.A. for a three-week freelance visual-effects gig that ended up lasting six months. One day he called me and said, “This crazy thing happened at work today: Someone offered me a full-time position.” And I said, “That’s funny, because I may be getting a promotion.” It was our biggest fight, and we don’t really fight. We both just sat on the phone in silence on opposite coasts.
Before that, we’d been talking about who would stay home if we had a kid. Matt was willing, interested, and excited. I remember watching how he interacted with the kids of a friend of mine when we were first dating, and I knew instantly that he’d be a great, hands-on dad. Plus, he was having a hard time finding work in New York. I had moved to New York specifically for my job. I love work and always have. When I was in high school and college, school was my work, and I took a lot of pride in that. I like to produce things, to make things, to hit deadlines. I’ve always enjoyed being in the working world and I’ve gotten a lot of personal fulfillment out of it.
So he came back, we got married, and I got pregnant a month later. Once I had Gus, I had 12 weeks off, so we were both home sharing duties. That was an incredible luxury. Going back was much harder than I’d ever imagined. I felt like, around the three-month mark, Gus was coming into his own, going from this glowworm, baby-burrito creature to this sentient being giving me feedback and trying to communicate with me. It was extra hard. Like, I finally feel like this little poop machine is becoming a person, and now I have to go back to work.
I breast-fed for the first year. Pumping was really stressful, even though I was lucky that there was a dedicated room at the office that only nursing moms had keys to. Someone had advised me to start pumping before I went back to work, which I did, but I didn’t build up enough reserves. I would call Matt while I was pumping and count ounces. It’s like the pump can smell your fear; your output is not great when you’re stressed. I had a lot of panicked “Am I going to have enough milk for my kid tonight?” moments.
At the beginning, I was pumping about three times a day, and each session took between 15 and 25 minutes, plus getting the pump set up and then cleaning the parts afterward. Because I had to leave my desk at 5:45 if I wanted to get home in time for Gus’s bedtime, taking that many breaks during the day made me anxious. Nobody asked me to work while I was pumping, but once I figured out that I could bring my laptop with me and hop on Wi-Fi, my breast-milk production went right up. I was actually really productive workwise, too, because I could get a lot done uninterrupted.
Gus is 21 months old now, and being a working mom is still exhausting, but it’s also incredible. I take the morning shift, so I’ll get Gus dressed and feed him breakfast, then I’ll hand him off to Matt when I go to the train. Then I do the bedtime ritual and kind of take the lead on weekends. Matt will help, but I try to take on the bulk of things so he can have a little bit of a break.
I think if the shoe were on the other foot, he would be just as involved as I am. He’s a true partner in raising Gus, and I feel insanely lucky to have found him. He’s actually in night school now, so we have a college student come over three nights a week to babysit from five-ish until I get home, which is usually around 7:30.
The hardest part of this transition has been accepting that I have to cut corners. To make room in your life for a baby, you have to steal some time and/or energy and/or emotion and/or commitment from your work life, your wife life, your friend life, your workout life, etc. This may sound silly, but exercise is kind of my therapy, and that time’s really important to me. Having a gym membership just isn’t feasible right now, so I try to do yoga when Gus is napping, and I power walk from our apartment to the train.
It’s a balancing act, and even though I’m a year and a half in, I still don’t have it down. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to give myself permission to power down a bit in a few areas, which isn’t easy. But when I’m reading Gus a book or giving him a bath or singing him ridiculous songs I’ve made up, or even when he does something that’s not charming, like throwing half his lunch off his highchair tray onto the floor, it’s all worth it.