how i get it done

How Writer and New Mom Janell M. Hickman-Kirby Gets It Done

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photo: Vanessa Lynn

For this special edition of “How I Get It Done,” we’re asking successful women about how they’re making their return to the “office” as new moms.

Bed-Stuy-based writer Janell M. Hickman-Kirby is a self-described “very type-A organized person,” but that has changed since she and her husband, Desi Kirby, welcomed their first daughter, Rowe, in June. After experiencing a pregnancy loss the previous summer, she approached her pregnancy, and postpartum plans, without too much preparation. “I didn’t actually get serious until probably the sixth or seventh month,” she says. Now, after an 18-week leave, she’s back at work as senior copywriter and content manager at Brazil-inspired beauty brand Sol de Janeiro, and to get everything done, she has a nanny share, stops work at 5 p.m., raises her hand to ask for help, and leaves the laundry piled up.

On slowly going back to work after leave: 
Using my vacation days, I started by going in three days a week, then four days a week, then five days a week. I think it was four weeks of staggering up to a full-time position, so it didn’t feel as strenuous as going back to work all at once. We work remotely, so I ended up getting a very small workspace that was walking distance from my house. At first, I was really emotional. I was like, How am I going to navigate this? Now, I work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. — and I need this time. I can go home after and spend time with my kid. If it’s after 5 p.m., I don’t answer anything.

How her work days have changed: 
I think being a mom definitely feels like I always have 35 tabs open. Oddly, my ability to multitask has drastically gone down, but my ability to focus on one thing has really heightened. So if I’m doing something, I’m like, I have to do this thing right now, as best as I can, before I move on to the next thing. Otherwise, it will not get completed. Also, I raise my hand and ask for help. Before, at work, if I was drowning or really overwhelmed, I was like, If I say something, I’m gonna look like I don’t have it together. Right? But now, I’m just like, “Okay, I have this deadline that is very soon, I have another deadline that’s very soon — I do not think I’m gonna get to both of them. Can someone else on the team help me?” I would have looked at that as a weakness, and now I look at it like a strength. Motherhood has really helped me hone that skill.

On how she relaxes at night: 
After Rowe goes to bed, I usually try to watch a show to wind down. HBO has this whole genre of home tours, so sometimes I mindlessly put that on in the background. I like that I can look at other people’s homes and see how they’re living. I wish I was reading more. I have so many half-read books, but anytime I crack open a book, I just fall asleep, because I’m just so exhausted. I think the funny thing about motherhood is it really taught me that there’s no time like the present. None of that Oh, I’ll save that really nice body oil for a vacation. No, no, no — use all this stuff, right now, urgently, expeditiously. You need a moment to indulge yourself, and this is as good as it gets.

On juggling work and life:
Being a mom is so all-encompassing. It can feel overwhelming because of all you’re navigating. How am I spending time professionally? I need to see my friends. I have a husband, and I should probably be doing romantic things with this person I made a child with. Then there are family obligations. You’re just like, How do I juggle all these things without dropping the ball for any given thing? I used to be the friend who checked in on my friends, and now I’m like, “Hey, haven’t talked to you for, like, seven weeks? What’s going on over there?” I used to be the person who just said, “Sure, of course, I’ll make it work.” And now there’s no time.

On doing housework: 
I asked myself, Where’s this pressure actually coming from? Like, Architectural Digest is not coming to our house tomorrow to see what it looks like. Getting used to having a messy home threw me for a loop. One thing we both have given up on is the laundry. It causes arguments. It has caused standoffs and distress. No matter what I do, there’s always laundry to do. Who’s folding this? Who’s putting it away? We’re just pulling clean things from the basket and putting them back, then rotating it. Because we have a crawling baby, I can only be so messy. So I have to sweep the floors. I have to clean the kitchen up. I have other people in my home. If Justina, my nanny who I share with another couple, wasn’t there, maybe it would be different, but, like, I need to convince this lady that I have it together with my new baby.

On having a mom group text:
One of my girlfriends put together a mom group chat with eight other women. It’s nice, because our kids are all similar ages and we’re navigating the same thing. The internet can be a really scary place, and you can Google things that really scare you, but to talk to other people and have them calm you down, reassure you, and have a truly nonjudgmental space was really, really helpful. It’s nice to have that small mom network.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

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How Writer and New Mom Janell M. Hickman-Kirby Gets It Done