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Entrepreneurship: A Business Owner’s Maternity Leave


by Meg Keene, Editor-In-Chief

Entrepreneurship: A Business Owners Maternity Leave | A Practical Wedding

The Energy Burst

One of the most interesting facts for me in birth education was that in early labor, you often get a huge burst of energy, combined with an intense shot of nesting. Apparently, doing laundry between those early contractions is popular. (washing tiny onesies!) Some women vacuum for hours. Some finish up the nursery. Some (I swear to god) apparently bake cookies. (Midwife/Doula trick: bake cookies. Eat cookies in between baking—this part is a Meg trick. When you start burning the shit out of the cookies, consider going to the hospital.)

And as I’ve rolled into late pregnancy, something similar to the early labor energy burst has taken over my work life. (And let’s not kid ourselves. When I start getting contractions, it’s possible that David will wake up to find me in my office at three in the morning, sending some last emails, and making sure everything is organized for Maddie. Sadly for me, he probably won’t find me eating freshly baked three-AM cookies.)

If I’ve been quiet on APW lately, it’s because my current work life completely revolves around my white board. The white board is divided into two sections. Everything written in pink is the work to-do list, and everything written in blue is the personal to-do list. All day, I sit at my desk, and work on clearing the pink side of the board. And most nights I sit on the couch and work with David to clear the blue side of the board. We all deal with the uncertainty of introducing a person we’ve never met into our families (What? Strange, right?) differently, but it’s no surprise that one of the ways I’ve dealt with it is organization.

Changing, Expecting The Unexpected

Until recently, it hadn’t occurred to me to write about the part of entrepreneurship that is self-employed maternity leave, because I’d classed it under “boring” in my head. But since early college, I spent a fair amount of time thinking about how I could balance a successful career with the unrelenting biological realities of being female and choosing to have kids. And it recently realized that my in-the-moment process of starting to figure all this out, might be interesting to people other than me. Perhaps, at least.

One of the interesting things about pregnancy is that (somewhat like the engagement process) a lot is changing, but you’re not on the other side yet. Now, I don’t mean this in the way that I’ve heard it put over and over again, “You think that you know yourself and then you get pregnant and EVERYTHING CHANGES.” That always scared the shit out of me. So let’s be realistic. For me, at least, lots of things changed while pregnant. Why? Well, life changes you all the time always, so not to spoil the drama of the thing, but you were going to change anyway. Throw in a seriously life-altering event and (f*cking) hormones, and you’re probably going to change a little faster. But all that change is in the context of self. You change in ways that come from within and make sense given who you are. There is no reason that you have to let go of all of your fundamental ideas and philosophies about living your life, just because you got knocked up. Unless you want to. Which I didn’t.

What I’ve Learned

But still. Being pregnant is not the same as having a small squalling baby. So the best you can do is make plans based on what you think your needs are going to be, and make those plans as flexible as possible, to accommodate your changing needs. For me, it’s looked like this:

Preparedness 

I knew that for my sanity, I needed to feel established and happy in my work life to consider having a kid. It doesn’t work like this for lots of people, but I knew on some deep level that if I didn’t have the counter-balance of a career I liked, having a kid was going to throw me into a painfully unbalanced place. So we thought a lot about that. And I’m not going to claim that it worked out flawlessly or easily (because biology = not like that). But we were able to find a way to roughly make that work. And if we hadn’t been able to do that, I’m not sure we would have made the same choices. Which is okay too.

I say this not because what I needed to do to prepare is the same as what any other human on the planet needs to do to prepare. (And also? Lots of my favorite parents and people didn’t get to prepare at all (surprise), or did prepare, but their plans looked even more different than their realities.) But for me, knowing where my limits were helped. This process has been hard for me, but having a career as counterbalance has been one of the few things that made things work.

Flexibility

If I knew that in my ideal world I’d have a professional life I valued, before I had kids, I also figured out that the most important piece of that professional life for me was going to be some flexibility. I didn’t particularly want to be home with my kids all day, but I did want to be able to pick up my kids when they were sick, or stop working mid-afternoon if they had something important. One of the things that makes me livid about how we treat families in this country is that flexibility is hard to come by. When I was working at an investment bank, I knew that there was literally no way I could make that job fit around a family life, unless I had a stay-at-home partner (and by “partner” I mean “wife.” Because close to 100% of the people in that firm with young kids were men with stay-at-home wives. I’m so glad we’ve made progress. Ha.) The obvious point is that we need to change work policies for everyone in this country, to make it easier for parents (and most particularly mothers, who the burden seems to fall most heavily on) to work.

But what I’ve learned this year is that it’s not just about having a small kid. It turns out this flexibility has been incredibly important in making me a productive worker during pregnancy. Because pregnancy throws the book at you (and you never know what is going to hit you on any given day). You might feel fine, or be super ill, or have unexpected appointments, or be so exhausted that you can’t sit up. Because I ran my own schedule, other than on the very worst days, I worked a good seven to eight very productive hours. I’d start work at 8:00 or 8:30 in the morning and stop at some point to sleep or go to an appointment or (cough) throw up. And then when I felt better, I’d sit back down at work till 6:00. Or sometimes 8:00. Or sometimes… 10:00? Because I’m crazy, and I like my work a lot. Without this? Well, at the very least, it would have been harder for me to constructively contribute to the workforce. And as someone who really values women’s contributions and perspectives, I think this is a huge issue.

Support

Every so often a reader, or someone in the world at large, will make an offhand comment about how it’s impressive that I do All The Things. And then I laugh, because that’s always a fantasy we have about another person. I do some of the things (a few of the things?) pretty well indeed. I don’t do other things at all. And I’ve learned to enlist (and as a business owner, hire) help wherever I can.

For example, we’re using daycare, because well, it’s the clear choice for us. I can’t do my job while watching a child full time. I’ve done childcare most of my life, so I know that for a fact. And no one seems to expect David to bring the kid into his law office full time (fancy that). Do I feel guilty about daycare? Not in the slightest. We know that the way we want to use childcare might change when we meet the kid, so we tried to pick a daycare facility that gave us lots of options, and plan to roll with whatever happens. We’ll see. (There is a lot of “we’ll see” going around this house right now, combined with well-laid plans.)

I have a great staff. Human bodies (and new little human bodies) being what they are, I’m obviously not going to be here at my desk working right after I have a kid. So the amazing Maddie is taking over content for APW, and the amazing Emily is taking over advertising for the interim. Lucky for all of us, I’m giving birth in the slow season. Handy.

And then, with a nod to Sheryl Sandberg, I picked a good partner. After a run of egalitarian pregnancy, we’ve got a lot of balancing ahead of us. Sure, he can’t nurse, but he can cook (which is handy, because I really can’t). And if I try to hog all the baby holding and parenting duties, that’s super not going to work out for me, because I have a husband who thinks getting to do half the parenting is his due. He will order me to sit it out if I’m hogging the spotlight. (This is key, you guys.)

Focus

And finally. At Alt Summit two years ago, Tina Eisenberg of Swiss Miss talked about how her career kicked into higher gear with every kid she had. Why? Because she no longer had the time or patience for bullshit. I’m seeing that process start in pregnancy. As I get ready for my maternity leave, I’ve spent six months cleaning things up. If something isn’t working? Get rid of it. If a task can be more efficiently done by someone else, well why didn’t I think to have them do it in the first place? If I don’t care about it? Quit doing it. And for god’s sake, clear the schedule. Stop taking on obligations. Suddenly nothing looks as good as a week with no appointments, or a weekend with only one thing planned.

I have to realize that I might not get things done on as quick a timeline as I used to (no more writing books in four and a half months for awhile), but if they are important, I’ll move heaven and earth to get them done.

Because for men, having a baby isn’t about suddenly thinking small. It’s about adjusting. And for me well, it turns out that’s true as well. Lots of adjusting. But plenty of dreaming big too. This kid deserves it.

Photo: Our baby shower by Hart & Sol West

Meg Keene

Meg is the Founder and EIC of APW. Her first book, A Practical Wedding: Creative Solutions for Planning a Beautiful, Affordable, and Meaningful Celebration, was published in January 2012, and has been a top three bestseller on the wedding bookshelf ever since. Meg has her BFA in Drama from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and son.

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  • Granola

    This post came a such a perfect time for me. Rearranging work this week to deal with some apartment maintenance got me thinking about having to do the same thing for a sick kid. Haven’t totally figured out how I feel about it all yet, but this was a great reminder that “My career is important to me” and “I do still want some flexibility” need not be opposed.

    Sidenote – Have you ever felt “punished” by your own flexibility? That since you have the ability to pick up your sick kid, that it becomes your default responsibility in possibly an annoyingly gendered way?

    Or maybe it’s easier because as a business owner, you aren’t worried about whether your boss will view your desire for flexibility as a lack of commitment?

    Have a great maternity leave welcoming your new family member!

    • http://www.rachelwilkerson.com Rachel Wilkerson

      Just butting in to say that I feel punished by my flexibility sometimes and I don’t even HAVE kids yet. But I have a much more flexible workplace than my fiance and I can work from home, so sometimes it seems like the obvious choice that I’d take the dogs to the vet or wait at the house for a repair person to come by. It really irks me because 1. I don’t want to take advantage of my company’s flexibility (I’m the only female and I worry that using my flexibility for home-related stuff will be frowned upon me even though it’s not for my male coworkers) and 2. it’s annoyingly gendered.

      • ElisabethJoanne

        I get the worry about the workplace frowning for taking advantage of what is supposed to be an egalitarian policy.

        I don’t get staying home for the repair guy to be gendered. That’s because I had a stay-at-home Dad who’s pretty handy around the house. He’s the one who talks to repair guys, not just because he’s the one at home, but because he’s the one who’s investigated the problem and tried to fix it.

      • Jashshea

        I’d also like to butt in and say that I agree about potentially being punished for flexibility (unrelated to babies). I’ve been pretty good at not taking advantage of my boss’ flexibility right up until about 6 weeks before the wedding (4 weeks to go!). My tenant-occupied condo had a mini-flood (mini in amount of water, major in damage scope) and all the wedding tasks that I’d been putting off just HAD to be done. Had to be done during business hours.

        I’m normally a really good employee, but lately I’ve felt like a completely crap one because I’m actually allowing myself to take some advantage. I assume that’s some Catholic guilt rearing up. :)

        • http://www.rachelwilkerson.com Rachel Wilkerson

          Yeuuup that guilt is there for me too!

          I totally feel you on the “had to be done during business hours” thing too. I worry about taking phone calls from wedding venues or things like that during work, just because I’m the ONLY female and I’m really aware of the fact that the choices I make are perceived differently, even if a male coworker takes a break to take a similar (though not wedding-related) phone call. It’s just something I can’t NOT think about and I don’t know if I’m paranoid or if that’s just the smart thing to do.

          • Class of 1980

            It’s unfair too because men can be champion time wasters at work. True story. ;)

      • Granola

        @Rachel I find it really hard to not feel like it’s gendered even though of course it makes sense for the one with the flexible job to wait for the repairman. Logically, I also know that it’s stupid for him to take a vacation day so I can not take advantage of a policy my company has all the time. But I tell myself that my colleagues work from home all the time, and if I wasn’t doing an OK job, my boss would tell me.

        @Jashshea – I feel you there. I’ve definitely been a little distracted with 8 days to go to the wedding. Don’t beat yourself up with the “good employee” stick. I’m sure you’re doing fine and you can be more focused after the wedding. At least that’s what I’m telling myself.

        • Jashshea

          Good luck over the next 8 days!

        • Paranoid Libra

          I was yelled at for being in work 2 days before my wedding. Most people I ran into were like what the hell are you doing here today don’t you have enough to do for this weekend.

          And Congrats sooo exciting!!!

    • meg

      Nope. I don’t feel punished for my flexibility. The thing is, I own a business, so I have more flexibility, but I also have more responsibility. I manage employees, payroll, cash flow, and worry about making sure everyone’s needs are met before I even worry about my own needs. So I tend to work longer and weirder hours, and I’d say that my poor PARTNER gets stuck with stuff I don’t. I mean, leave me in the house for 10 hours and ask me to throw in a load of laundry, and there is a 90% chance that I will have only taken a break to eat when you get back, and forgotten about the laundry (whoopsy).

      That’s the balance of business owning. Yes, I get to give myself a maternity leave (though I obviously pay for people to take over for me). But on David’s paternity leave, he’s pretty much off work. On my leave, if something major comes up two days after I give birth, I’ll be on the phone dealing with it. Which I’m fine with… though weirdly I find that people are not super comfortable with that reality, always.

      It’s all trade offs. It’s just trying to make sure you’re happy with the trade off you’re making.

    • Audrey

      I think a lot of this depends on your immediate boss or manager. I am really grateful, because I have a manager who over and over again has said that using the flexibility is fine as long as the work gets done. So my coworker may use the flexibility to go on a long weekend trip and I might use the flexibility to take a cat to the vet but no one frowns on it.

      It’s funny, though, because I’ve never really thought of it as a gendered thing. Maybe that’s because my last few jobs were a lot less flexible so it hasn’t always been me getting things done around the house.

      • meg

        Yes. I was also thinking of this as a boss. Maddie can’t tell you what it’s like, because I forced her to take vacation this week (true fact). But, I really tend to not give a shit when work gets done, as long as it gets done. Flexibility makes everyone’s lives better, it just has to be balanced out with solid work from everyone.

        (I’m going to make Lisa of Privilege come and tell you her line about shoes. Because that nails it.)

        • http://www.amidprivilege.com Lisa

          My line about managing and shoes is this, learned from small children:

          You have to repeat yourself over again, just like when you want your kids to get into the car. You have to say the equivalent of, “Shoes! Shoes! Shoes!” rather than enter into a long discussion about laces and socks and patent leather.

          Meg, I hope that’s what you thought I’d say:). In the abstract, as a manager, is to engender and support the right focus.

          • meg

            AKA, as long as you’re remembering to put on your shoes, a good manager really won’t care about flex time :)

          • Belle Thomson
  • http://www.cherylchamblee.blogspot.com cheryl

    i, too, am super lucky to have a fabulous, egalitarian relationship with my husband.

    having a baby (now 7 months old) has changed everything for us (jobs, perspectives, priorities), and at the same time it has changed nothing for us (love, values, big dreams).

    i wish you, your fella, and your bebe so much good stuff, meg. so much.

  • http://www.rachelwilkerson.com Rachel Wilkerson

    All of the discussion on women “having it all” has really been stressing me out lately, but I was really happy to hear your thoughts on how you are making career and pregnancy work. Personally, I feel the pressure to be really established and be self-employed and/or working from home by the time I have kids. I’ve been making myself crazy pushing myself to get to that point of success so I can have the flexibility you describe. But I work in a creative profession, so even though it is a 9-5, there’s no reason I can’t spend as much effort fighting for that kind of flexibility IN the workplace when the time comes. The idea that workplaces need to get with the times and be more flexible is, in my opinion, the best thing to come out of the whole “having it all” discussion.

    • meg

      Maybe. That’s the f*cking FRUSTRATING part of the discussion for me. Because we’ve been talking about the same things since I was conscious of it, 25 years ago, and I know the conversation has been going on for longer. So the fact that we’re not close to there yet makes me want to punch through walls. Also? Almost all other western countries ARE there (or at least a whole lot closer than we are). But in reality, our country does not value women/ family/ work in policy, if you ask me.

      But! Rolling around to the meat of your comment, I don’t think it needs to look one way for everyone. As I was writing this I was really carefully trying to balance expressing what was going on with me, without making it sound like I think that’s what I think should go on with everyone. I mean, I have friends who made it work when they had kids at 19 (not that I’m advising that, but you know). So it’s all about just thinking about your particular situation, and figuring out what’s going to keep YOU in balance, I think. This is just my personal thoughts on that.

      • http://www.rachelwilkerson.com Rachel Wilkerson

        I agree SO SO SO much that we don’t value women and the work of raising children and/or keeping a house. I think you’ve touched on that on other APW posts and it’s really stuck with me; I’ve become way more conscious of the way taking care of kids and/or the house is devalued and it really bothers me when I see it happening. I feel like that’s what I’m hearing more women fight against (and some men as well), and I hope that we start to make some big changes in that area so that people (men or women, kids or not) can do their jobs but also tend to their lives. (Seriously, I don’t even have kids and I feel like I need a half day each week to do only-possible-during-business-hours errands or stuff around the house!)

      • Jenny

        Hi Meg! Just wanted to suggest Asana to you as a way of organizing projects. My new husband and I love logistics and it’s pretty helpful with keeping everyone on the same page:) Best wishes to your new family!! Love, Jenny

  • Moe

    “the uncertainty of introducing a person we’ve never met into our [family].”

    Beautiful. Happy maternity leave!

  • ElisabethJoanne

    We have photos of Mom working on payroll in the delivery bed hours before my baby sister was born. So it does happen, and it’s not a disaster.

    • meg

      One of my good friends/ favorite parents was did that. I didn’t mean to suggest it was a disaster in any way. Me working pretty much always means I’m feeling calm and stabilized, not anything else.

      • ElisabethJoanne

        Oh, I didn’t think it you were suggesting it was a disaster, but certainly there are people out there who’d think it must be.

        How much is it not a disaster? My mother is actually an obstetrician.

  • KB

    “Tina Eisenberg of Swiss Miss talked about how her career kicked into higher gear with every kid she had. Why? Because she no longer had the time or patience for bullshit.” I LOVE this sentiment – I think it’s akin to working well under pressure in that, when you have a hard deadline, you quickly figure out what’s important and what’s extraneous.

    I know it’s not like you’re going anywhere really, but I have to say that I will miss you while you’re away! And I’ll be excited for when you return with more kick-ass insights about this new chapter/phase/period/whatever and how it’s affecting your perspective on marriagedom :-) SO MANY good thoughts headed your and David’s way!!

    • One More Sara

      I found that this happened in all aspects of life. When I became a mom, it was surprisingly easy to cut through the BS (anywhere). I didn’t make an extra effort to maintain friendships I didn’t really care about (I used to put a LOT of effort into it. I was really scared of ever losing friends/being a “bad” friend). Letting those people drift out of my life has made our guest list super easy and simple.

    • Em

      My graduate program advisor always says this about students who have babies while working in his lab — they ended up being even more productive once they were parents. It actually fits into his unified theory of delegating, which is to Ask Busy People; they know how to give something exactly as much time as it requires, but not more.

      • Cassandra

        Yeah, for real. Not to be super into myself or anything, but my department keeps telling me I’m the most productive grad student they have because I’m way ahead of schedule, and it’s because I *have* to be productive and get things done if I want to commit the amount of time I need to devote to my child.

  • http://cuvikingadventures.blogspot.com/ Jenny- Adventures Along the Way

    Meg, I’ve been thinking about you recently and just wanted to wish you and David a wonderful transition into this new chapter of your family.

  • Katy

    I think this is a great topic because I’m also self-employed, and my son turns 1 this month. Before my son was born, I thought I would scale back my work significantly. Didn’t happen.

    When he was born, I took about 48 hours off of work and then went back for 1 hour/day.

    When he was 2 months old, I had an amazing consulting offer. I had to submit a proposal in 5 days, and even though it only took 10 hours to write the proposal, it was very hard to find the time on such short notice (This would have been no big deal, pre-baby, of course).

    Now that my son is almost a year old, I’m only working on projects I love with people I enjoy spending time with. He has helped me focus on doing what I want to do — deal with whiny people who are rude vs. play with blocks? I’ve cut out the work I didn’t like, and that made room for time with my family AND the work I love.

    • meg

      Yeah, it’s funny. I’ve allowed for 2-3 months maternity leave. David doesn’t seem to think I’ll last that long ;) It will be pretty funny to see.

      • KC

        I also can’t imagine you lasting 2-3 months without doing at least occasional bits and pieces of APW! Unless, like, you’re in a coma or something… (Please don’t go into a coma. We like you.)

        But having 2-3 months off from the full weight of the reins of APW sounds like a good plan, and probably feasible. Maybe?

        • meg

          Maddie will probably make me stop working. I bet. She’s a slave driver.

          • KC

            Ah, the double-edged sword of hiring people who are approximately as determined/strong-minded/stubborn as yourself!

            But I also bet that she will let you edit or approve a post or something if you get *too* itchy. Maybe. If you manage to convince her it’s good for you. :-)

      • Class of 1980

        It’s going to depend on how you physically feel and how the baby adjusts, and you simply can’t predict that part.

        • meg

          Well right. Hence the three months with no obligations.

          • http://www.insideouthappy.com Jenny Magic

            Our first baby is due Nov. 3 and this is the part that’s making me crazy – not knowing how much I’m going to want to or be able to do… I run a small marketing firm, and trying to plan for the unknown is hard!.

            I have this sneaking suspicion that I’m going to look back in a year and realize that the planning and preparation turned out to be harder than actually getting back to work post-baby. At least that’s my hope :)

            Good luck to you over the next weeks and months! Thanks for sharing your fantastic insights, as always.

  • http://ladybrettashley.wordpress.com lady brett

    “Because she no longer had the time or patience for bullshit.”

    so true. i mean, it hasn’t had an effect on my career, because that’s not where my priorities lie. and i haven’t got any insight into pregnancy, but i can say that having two kids dropped on you really lights up your priorities.

    it has been doubly noticeable with my wife, who has suddenly gotten very good at drawing clear lines of what she can and is willing to do, where in the past she tended to over-commit to things to keep people happy. she has also been much more actively working to rid our life of the unnecessary *stuff* (as have i, but it was less of a leap for me). in part, i think both are because with the kids there is already so much (you know, the kids) taking up our mental and physical space and energy, that anything else doing so had better be really worth spending time, space, thought or energy on.

    • Jashshea

      This line really jumped out at me as well – I’ve watched many friends go through the transition from single person to parent and it really does…clarify what’s most important for them.

  • sarahdipity

    I want to wish you best of luck in these upcoming months. Our son is 6 weeks old and it ha been a wild ride. I did not enjoy pregnancy and everything after has had similar surprising qualities. I had a euphoric labor (I never believed it was possible until it happened to me) and then a really rough 2-3 weeks as we struggled with breastfeeding. It became less isolating when another mom told me I’d joined the club of midnight mothers.

    I was happy to learn that I am still myself just also responsible for this little person who turned out to not be such a stranger after all. The kicking that had even the nurses commenting and the desire to party at 5am…not really a big surprise here.

    • meg

      “I was happy to learn that I am still myself just also responsible for this little person who turned out to not be such a stranger after all.”

      That made me teary. In that, I’ve been suspicious that is going to be the deal with me, but so many people tell you NO, NO, THAT’S NOT HOW IT WILL BE. It’s so nice when someone says that sometimes it is.

      And funny how clearly they communicate who they are, while still in utero.

      • http://highdivingboard.wordpress.com Morgan

        SO true. Jess is exactly the active little mischief maker I expected after we nicked named the fetus Skipper after the commando penguin. And a night owl like the rest of us,to boot.

        I was surprised just how much cuter she was than I was expecting… :)

      • Lauren

        Before my best friend gave birth, I said something along the lines of “ooh, you get to meet him soon!” and she very quickly replied, “oh, I’ve already met him; I’ve been carrying him around for months.”

        I loved that.

    • AliceMay

      Or, in the words of the inimitable Paula Radcliffe: “I had a baby, not a personality transplant” (when asked if she was going to carry on running after giving birth. 10 months later she won the NY marathon).

  • http://mightygirl.com Maggie Mason

    You’re going to be good at this. Can’t wait for this baby.

  • http://www.superfantastic.blogs.com Superfantastic

    In my experience, well-laid plans combined with plenty of we’ll see is the best way to approach pretty much everything in life.

    • meg

      True ‘nuf.

  • Class of 1980

    “Because pregnancy throws the book at you (and you never know what is going to hit you on any given day). You might feel fine, or be super ill, or have unexpected appointments, or be so exhausted that you can’t sit up. Because I ran my own schedule, other than on the very worst days, I worked a good seven to eight very productive hours.

    I’d start work at 8:00 or 8:30 in the morning and stop at some point to sleep or go to an appointment or (cough) throw up. And then when I felt better, I’d sit back down at work till 6:00. Or sometimes 8:00. Or sometimes… 10:00? Because I’m crazy, and I like my work a lot. Without this? Well, at the very least, it would have been harder for me to constructively contribute to the workforce. And as someone who really values women’s contributions and perspectives, I think this is a huge issue.”

    _________________________

    This whole section can’t be said often enough. Women are crazy productive. They often get more done than men do. But our “production schedule” is more dependent on what our bodies are doing. Rigid schedules are a male thing because their bodies function differently. Unfortunately, the corporate world is built around men’s bodies.

    Not to to compare this to the INCREDIBLE toll of pregnancy, but I suffered a lot in my life from extremely painful cramps. At one point, it took a prescription to control the pain. I could have used more flexibility back then.

    Nowadays, I’m dealing with perimenopause and have been for years. Most days are perfectly fine, but you never know from one day to the next when that will change. There is no predictable schedule. I’ve had a handful of days where wacky hormones have resulted in feeling so horrible, I’ve had to take an afternoon off, or maybe a whole day.

    One afternoon, I had a sudden sugar crash and crazy hormones simultaneously. I was losing my mind and then someone provoked me. I was so far gone and so weak, I could not summon up any words, so I growled at them. I LITERALLY GROWLED.

    That was a day that will live in infamy. Never was I more glad to have my own business than on that awful day. ;)

    Of course, my business partner was so frightened, he locked himself in his office for the rest of the day. ;) Wasn’t funny, but we laugh about it now.

    • meg

      Totally this. I’ve had world-ending cramps most of my life, and I think it’s a pretty ok comparison, actually.

      If you made me work straight through 8 hours, I might get NOTHING done after 11am when I needed to lie down. If I can lie down from 11 to 1, I might do 10 super productive things after 1. It’s not rocket science, but man, is the world at large not set up to deal with it.

      • Class of 1980

        ABSOLUTELY. Take a nap. Wake up feeling like a new person. Get up and get it DONE with better results.

        Hey, my male business partner takes naps too if he feels blah. One of us covers for the other. It’s great.

    • Jashshea

      Just wanted to run some math on this point:

      “Not to to compare this to the INCREDIBLE toll of pregnancy, but I suffered a lot in my life from extremely painful cramps”

      I’m in my mid-30s and started early on the lady stuff. I’m estimating 288 periods, one day of which I was bedridden or tops 35% of my normal productivity. That’s ~ 9 months of my life with about 10-15 years to go.

      I’m sure pregnancy is no picnic, but female biology is pretty junky either way. :)

      • Class of 1980

        As bad as it already was, it all got much worse after I had a tubal ligation. No one tells you, but there are many women whose cramps become 1,000 times worse after the procedure. Many of these women never had a difficult period in their life prior.

        They call it a “syndrome” and there has been limited study on it so far. That’s when I had to get a prescription. I then had to get an endometrial ablation to reduce the uterine lining. Best thing I ever did.

        I used to pace the mezzanine level at my office because the pain was so bad I literally could not hold a thought in my head, much less work. It felt like my uterus had turned into a clenched fist. I do believe that I approached labor pain levels during that time.

        Kind of amazing that even when you never birthed a child, the female reproductive system can have such an impact. My doctor had to remind me that it’s not like that for every woman, but if your genetics are against you, it feels like a huge problem.

        I have always resented the whole monthly inconvenience. But then I realized, my resentful mindset was really because the work world did not accommodate my physical reality.

        • Caroline

          “I have always resented the whole monthly inconvenience. But then I realized, my resentful mindset was really because the work world did not accommodate my physical reality.”
          This deserves more than an exactly. I have those completely incapacitating can’t function, or do anything else at all cramps for the first two days of my period (plus nausea and diarrhea, oh joy!) I have many many times gone to work and accomplished nothing, because I could not think, or function at all. If I actually started throwing up, I would usually go home, because you REALLY can’t manage a kitchen when you have to vomit a lot, but other than that, pretty much can’t afford to not work even when I was accomplishing NOTHING.
          It would be so much better to be in a job where I had flexibility. If I’m extra productive the rest of the month, and could take two days off to spend all day in the hot bath, drugged up on advil, and trying to sleep through the pain, that would be amazing. Because frankly, I get NOTHING done on the first two days of my period anyways, but I’ve never had the flexibility to take that time.

    • Clare

      Thank you for your first paragraph, CLASS OF 1980!! It made me feel instantly validated and vindicated!

      I work in an almost all male environment (physics/engineering = VERY few women). Many days it feels like all of the men around me are automatons – they seem to work with the exactly same level of effort and have the same attitude … day after day after day.

      This drives me crazy because I have always thought of myself as having different modes. When I am in “work mode”, I am extremely efficient and productive (more so than a lot of my male colleagues, I think). I cannot always predict or controls these modes, but I am happiest when I am able to work with the modes and not against them. What is worse, I was told when I started the job that what specific hours I worked did not matter as long as I was getting my projects done, but it turns out this is not actually the case.

      Anyway, I do not have children yet, but I agree with what others have said about needing more flexibility in the workplace. Not just for the sake of mothers or parents or women, but for the sake of all of us as human beings (who have feelings and moods and modes and hormones and life events in addition to careers).

      • Clare

        And, yeah, what Meg said. If only I could convince my boss that I would be SO much more productive if I had a couch in my office for napping…

      • KB

        I second this!! I started to worry if I had ADD or something until I realized that my productivity levels were tied to my hormones and time of day. It’s both relieving and enraging that you can attribute something like that to being a lady – relief because it’s “Oh, good, I’m not crazy” and enraging because it gives credence to everyone who suggests it might be that time of the month…

        • Class of 1980

          It’s only enraging when it’s meant to dismiss you. Outside of that, we’d be a better society if we could work women’s bodies into society.

          We are cyclical creatures.

      • Class of 1980

        Women are fabulous cyclical creatures.

        Unfortunately, it’s usually the male bosses that value “Face Time” over “Productive Time”. They are not the same thing.

        • http://prettypicturesbydanielle.tumblr.com/ Danielle

          Science nerd here: Would like to point out that men also have hormonal cycles. Just not the same ones as we do, and not as obvious ;)

          I love your points here and above; we’d be a better society if we fit ALL people’s bodies in.

          • http://akc09.livejournal.com Annie in LA

            Whoa really? I didn’t know that! Any decent websites/sources if I was curious about reading up on that?

  • Kate

    So yeah, I was in my office with contractions sending emails at 3 in the morning, getting everything organized. I must say, 9 weeks in, self-employed maternity leave rocks. No corporate rat race telling me when I had to be back at work (although I am missing my steady paycheck a little) and I am grateful to be able to call the shots on where I spend my time. And I’ve mastered drinking coffee, sending email, and answering the phone all while nursing a baby.

    Wishing you all the best as you anticipate the arrival of your little person. And if you need a good laugh: pregnantchicken.com

    • Frankie

      Pregnantchicken = hilarious breath of fresh air! Worth perusing for sure.

    • Anne

      As another self-employed woman planning to have a kiddo — I love hearing that “self-employed maternity leave rocks!”

    • http://highdivingboard.wordpress.com Morgan

      I had to spend a week in the hospital after by baby was born – a week I had planned on still being in the office. I tied up all my affairs for mat leave while in the hospital, with my blackberry. People were a little surprised, but it’s amazing how little you have to occupy your time if you spend 4 days in a hospital bed with no tv.

  • kathleen

    Meg– this is so helpful, so practical, so good at acknowledging that what is working for you might (probably) won’t work for all. And oh my—I think the balance between “pregnancy is making you work hard” and “pregnancy is making it clear you can’t do it all” is so SO well articulated here. As a fellow business owner, I’m so glad you’ve planted some good seeds on how pregnancy (to say nothing of new motherhood) might work in my life. Thanks.

  • http://www.koruwedding.com Koru Kate {Koru Wedding}

    Wishing you, David & your baby only good things & big dreams! Happy Maternity Leave~

  • KH_Tas

    ‘The obvious point is that we need to change work policies for everyone in this country, to make it easier for parents (and most particularly mothers, who the burden seems to fall most heavily on) to work.’

    Exactly. Because when flexibility is only available to a small, lucky section of society, we all lose. (And because I want to keep my relatively inflexible career when/if kids come along).

    ‘Because for men, having a baby isn’t about suddenly thinking small. It’s about adjusting. And for me well, it turns out that’s true as well. Lots of adjusting. But plenty of dreaming big too. This kid deserves it.’

    This will have to become my mantra when/if I have kids. Love.

    • meg

      Yeah. There is really no way to solve the problem without wide reaching policy change. I mean, that’s the real bottom line.

      Also, it’s not great for *anyone* really. I’ve been able to carve out a career with flex time, but it means, for starters, I pay health care out of pocket, and after the kid that price becomes literally shocking. A mortgage. Then, the fact that we have no uniform daycare system, or even basic working daycare structures is a whole other disaster. I mean, not even talking about the cost (which is a huge and obvious problem, another mortgage), the lack of systems in place for daycare create a huge mess. Sometimes just *finding* daycare is next to impossible (absurd). And then there is the mess that is paternity leave (slightly better in California than some places, but far from good). Sticking women at home alone with newborns in the post-partum period is not exactly the recipe for healthy and balanced family life, or even mental stability.

      When we live in a culture that doesn’t value women working, and we don’t change that on some sort of structural level, we all loose. (It’s like we’ve decided that valuing women’s contribution to the workforce is the same as saying all women MUST work. Or it’s ‘taking women away from the home where they belong’ or some other total bullshit.)

      So in a way, I’m STILL painting an overly rosy picture in this post. Because I’ve managed to make a lot of trade offs to make it slightly better (and while I’m lucky to have had those options, they are still trade offs). But the way our society is set up is still totally punishing for motherhood.

      • KH_Tas

        Yeah, I think the fact that I live in a country with a (slightly) less broken healthcare system has helped me along the road to underestimating the costs of the self-employed route. But we still need a huge number of policy and cultural change as well (I don’t know what our daycare system is like).

        And I can’t think of a quicker route to (personal) mental instability than sticking me at home alone all day with a tiny baby.

      • nutkin

        Maybe my family is just lucky, but the currently paternity policy does work out for some. My husband applied for FMLA and took 2 weeks off after the birth and 6 more weeks after I returned to work. Because his employer accrues sick and vacation time he was able to do this all paid. His time off “buckets” are woefully empty now, but it was definitely worth it.

        However, I do have to note that so many women I mentioned our plan to looked at me like I was crazy when I said he would be home alone with the baby after I went back to work. They couldn’t fathom that a man could adequately care for a small baby. They can. My husband most definitely can – as least as well as I can (using the wonders of pumped breast milk). Society has to expect that men are useful in those early days, weeks and months. And moms have to let go enough to share the responsibility.

      • Longtime APW reader

        Meg, I can’t thank you enough for this post. This conversation is so important. I have so much to say on this topic, but I can’t convey it all here. I just wanted to thank you for initiating this conversation and for sharing how you are making it work (to the best of your ability) for your family. Best wishes to you.

  • Rowan

    I am so pro day-care! I feel like it has so many pluses, including:
    1. A baby who doesn’t freak out when you leave him/her because you’ve been leaving him/her since before s/he realized you were leaving
    2. A baby who gets a ton of socialization
    3. A baby with a kick ass immune system b/c s/he is exposed to it all.

    My husband wants to work out something (between our flexible jobs) so we don’t need to daycare at all but I want to do it anyway at least twice a week for the above reasons. I think it is a huge mistake that society (right now) sees daycare as the last option, becaue I think it rocks.

    • Kate

      Agree! I think it rocks! Now, if only I could afford it *groan*

  • Elemjay

    You know, the thing that *everyone* says about mothers suddenly becoming frightening productive just because they’ve birthed a baby – it isn’t necessarily TRUE. It’s one of those cultural tropes like “your wedding day is the best day of your life” or “everyone loves being pregnant” but just cos everyone says it, it doesn’t mean it’s true. When I went back to work when my daughter was six months old I was really looking forward to the Productivity Fairy blessing me with new “getting it done” powers. It never happened! I am the same person I was before my daughter was born. I faff on the internet and go for coffee with friends and then have to stay up late to get everything done for the deadline. I delegate a bit more and cut a few more corners but I am no more productive.

    This is my experience – your mileage may vary….