It's working for Emma Plumb
My mission at work is all about changing the workplace so that it allows people to be their best selves both on the job and at home through increased flexibility.
I was absolutely clueless about what life with a newborn would involve! I expected to have lots of downtime, and envisioned myself spending many quiet hours reading magazines while my baby slept. As a result, I worked extra hard as my pregnancy advanced, under the extremely misguided impression I’d have time to rest and relax during my leave. How wrong I was! I’ve since realized that the moment you become a parent your time is no longer your own, and I wish I’d done a better job of savoring my final moments as a free agent in that last month or two of my pregnancy!
My mission at work is all about changing the workplace so that it allows people to be their best selves both on the job and at home through increased flexibility. I’ve been passionate about workplace change for many years, but becoming a parent has only fueled my fire.
I work part-time, and I work from home. I’m fully aware of how rare it is to be able to do that, and I’m grateful that as a result I’ve been able to exclusively breastfeed my daughter. I’m also grateful that although it took me a full month to figure out how to nurse without it being (extremely!) painful, I was able to get to a point where nursing is a joyful experience for both me and my daughter and an activity I knew I wanted to continue when I went back to work.
I took 11 weeks (partially paid). I was actually very comfortable taking the time — in part because my employer was very supportive, in part because my summer due date happened to be good timing work-wise, and then also largely because a colleague of mine (Melanie Kaye) generously offered to reshape her role in order to step in to fill my shoes in my absence. We carefully planned out exactly how to make that arrangement work: I put together a lengthy document detailing my main job responsibilities; we settled on exactly which items were mission-critical for Melanie to cover during my absence and what things could be tabled until my return; and we spent a series of hours together in training. We also started on all of this early, which was lucky because my daughter arrived a week before my due date. While we both could have used that extra week to get some final details in place, we were in good enough shape that when my contractions started I put together one last email and then happily put away my computer and didn’t look back. Then once I started back at work, Melanie handed me a tracking document with key details I needed to get back up to speed, which made it that much easier to jump back in.
Did I mention we did all of this working remotely? In fact, we met in person for the first time just three weeks before I delivered!
I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that handing your child over to someone else as a caregiver for the first time is pretty heartbreaking. In fact, I spent a good chunk of my first day (first week, even) back at work with tears streaming down my face — and my daughter was just in the next room. I left the house for one of my earliest calls in order to be absolutely certain I wouldn’t be interrupted, only to return an hour later and find my daughter had become hysterical while I was gone to the point that she’d thrown up. Which made me want to throw up. Over time of course things have settled out and we are both in a much better place, but I am relieved that because I work from home, Willow is never very far from me. Eventually it will be important for both of us for me to start letting her spread her wings a little more, but thankfully we’ll have the choice to do that when it feels right.
I think I’m finding that the only “new normal” is that there is no more “normal” — I feel like my life is constantly in flux these days. I never know what the next day will bring in terms of how much sleep I’ll get or how much time I’ll have to tick things off my to-do list — or what exciting new milestones my daughter will hit or what new things will make her giggle. The moment she arrived I knew life had turned topsy turvy! But while in those first few weeks I wondered if I would ever even leave my house again, my family has now travelled to five different cities and we’re about to go to England together, so we’ve come a long way (literally).
Although I’ve always worked part-time in my role, I used to have much more flexibility in my own schedule. I never worried about the timing of calls, or fitting in last-minute requests, because I could always juggle things around in my day to make it all work. Now, flexibility has taken on a whole new meaning for me — whereas it used to mean I happily shifted things around at a moment’s notice, now it means I actually need to have a lot more predictability and routine, and I need to be hyper-organized and efficient in order to maximize my available time.
My employer, my colleagues, and my extended family have all been great supports — but my husband is my biggest champion. Whenever I doubt myself (which is often), he boosts my confidence and tells me I’m a great mom and great at my job. He is also a fantastic partner in parenting — and around the house which goes a long way (even if I have to, ahem, remind him to do the dishes once or twice, or three times…).
As a working parent, I never expected _the lack of sleep_ would be so hard and _not sweating the small stuff at work_ would be so much easier!