It's Working Project

"One highly rated day care center we toured had six cribs lined up against the walls with Plexiglas between them. It was dark and dingy, like a third-world orphanage."

What were the working and parenting roles like in your family?

My mother was a nurse in Germany when she met and married my father. She was six months pregnant when they moved to the United States and she could not get certified as a nurse here unless she went back to school. My father had just started law school, so that was not an option for her. She stayed home with all eight of us children until I was 10 or 11 years old. At that point, she returned to school for her nursing degree and went back to work. Her return to work and school was not a positive experience for my two younger siblings and I. My parents did not arrange for day care of any sort. They just left us unsupervised when they were not home or left me in charge of the younger ones. We often fended for ourselves and I promised myself I would never do that to my own children.

How did those roles affect the way you parent?

The kids come first. My schedule is intentionally flexible so I can be there when they need me. I took the entire summer off from writing so I could focus on them.  

Did you always know you would go back to work after starting a family? Why or why not?

Before I gave birth to our first child, I was certain I would continue to work full-time as a journalist. I loved my job and I believed I would be setting a good example for our children. But we moved just before I learned I was pregnant and I would not have qualified for the Family Leave Act had I started working at another newspaper. I didn’t want to put a child in day care at six weeks old. So I took a contract job as a technical writer during my pregnancy. After our son was born and we had interviewed several day care providers, I found I just couldn’t do it. A new full-time job in journalism would require at least 50 to 60 hours a week to establish myself. I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving him in someone else’s care for that long. So I hired a part-time nanny when he was six months old and worked as an adjunct English instructor. I also began working on my first (still unpublished) novel. Fiction has always been my passion, so I saw this as an opportunity to do what I loved most. I quit adjuncting when we moved yet again, but I picked up work as a website moderator and as a freelance writer for magazines. I formed my company, Exclusive Writer Gifts, soon after the twins were born. I now focus primarily on the business, my blog On Writing, Living and Lovingand my fiction.

Tell us about your planning for your new child – timed around your career? Not at all? Share the skinny!  

We were told we could not have children without fertility treatments, so I assumed I would have time to settle in at another newspaper when we moved. I had not yet seen a fertility doctor. But I’d been feeling off and we were planning to have margaritas by the pool that night, so I took a pregnancy test. I never got those margaritas. I was seven weeks along, according to the doctor. Then along came three more kids, including a set of twins. So, I guess we proved those doctors wrong!

What was your biggest initial concern and/or obstacle to going back to work after starting a family?

My biggest concern was the quality of day care. In Arizona, where we lived at the time, day care providers could legally assign one adult to six infants. That seemed insane to me. One highly rated day care center we toured had six cribs lined up against the walls with Plexiglas between them. It was dark and dingy, like a third-world orphanage. We interviewed people who provided care in their homes, but I was distrustful. These people were strangers to me, and my son was just a baby with no words to tell us if things went wrong. The journalist in me couldn’t reconcile that. Had we not moved, I think I would have gone back to work full time. I knew people there who had cared for the children of friends. We had roots there and a history. I would have felt more comfortable with the situation.

What factors contributed to your chosen feeding method? 

I always knew I would breastfeed. My mother nursed all eight of us kids, so I just never considered formula feeding.

If you breastfed, did you need to pump? If so, how easy was it for you to pump? If so, how long did you pump after returning to work? If so, did your workplace provide a location? How did you make it work?

 I started pumping right away so I would have some freedom to run or to go to the library and work on my novel. That proved helpful when I began teaching.

If you are in a relationship, how did you decide which partner would go back to work? What issues factored into that decision?

Money was the deciding factor. My husband already had a job and he made almost twice what I could make as a journalist. We saw this as my chance to pursue fiction, but we also needed just a bit more income to get by.  

Have you, or a partner, paid it forward as a parent in the workplace? Tell us a bit more.

My husband has always been a fair person, but I believe he’s more respectful of women in the workplace and more understanding of the pressure they are under than most men. His mother was a school superintendent and, at the time, was the only female superintendent in New York State. So he had a strong and healthy role model. That’s important because he is an executive making hiring decisions. I think he pays it forward every day simply by being the person he is.

What, if any, advice would you give to employers to ease strain around family leave and returning to the workplace?

If employers kept the doors open for new parents to return to work within a year of births or adoptions, I’m betting they would have stronger and more loyal workforces.

A good day is when:  

I get to write, exercise and spend quality time with the kids.

What I wish I had known: 

I struggled with my identity for a long time after I left the full-time work force. I had identified as a journalist for 11 years and I clung to that, cringing whenever I had to fill in the “occupation” blank on a form. Now that the children are all school-aged, I realize what a huge waste of energy that struggle was. I am who I am and a job title doesn’t change anything. I am happy with my choices. That’s what matters most.

One mistake I learned the hard way:

I have always put the kids, our aging parents, and my work first–ahead of my own health–figuring I’d get back in shape “later.” During my last physical, I learned I’d gained more than 40 pounds since giving birth to my twins eight years ago and that I was at risk for developing health problems related to weight gain. That was a loud wake-up call. I am working now to achieve a better balance. I want to be here for my kids when they start families and I want to set a good example for them as they age.