It's working for Hannah Gardener, A Green Slate Consulting, Neuro-Epidemiologist
"It is never too late to make your family’s environment healthy, but I am trying to reach more women before they even get pregnant to help them focus on nontoxic living preconception, as I wish I had done myself over eight years ago."
I wrote my dissertation for my doctorate from the Harvard School of Public Health about how exposures during pregnancy and delivery can affect your risk for neurological diseases during your entire life – even late in life! So when I was pregnant I knew that all of the health choices I made and the products I used could affect the health of my baby for the rest of her life and it was probably the most important time to make healthy safe choices. But I wish I had focused more on removing toxic exposure BEFORE I got pregnant, rather than as soon as I became pregnant. And this is the advice I now give to my clients. I help expecting parents make small, easy, inexpensive changes to reduce their exposure to toxic chemicals and choose the safest and healthiest products for their babies. Most clients come to me late in pregnancy. It is never too late to make your family’s environment healthy, but I am trying to reach more women before they even get pregnant to help them focus on nontoxic living preconception, as I wish I had done myself over eight years ago!
I love my job and the work I do! I have two jobs – one as an epidemiologist at a medical school researching risk factors for neurological and cardiovascular diseases, and the other as a healthy living consultant at A Green Slate, where I help families make their living environments healthier by reducing their exposure to toxic chemicals through simple and affordable and gradual changes. In both jobs, I feel like I am making a difference – one on a large-scale level by contributing to health research, and the other on a smaller scale by making a difference for individuals and families. Having these jobs is so fulfilling and I was committed to continuing this work while being a mother. I told my colleagues about my pregnancy very early on, and I told them that I wanted to return to work very early on in my maternity leave.
I was able to pump in my office at the medical school I work at, and it was a private and comfortable place to do so easily. I was committed to breastfeeding for at least a year and I knew my colleagues would support that due to the well-recognized health benefits. By the time my second child was born I was working entirely remotely by telecommuting, so I could be home all the time to breastfeed my son and I never had to pump at all. This really made it easy to continue our mutually-desired breastfeeding until almost age 2. I feel very grateful to have a job that I can do from home as well as my own consulting business where I am the boss. This scenario really facilitated an easy and extended breastfeeding relationship where I was able to feed on demand according to my baby’s needs.
After my first child was born (my daughter) I took 6 months off and then returned to work on a part-time basis and gradually worked my way back to full-time. When my second child was born (my son) I took three months off and then returned to work full-time from home. I felt comfortable and supported taking a leave from my academic job, but it was harder to refuse work for my consulting business during my maternity leaves! When you are trying to build your own business it is hard to take time off and make family your only priority! Luckily many of my clients were happy for me to bring my infant to their homes when I did healthy home evaluations and consultations! And I am able to do a lot of my consulting work over the phone, which was easy to manage with a sleepy infant.
It was a challenge to find the perfect mix of affordable childcare options to fit my complicated schedule! I am grateful to have family close by that have helped me tremendously, as well as a wonderful loving nanny, and great preschools near my home. My consulting work requires that I be available at night and on weekends to work with clients, when I have had to rely heavily on family.
Babies, toddlers and children change so much and each stage is so different that every time a new normal sets in, life changes again. Over the years my children’s needs have grown, my consulting business has grown, and my clinical research responsibilities have grown. Luckily I thrive on a busy packed schedule and don’t need much sleep!
The biggest challenge initially was the sleep-deprivation. Both of my kids coslept for well over a year and breastfed on demand, so they were over a year before they (or I) slept through the night. Being an epidemiologist and running my own business on minimal sleep was the biggest challenge. Now my biggest challenge is saying no to things. There is so much advocacy work in the world of chemical safety reform and I wish I had more time to commit to it!
My mother was a tremendous source of support for me and my children. First, she showed me by example the value and importance of balancing an intellectually challenging, demanding and rewarding career with family life. She showed me that my children can be my top priority while also deriving the benefits of having a career that I am passionate about and devoted to.
My biggest pregnancy indulgence was white pizza. One of the things I teach my clients is the importance of limiting exposure to endocrine disruptors like BPA during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Tomato products sold at stores and restaurants almost always involve canned tomatoes, and cans are lined with the toxic hormone-disrupting chemical BPA (or an equally unhealthy substitute). So during pregnancy and breastfeeding I only ate tomato sauces at home (where I knew they came from jars instead of cans). I love pizza, but during pregnancy I did my best to indulge in delicious white pizzas without tomato sauce, preferably organic ones!
I found working during the infancy stage to be easier than I expected. Babies sleep a lot, and love to be held snuggled close in a baby carrier. I was able to get a lot more work done than I expected while sitting on a bouncy ball and rocking my baby to sleep in a baby carrier. I was even able to do full home consultations while my baby slept on me! In a home consultation I go through a family’s home (cookware, dishware, toys, personal care products, cleaning products, furniture, bedding, baby products, etc) to identify easy and inexpensive and gradual changes and substitutions they can make to their living environment to reduce exposure to toxic chemicals. I was able to work with clients easily with my infant tagging along! I have been surprised to find that it is a bigger challenge to balance older children and work. I love working from home and it works very well for me, but I did not expect to feel so guilty when my kids find me working and ask me over and over why I can’t play with them instead of participating in a conference call.
My goal is to spend at least one half hour a day alone with each of my children doing something they love to do. Any day when that doesn’t happen feels like a bad day, but I remind myself that the perfect balance does not have to happen every single day as long as it all evens out over the course of a week! Positive notes from my clients often contribute to a great day. I get emails from my consulting clients almost every day about small and large achievements they are making living a green, healthy, eco-friendly life under my guidance. When they email me to tell me about the conventional toxic cleaning products they are throwing away, or the inexpensive organic sheets they found at Target, or how easy it is to avoid using plastic in the microwave now, or how much better they feel after throwing away fragranced products in their home, it really brightens my day!