Family Management: On the Cusp of Parenthood
We get inside the head of a woman whose due date is just days away. She shares with Erica her worries, hopes, and questions about how having a baby will change her career. Erica offers practical advice for managing a new identity and new work-family demands.
Elainy Mata is a multimedia producer at HBR.
- “A Working Parent’s Survival Guide,” by Daisy Dowling
- “New Mothers, Let’s Talk About Your Professional Identity Crisis,” by Janna Koretz
- “How to Return to Work After Taking Parental Leave,” by Rebecca Knight
- “Managing Parental Leave (Yours or Someone Else’s),” by Women at Work
- “The Upside of Working Motherhood,” by Women at Work
- “What Managers Should Know About Postpartum Depression,” by Julia Beck
ERICA TRUXLER: Kevin, what do you remember about the day’s right before Maisie was born? What were you doing, thinking, feeling?
KEVIN EVERS: I was not focusing at work. I’ll tell you that. I remember sitting at my desk and Googling different scenarios. And the one scenario I was really concerned about was: What would I do if I couldn’t get Julie to the hospital on time? And that’s something I really, really feared.
And if I were in a movie or I was being cast in a movie, I would not be cast as the strong fireman that comes in and saves the day. I’d definitely be cast as the hapless dad.
KEVIN: I would not be able to handle delivering a baby on my own.
ERICA: That’s fair.
KEVIN: But in all seriousness, I was concerned about seeing my wife in pain and I was also really worried about showing up for her when she needed me the most. The way I looked at it this was the Super Bowl of our relationship, and she was the one pushing out the baby. She was the one playing the game. All I had to do was feed her ice chips and cheer her on. I did not want to faint.
ERICA: Oh, Kevin.
KEVIN: It didn’t take me long. Once we were in the hospital, I realized, oh we’re in a medical facility right here. We’re surrounded by professionals. And there wasn’t much I had to worry about. They had it covered.
ERICA: I had the same feeling. It’s that idea of there are people here who know what they’re doing. It’s not all on me to get through this. I could have support.
KEVIN: I did see Julie in a lot of pain, and that was really hard, but when she got the Epidural, we were in good shape. And the birth went well. Mom and baby were healthy. And it was great.
ERICA: That’s awesome.
KEVIN: Hey Maisie, are you excited for your baby brother?
ERICA: And so fast forward a few years later, you and your wife Julie had a baby boy, Willie. And in the days leading up to his birth you kept an audio diary.
KEVIN: Are you going to be a great big sister?
KEVIN: You’re not going to be a great big sister?
JULIE: Are you going to help feed him bottles?
CHILD: If he cries, he needs a bottle.
KEVIN: I was much more chill when Willie came around. When Julie was pregnant, I forgot that she was pregnant sometimes. We were so busy with a three year old, and I was so busy at work that I didn’t have this existential dread and delight before Willie was born. Once it was a little closer to his birth, I did start to get really nervous.
KEVIN: It’s currently Wednesday morning. We think possibly mommy’s water broke. We’re not sure. We’re all very anxious. Ready to get the show on the road. Who knows? In a few hours I could have another beautiful little weirdo to take care of.
ERICA: It’s just amazing how I think with the second you already have answers to so many of the unknowns, and you just feel so much more prepared in a way that you can’t, you can’t prepare unless you’ve gone through it, right? So, it’s a completely different experience. I mean right down to the minutia like, how am I going to make the milk, how does a pump work? All these things I didn’t know and then have your second and all of that learning curve, you’ve gone through it. And you don’t realize you’ve gone through it until Mark came and I was like oh this is, I know, this is what you do now.
KEVIN: Yeah, we felt the same way with Maisie. We were obsessed with all the details before she was born of what to do, how to change a diaper, how to pump. And after she was born it was a punch to the face because all those tactical things are pretty easy to learn, but it’s the emotional experience and trying to balance work and life, and trying to do well at work when you’re incredibly tired. Those are the things that are really hard to go through the first time.
CHILD: I am going to say some things.
KEVIN: Are you going to hold it?
KEVIN: Don’t press any of the buttons. Come here.
CHILD: OK. What do you do today?
KEVIN: Oh, I did a lot of work. I woke up very early…
KEVIN: As a father of two, I’ve been in this game for four-plus years, and I forget what it’s like to have never gone through this experience before.
ERICA: Absolutely. I think, just the anticipation of knowing the baby’s coming any minute, and you’re finally going to meet your baby. All of that optimism, all of that just unknown. It’s such a unique point in history in your own personal life. It’s hard to even explain the feelings that are going through your mind. Which is why I jumped at the opportunity to speak with someone on the brink of parenthood.
A few days before our colleague, Elainy Mata’s due date she was busy preparing to take parental leave. A few months away from her multimedia producer work. But she took a quick break to tell me the thoughts and feelings going through her mind. Elainy’s now the mother of a baby girl I’m happy to report. We spoke over video in March, and she shared with me her hopes, concerns, and questions about how this baby’s arrival was about to change her life.
ERICA: Elainy, it is so nice to see you during this very exciting time. I’m sure you are counting down the days.
ELAINY MATA: Yeah, literally. I’m so curious as to when she’s going to come, because she’s so ready, in position. So, she’s so in position, so I’m just like nervous. Any sort of pain or movement I feel. I’m like thinking in my head, is this it? Is this what’s happening? Is she deciding now that this is when she’s coming, and am I prepared?
ERICA: Are you working up until, like what is their plan for work right now?
ELAINY: To work up until the day she decides to come. I mean, I think I’m very fortunate in the sense that it’s mostly just me doing check-ins, making sure nobody needs anything from me. Doing meetings to make sure that whatever I have is transitioning to the next person, or any sort of unfinished business is finished. I really appreciate this, and I think it’s appropriate, this calm before the storm. Did you feel that way when you were heading out? Like things were sort of slowing down, or did you feel that things were still kind of coming at you?
ERICA: I think the first baby I was basically what you’re describing. Like trying to wrap everything up, but also feeling like there’s this calm before the storm. I have no idea what’s about to happen, and it’s all so unknown. Whereas with Mark, that’s my baby boy, I almost to a fault I feel like I almost waited too long. I was basically in labor, and I was still going. That is not a lesson I want to impart, but being at home, having no boundaries almost helped that happen. I almost was like oh, this isn’t labor. This is just those weird pains that you have. And then I’m like, no, this is getting worse and worse.
ELAINY: That’s what I’m afraid of. That’s literally what I’m afraid of. Like oh, this feels uncomfortable, but I don’t know if this is just like the uncomfort that I’ve been feeling the past couple of days, or is this the uncomfortable that I have to watch out for.
ERICA: So, I will say, when it really is kicking into high gear, you will know. So, don’t worry about that.
ELAINY: Yeah, that’s what I’ve been told. Like I will definitely know.
ERICA: Yes. In terms of preparing for leave remotely, knowing that you’re going to be on leave when everybody’s remote and not knowing when or if we’ll be back in the office when you do come back, I’m curious how you’re thinking about all of that as well.
ELAINY: I see it going 50/50. I either want to stay home and, just so I can be around her all the time. But I feel like that may come with some difficulties emotionally. If I start working from home, and she’s like in another room. And so, the other side is let me just go to work so I can have a different change of pace because I’ve been inside for the past couple of, like my entire pregnancy I’ve just been inside. Not isolated, but I’m considered vulnerable so I can’t do things. And I’m an extravert. I love being around people. I love talking with people. You know what I mean?
ERICA: All I can say is that you cannot prepare for how you’ll be feeling, and I think daily that changes too. Like one day you will want to be, I think, have a clear boundary and be like I just want to get this thing done without having to worry about why she’s crying. And then the next minute you’re going absolutely not want to leave. So, it’s a constant, fluid, changing, evolving phase that is, I guess all of parenthood really.
I want to go back to what you were saying, too, in terms of, what it will be like when she arrives, and whether you’ll want to go to the office, or be home, and what that will look like. And grateful that I gave it time. And I think this especially with Claire, my first. Everything felt so, so hard at the beginning, and at that point obviously we were at work, sitting at my desk missing her. And it was so easy just to say I can’t do this. It’s way too hard. I’d feel way too conflicted in terms of where I should be and how I should be as a mom, as a worker.
And what has helped me is taking a step back and thinking more holistically about who I am and even just more long-term about who I want to be. And there is this metric, Daisy Dowling mentions it in one of her articles, and she talks about using today plus 20 years thinking, which I find really helpful. And it basically means that you’re thinking 20 years from now, in terms of the problem. So, if you’re missing your child, you’re thinking wait. I’m missing her right now, but 20 years from now, what will she be thinking about me sticking it out and working hard, and being an example for her? It’s been interesting. It’s been like an interesting mind game, trying to get through the days. Because I will say immediate, immediate problems are, and challenges are constant. So, it’s helpful to kind of take a step back and to think more broadly about where am I and where am I going, and how can I do this as a working mom?
ELAINY: And a lot of like who am I? Who am I? What am I doing?
ERICA: Yes. Yes. Especially as a first-time mom, it’s absolutely a lot. If you had to pinpoint, what are you most nervous about in terms of having the baby and work together?
ELAINY: My biggest worry is balancing and setting boundaries. Because I feel like I already know that I’m going to need time past maternity leave to really get used to that transition. It’s like starting a new job. You don’t really expect to be absolutely perfect at your role and know all the procedures and rules, and who to talk to, and what your job actually consists of for only three months.
So, it’s kind of trying to figure out the balance of OK, I have to now start to work and get back into gear. And I have to stop myself from being like OK, let’s get back to where I left. I actually have to be like I don’t want to go back to where I left because now things are different. I have a different mentality, and maybe my ideas are different. So, there’s that. There’s that. And then there’s just setting boundaries with other people at work and my close knit of just I can’t do that right now, or I’m kind of tired, or, and that was something I needed to practice during this whole working from home and then being pregnant and a lot of other things, like being OK with saying sorry, I can’t do that. Or, like sorry, I can’t, I don’t want my camera on or sorry, not sorry.
ERICA: Yes, exactly. I need some space.
ELAINY: That’s my biggest worry is just setting up boundaries and also listening to myself and saying, “Can I actually do this?” Or, is this idea or this task sounds really good in theory, but I have to actually think like do I have the mental energy or the physical energy to do this, or?
ERICA: Yes. I mean everything you’re saying resonates so much with me because I feel like it’s a constant struggle in terms of figuring out what you want to project almost. Right. Because it is a vulnerable place to say, you know what? I can’t get it done. I actually have a sick baby at home, and I can’t focus on this. And when Claire went to daycare right when I went back to work, and I just dealt with one illness after another with her. And I feel like there’s this pressure to be right back to where you were before and able to kind of run with it, and you feel like I can’t actually because there’s one curve ball after another when you have a child, and you can’t see them. To your point it’s something to think about and I also will say, something that you can’t prepare for. If I could just tell you one thing, it’s almost like you’re going to be fantastic. You’re going to do great. It’s just you need to be able to be in that place, and then once you’re in that place just giving yourself the space to feel like you are doing the best that you can.
ELAINY: Yeah, it’s just hard because I feel like you could feel guilty on two sides. Like you could feel guilty towards your job for like yeah, OK, you’re being so flexible with me, and you’re letting me have this time, but there’s a task that needs to be done that you probably need my input on, or you probably need like, you need me to look at, and I’m sorry, I can’t do it. But you feel guilty that you’re not giving them time, but once you give them time, you feel guilty that you’re not giving your kid time and they want you. It’s like you’re balancing two different worlds. One that you’ve become already so accustomed to before and one that you are learning how to live now. But Erica did you feel guilty at all? Did you have that weird balancing act? Did you feel any guilt?
ERICA: Yes. Oh, my goodness Elainy, yes. I so wish that I could tell you that it doesn’t happen and that it’s easier than you think it will be, but I have to admit, but it was all, I hate to be the Debbie Downer, but harder than I thought it was going to be. I really had this feeling before I had Claire where I was like you know what? I’m going to get my ducks in a row. I’m going to get the childcare. I’m going to get everything I need setup, and I’ll be able to go into the office, and I’ll be able to do what I need to do. And I really didn’t prepare or know just the emotional aspect of it. It was so big for me in terms of feeling that, just a real guilt for not being with her, and it was compounded by the fact that my daughter and, you know, she’s three so she’s still, she’s still strong-willed, but she wasn’t eating. So, she wouldn’t take a bottle during the day at daycare.
So, I was dealing with a child that wasn’t eating during the day and so was eating all night. And it really felt like I wasn’t succeeding in either department. Because I had a baby that was starving when I’d come pick her up. At work I was exhausted because I was awake all night. So, I was functioning on two hours of sleep probably for my first six months back to work. It was a lot harder. And the guilt and the constant feeling like you described of I’m not doing my job well enough. I’m not being good enough of a mom. And I think what has helped me, and I know we published a number of articles on this, has been reframing it so instead of looking at it as being an either or, looking it as more of an expansion of who you are. It’s not like I’m a good mom and I’m a bad worker or vice versa. It’s just I’m expanding my role to be fuller and more whole. And again, I will say what really helped me was, I kept telling myself think long-term. Think long-term. Like right now this is very easy to make a decision based off of how I’m feeling in this moment but try to think long-term. And that really did help me get through the hardest days.
ELAINY: Wow. That is like the complete opposite of what I’m like learning how to think. Which is crazy. All my, but did you feel like now that you’re working, I mean the environment is different. You’re not commuting to work anymore. Your son is there. So, you–
ERICA: And so is my daughter.
ELAINY: Yeah, yeah. Like you can see your kids at any time that you have a break or if there’s nothing on your schedule. Was that feeling the same? Transitioning working from home? Or did it feel a little bit different?
ERICA: So, it’s mentally different. The biggest silver lining has been being able to just close the door and be in my room and be able to work this way knowing that I’ll see the kids basically as soon as I’m finished working. The cons, you know the cons of just having the noise and the distraction at the beginning has, it takes a toll emotionally, I will say. The transition to working with the nanny who’s fantastic. Like truly a fantastic, fantastic person. She did everything she could to make the transition easier, but it still was tough. My daughter was still screaming. Screaming her head off every time I had to come upstairs or every time I came down for lunch, and I had to come upstairs. We were dealing with full on, the world is ending screaming for over an hour. And just the wrenching feeling of having to close the door and put on noise cancelling headphones, knowing that she’s at the bottom of the stairs wanting to come in, it’s like unnatural, right. It’s unnatural for a mom to have to do that.
And I’m sure Claire, I don’t want to think about it, but I’m sure she was screaming so much at daycare when she was refusing the bottle, but in some ways, it was more abstract. I didn’t see her screaming. I was at work. I had a boundary. I was thinking about her, but it wasn’t in my face as it is right now. So, that’s all the negative I would say in terms of how hard it has been. But the major positive is that I’m able to nurse Mark. I’m not dealing with all the pumping and the storing of the milk in the, you know, with Claire I got mastitis right away. I wasn’t making enough, my supply dipped. Like all those things that can happen going back into the office didn’t happen this time around, and it’s purely because I have been able to be home. So, I would say that’s a major silver lining to all this that I wouldn’t predicted.
How are you thinking about your first few months back at work? Have you thought about re-entry? I’m just curious where your mind is at thinking about, you know, once the little baby is actually here.
ELAINY: I don’t know. Honestly.
ERICA: It’s too much.
ELAINY: Yeah, I just want to go with the flow so bad. So, I want to be like OK, I want to go in, and I want to at least do these two or three things to sort of help me transition back. But that’s it. Like I remember even trying to figure out how to manage working from home, I remember one person told me, “Well, I just write a to-do list of this is like the one thing I’m going to do that day. And if I get that done, then that’s cool.” I’m like you know what? That would be my mentality throughout the entire thing. Like I love my position, and I love my job. I love story telling. I love creating content. I’m excited to see what having a daughter is going to be like in terms of thinking differently and how to make people feel more connected, and creating that relatability for others.
ERICA: Elainy, I just want to say thank you so much for taking the time, the precious few minutes, days that you have before a new baby arrives. Thank you so much Elainy.
ELAINY: No, this has been awesome.
ERICA: Claire, I have a question for you.
ERICA: What do you think Mommy’s doing upstairs when she’s doing her podcast? What is she doing?
CHILD: Talk to your work friends.
ERICA: Am I talking to …
CHILD: A microphone.
ERICA: A microphone?
KEVIN: Maisie, come over here for a second. What do you think about daddy and his podcast?
KEVIN: Oooh. What would I do to make it less boring? Could I sing?
KEVIN: What song should I sing?
CHILD: Baby shark…
KEVIN: Next time on the show, we hear from a couple in Israel where the majority of people have been vaccinated against COVID-19. Mom’s a child psychologist, and dad’s an infectious disease doctor. They describe how their family is adjusting to society slowly reopening there. And they offer advice for other parents soon to be managing that same transition.
ERICA: How do you imagine your life changing as more people get vaccinated and post pandemic working parenthood takes shape? Which expected changes do you eagerly await, and which are you dreading? Tell us by calling 617-783-7861 and leaving a voicemail message. Please include your name, country, and industry. We’ll play several of the messages we receive in next week’s show.
KEVIN: Family management’s editorial and production team is Amanda Kersey, Maureen Hoch, Tina Tobey Mack, Adam Buchholz, and Rob Eckhardt. Email us at [email protected]
ERICA: Is there anything else you want to tell my work friends or anybody listening to this podcast? Do you want to say?
CHILD: Please know I love my mommy.
ERICA: Oh, Claire, I love that. I love you too, honey bun. I love you.