The Tragic Reality of Motherhood and Career Growth


As I approached my due date, I became more aware of other new moms around me.

I saw them struggle to go back to work. I saw them quit work altogether. I wasn't one of those women. I was strategic, career driven, competitive, and tenacious. I was going to return to work as a person with new super powers I acquired from childbirth and childrearing over three months of maternity leave.

Returning to work, I was triumphant and full of energy-excited to be stimulated and social after a depressing, lonely three months of maternity leave. I'd hit the ground running like I did in any job. I'd pick up where I left off with a clear path to promotion on my 2-year anniversary.

Things I didn't anticipate:
1. The high of returning to work wears off and exhaustion sets in. 
2. Returning after three months is like starting a new job.
4. Working without enough sleep is exhausting.
5. Working while breast feeding is exhausting.
6. Pumping takes up an hour and half of my day. 
7. Parenting means no more downtime. Ever. This is also exhausting.

I'd be in meetings and not know what was going on because I was so tired. I remember trying to cover it up and wondering if people noticed. I remember lugging the milk I pumped back from work and scrambling to pump when people scheduled meetings over my pumping sessions. 

The fog cleared as I stopped breastfeeding and developed a routine with my partner. Then a new slew of unforeseen things started to emerge.

I looked around and saw patterns in the heterosexual parents I knew. My partner got promoted before he went on paternity leave. So did my director of product. The majority of my male coworkers had female partners who didn't work and took full time care of their kids.

Six months later, my partner got another raise and a new job with more responsibility. I was happy for him but couldn't help but feel resentful that I wasn't moving forward too. We had always been competitive with each other and now I watched him fly past me while I was flailing, overwhelmed, and tired. Was I crazy or was there a theme of men accelerating their careers and women falling behind when kids arrived? 

Fortunately and unfortunately, a New York Times article popped up to confirm my theory in a more scientific way.

"Immediately after the first birth, the pay gap between spouses doubles, according to a recent study." 

This was all too familiar.

"The issue, in general, comes down to time. Children require a lot of it, especially in the years before they start school, and mothers spend disproportionately more time than fathers on child care and related responsibilities. This seems to be particularly problematic for women building their careers, when they might have to work hardest and prove themselves most." 

My partner and I intentionally write out and evenly distribute household chores to prevent this gap but unfortunately, I was still putting in more time for the first six months of our son's life due to breastfeeding and pumping. It was impossible to avoid. So what else could I do or could I have done?

1. I wish I lived in one place for at least a year before I had my son. I moved from Oakland California to Cambridge Massachusetts and got pregnant shortly thereafter. Consequently, I missed out on exploring my new surroundings and establishing a strong social network and rhythm in Cambridge. It definitely added an unnecessary amount of stress and isolation during my pregnancy and after my kid arrived.

2. I wish I stayed on a team or a product for at least a year and returned to that same team after maternity leave. Again-this is about minimizing change. I changed teams and products two months before leaving for maternity. Essentially, I started a new job before I left and then had to start afresh again when I returned. Starting a new job is hard. Starting a new job while sleep deprived and recovering from major surgery is harder.

Unfortunately, because of biology, it seems that women are highly likely to fall behind their baby daddies because growing, having, and sustaining a new life is a gigantic, exhausting, time consuming thing.

Is it unfortunate? Honestly-I'm not so sure anymore. Personally, I'd rather be there for my son than wear myself thin trying to keep up with my husband who had no new job, no three month hiatus, no C Section, and no six month breastfeeding duty.