It’s noon on a Tuesday, my favorite day of the week, work from home day! I am frantically trying to finish this article before my son wakes up from his nap ready to ingest copious amounts of food, followed by what is sure to be a stunning display of digestive pyrotechnics.
In December, I gave birth to my beautiful baby boy, Emmett. After nine months of consistent nausea, emails answered hovered over a toilet, and numerous bathroom trips prior to public speaking engagements, my boy arrived.
After maternity leave, I experienced a full spectrum of feelings as I prepared to return to work; pure love, terror, apprehension, victory, elation, joy and anxiety. I want to touch for just a moment on that last feeling. Up to 80 percent of mothers experience less than stellar postpartum feelings. Be it depression, disassociated feelings, anxiety and panic attacks. For me it was the latter. I feel it needs to be openly talked about because it isn’t talked about enough.
The first 12 weeks, this usually social, jovial, upbeat, out-and-about woman felt like the walls of her own house were caving in on her and her fickle newborn. I was like a fish out of water, staring at a baby fish I loved more than anything in the world. With family, friends and most of all, the support of my incredible husband, I slowly began to get the hang of my new role as mom.
Staying busy, getting out of the house for a walk in the sunshine, talking with other new moms and joining postpartum support groups on social media, leaning on friends and family, staying away from anxiety triggers like excessive caffeine, exercise and healthy diet, and speaking with a professional all contributed to overcoming my anxiety.
There is nothing wrong with talking to someone and there is certainly no shame in having to take medicine for a brief period of time. Remember, it’s only temporary, these feelings won’t last forever, and you’ll be out of the fog in no time!
My next battle would be overcoming the tremendous guilt I felt for leaving my son for work. Granted, I truly believe in and enjoy my career. As an emissary for my community, a staunch supporter of my county’s economic vitality and of the success of local businesses, I feel genuine joy when I wake up to come to work.
I am also blessed to have a professional team around me that recognizes the strength it takes each day to come to work while also balancing duties at home. My first day back, I walked into a team of welcoming and kind hearts that had built me a surprise nursery in the office. It made every tear shed on my commute that morning worth it, if for no other reason than I was a small part of shifting our work culture.
This entire experience, from start to finish, got me thinking. How many professional women are out there right now experiencing “mom guilt” for not being home with their child each day? I felt a calling to share my experience and my feelings on the “working mom” subject because we all should be talking about it. I’d like to shift perceptions of working moms, and like author Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook says, let’s rename the entire concept to “career focused mother.”
For me personally, going back to work felt like I was ripping my own heart from my chest and leaving it at home to beat outside of my body. This may seem extreme, but it’s the closest analogy I have for the feeling I experience when leaving my son.
Being a career driven mother is an amazing thing, and certainly an important form of support for your child. It’s a bonus when you fully believe in the mission of your organization and look forward to the important work you do each day like I do. When you become a mother, you realize more than ever the importance of the state of the community you’re living in, not only for you but for generations to come.
Becoming a mother has made me more patient, slow to react and quick to dismiss what isn’t an immediate priority. I manage my time better; I’m more decisive, a better boss, a better listener, and I can do most anything with one hand. Becoming a mom was the single most important thing I could have done to enhance my skill set and it should be considered an asset by all employers.
My hats off to the career driven mothers, and also, to those mothers who choose to stay home. If there is anything I learned from maternity leave, it’s that you are very much working as well, and there is no job more important!
I challenge the women in this community to support each other, whether it’s to be a sounding board, to offer advice from personal experience, to mentor a new mom, to mentor a woman who wants to be one but isn’t sure how it can work, and in general, to lift each other up instead of comparing yourself to one another. I also challenge the men in business to foster a working environment conducive to career driven mothers. I can’t tell you how many times I have had a male associate say “I know you’re a new mom, but…” Would you ever say that to a male counterpart? “I know you’re a new dad, but?” This is a plus, not a minus, and my schedule and the schedule of other moms out there demands respect.
The talent out there is tremendous and occasionally, I see incredible opportunities being missed by both employers and employees due to fear of the unknown or unwillingness to provide flexibility. I could write a book on this topic, but for now I will close with the statement that we are all in this together, for our kids, and for our community!
Jennifer Sugarman is the President & CEO of the Cocoa Beach Regional Chamber of Commerce. The Cocoa Beach Regional Chamber of Commerce serves as the voice of business, enhances quality of life in the community and acts as a catalyst for business success.
Columnist series are sponsored by weVENTURE at the Florida Institute of Technology College of Business. weVENTURE has locations in Melbourne and Rockledge. The Center is funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. For more information, visit weventure.org or call 321-674-7007.