You're a Startup with No Parental Leave Policy- 5 Tips From an Expert

As originally seen in Mogul

So, you have an all-star female performer.  She was maybe your #5 hire.  She’s critical to the success of your startup.  Then she tells you she’s five months pregnant.  You have no maternity or parental leave policy in place.  Heck, you just got that benefits package in place.  Your mind is blown.  What do you do?  You are still building.  Money is tight, but you want to keep her.  Even more, you want to do the right thing. 

This is a really common “event” in the startups I work with.  Having a pregnant employee can be a huge shock to an already super lean organization.  And I get it.  The ship needs to run on all cylinders.  Having one person gone for an extended period of time can be really overwhelming.

However, let me blow your mind even further.  The odds are already stacked against you: nearly HALF of all women after having their first child do not return to their company.  You heard that correctly.  ALMOST HALF.  And it’s not because they don’t want to work.  On the contrary, 86% of women desire to work after their child’s first year.  But they simply don’t feel they can. 

Lack of adequate maternity leave is one of these reasons why women don’t come back.  And that’s just one of the many reasons.  However the other one you need to know about has nothing to do with promotion or pay.  The degree of social support a woman receives from her direct manager and colleagues transcends all other financial incentives.

As a result, if you don’t take the bull by the horns and get this right, you can say bye-bye to Miss Rockstar.  She may go to another company or she may start her own business.

According to the Institute of Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) women are steadily increasing their presence in the world of small-business ownership. About 29% of America's business owners are women, an increase of 26% from 1997. The number of women-owned firms has grown 68% since 2007, compared with 47% for all businesses. 

So here’s some advice to keeping Miss Rockstar:

1.     Evaluate the Numbers: Obviously having a good parental leave policy is in of itself a good thing.  However when budgets are tight and you need to make the financial case to investors or your board, it’s important to be aware of the numbers.  Here is the cost of turnover: For those earning $30,000-$50,000/yr the cost of turnover is 20% an annual salary.  For those earning over $50,000/yr the average cost of turnover is 213% an annual salary.  This doesn’t take into account wasted time recruiting and training a new person

2.     Include Her on the Process: Not having a policy already in place is not necessarily a bad thing.  Have your expecting employee co-collaborate with you in determining policies. Why is this a good idea?  Miss Rockstar will feel valued, that her opinion matters, and is more likely to stay if she’s part of the policy creation. 

3.     Be Inclusive: Think about policies where leave is given to both partners.  Some firms unintentionally signal who should be primary caregiver vs. breadwinner when they only offer 1-2 weeks paternity leave and 3 months maternity leave. 

4.     Think Long Term: Miss Rockstar may be your only expecting mama right now, but chances are she won’t be your last.  According to a poll in Gallups, 94% of women either have children or desire to have children in the future.  Only 6% of women aged 18-40 consider themselves voluntarily childless (not wanting children). 

5.     Change your Attitude: I will be honest.  Anecdotally, the startups I have worked with view this “situation” as a total inconvenience.  They only want my help because they need a quick fix to a real problem.  This is incredibly short-sighted.  In a time where gender diversity is in the spotlight, where we have a statue of a defiant girl on Wall Street symbolizing the need for gender equality, and when women are fighting hard for their right to be both a mom and have a career, it’s of paramount importance you also hop on the #GIRLPOWER train. 

I never said keeping your female talent was easy.  I said it’s Worth It.

FIVE WAYS TO KEEP YOUR MARRIAGE HEALTHY AFTER GIVING BIRTH

As originally seen in Honing Wellness

Let me begin with a startling statistic.  Over 67% of women and 56% of men reported a decline in marital satisfaction after having their first child.  This paints a picture that is far different than what we would see on social media when it comes to expecting parents.  Typically we see this splattered all over Facebook and Instagram:

Not this:

At the end of the day, the worlds the photos represent can both exist.  They aren’t mutually exclusive.  In fact having a newborn can feel like a series of very high highs and very low lows.  But what happens to our marriage during these tumultuous times.  Also what can we do to strengthen the bond we have with our partner?

As cited in the American Psychological Association (APA) journal couples who have strong marital friendship were the most resilient to a decline in marital satisfaction when they became parents. As a result it makes sense to strengthen the friendship between couples as a way to combat the challenges associated with parenthood.  

John Gottman, PhD, one of the pioneers in couples counseling, identifies three methods for strengthening the marital bond.

  1. Building Fondness and Affection for your Partner
  2. Being Aware of what is going on in your spouse’s life and being responsive to it
  3. Approaching problems as something you and your partner have control of and is something you can solve together.  

After working with many couples I find the strength of their friendship to be a critical determining factor in their ability to weather the new parent storm.  It makes sense… if you enjoy spending time with each other and you know what’s going on in the other’s life, you will face challenges as a team.  

One way to strengthen the friendship is to obviously increase communication.  Because a baby can create all sorts of new changes, updating each other more than ever is going to be crucial to keeping your marriage intact.  One way to put this into action is to create a daily check-in.  

However you MUST follow the rules.  See below:

  1. Report observations rather than beliefs when it comes to how best to take care of the baby.  For example, I noticed today Zoe stopped crying when I burped her after 2 oz of milk instead of the usual 3 oz.  This is very different than saying: You have to burp Zoe after 2 oz of milk, not 3 oz.  See the subtle difference?   
  2. Both mom and dad need to do their own report even if one partner is gone all day
  3. Come up with a plan together for tackling tomorrow.  If there’s conflict resolve the underlying issue.  Try to make planning for the next day positive, or at worst neutral.  

I like the daily check in because it gives both partners a chance to speak and report their findings.  Parenthood is a lifelong observation process.  Babies are dynamic and different.  What works for one baby doesn’t work for another… sometimes we make it up as we go along.  I also like the daily check in because it is collaborative.  It can also be fun.  Have it over dinner or a bottle of wine once your baby is down.  

One of the biggest resistances I hear about the daily check in is “My husband and I are two ships passing in the night.  When can we do this?”  My response to this is That’s OK!  Do your best.  The 2 ships passing in the night situation will get better over time.  Just keep at it and do what you can.  

In addition to Gottman’s tips I also want to add the below from what I have seen while working with couples:

  • Create space for you both to mess up and learn from it- you are both going to mess up.  It’s part of parenthood.  It’s ok.  I remember when my child was only 5 months old I forgot to strap her into her stroller.  I looked the other way and in that split second she fell face first onto my hardwood floor.  I felt horrible for weeks about it.  The only thing that allowed me to recover from my horrific mommy guilt was my husband telling me it was ok.  That I am not a bad mom and it happens to other new parents.  
  • Evaluate current divisions of labor and update it- I write about this in another article HERE. Not updating divisions of labor can lead to resentment between partners.  You want to avoid that.  

The first few months after a baby is born is a combination of great joy and intense challenges.  The important thing in a partnership is knowing you don’t have to weather the storm alone.  Remember your partner is your BFF.  You are a TEAM!  

3 Lessons Learned from a 31 Year Old Intern  

Standing at the Starbucks register, I start listing off an egregiously long order while the patrons behind me roll their eyes.  I never thought I’d hear, “do you mind taking a run over to Starbucks?” past the age of 20.  Yet here I am! 

At 31 years old, I am simultaneously an entrepreneur with ten years of finance experience and a wide-eyed, eager intern learning the ropes in the mental health field.  As one can imagine, my life has changed drastically since my internship days at a large bank ten years ago.  As a rising junior in college, my biggest concern apart from excelling at the internship was making Friday dinner reservations at the trendiest restaurant in New York City.  Years later, in addition to being an unpaid intern, I am fully consumed by my role as a business owner, a wife, and a mother.  Even though I sometimes feel like I am drowning in my big career transition, the journey to “finding myself” has been life changing. 

Here are three things I have learned from starting at the bottom again:

1. Being at the bottom again is not the same exact bottom as it was the first time around

Yes I am still getting coffee and yes I am still doing boring administrative work.  The difference is I have ten years of work experience under my belt.  The lessons I learned in finance are still lessons I carry with me in my new career.  These include deeply knowing how to create trust with my clients, my colleagues, and my boss.  I am also more efficient in my second career.  I no longer waste time on silly things I used to when I was 20.  This includes participating in office gossip, making sure I am forming the “right” alliances with co-workers, getting involved in office politics.  These activities never really helped me much the first time around, so I am determined to not make the same mistake twice.

2. I struggle with feeling insignificant

There certainly is a cost to starting over.  It comes in both financial and emotional form.  Earlier this week I was reminded of where I stand in my current field’s pecking order when I was asked by my staff psychiatrist what I did at my clinical site.  I slightly embarrassingly replied, “I am the new intern.”  He barely looked at me and went right back to writing case notes as if I was invisible.   I silently laughed to myself thinking ahhhh the familiar feeling of being completely unimpressive.  It’s been a little while for me, but was a feeling I felt acutely after graduating college and it quickly returned to me the moment I said “intern” again. 

3. Believing in myself is now more important than it ever was before

At 31 years old I feel the pressure of needing to know who I want to be when I grow up.  I beat myself up about this all the time.  I should have known the answer to this question years ago.  I already have a 2.5 year old daughter!  Even though I am quick to get annoyed with my delayed career choice, I realize I have no time for insecurity or self-blame.  The reason I started over in the first place was out of a desire to feel excitement, fulfillment, and joy in my work.  My decision to go back to school and switch careers has been very intentional.  I am doing this for me…because it’s fun…because I love what I am learning.    

My hope is all women never feel they are “too old” or “too deep” into their career if they want to totally switch gears and do something else.  It’s never too late… as long as you are ok with buying coffee for people a decade younger than you ;)

What Is Corporate America Getting Wrong With Its Female Talent?

As originally seen in Forbes

When I first announced I was pregnant to my old boss, the first words out of his mouth were “Congratulations!” Quickly behind that statement was the question, “How are you going to transition your accounts?” I was totally caught by surprise. I was only ten weeks pregnant. The only reason I told my boss I was pregnant in the first place was because it was pretty obvious after seeing me vomit in the trash can next to my desk every morning. However, I didn’t have my game plan figured out on how to manage my leave. I didn’t know who was going to step in for me while I was gone. I figured I had another seven months to go to figure all that out. Did I really need to have those answers for him right now?

Looking back on it years later, I get where he was coming from. The wheels need to keep spinning for a company to function on all cylinders. It makes sense that he would be concerned with how my accounts would still flourish, knowing I would be gone for several months after having my daughter. At the same time, what I realize both as a mom and as professional with a background in both finance and psychology, the miss-step this manager (and millions of other managers who do the same) made was breaking a level of professional trust we had up until my announcement.

What does professional trust mean? It’s the understanding between an employee and their manager that an employee should be given the chance to do their job well without being micro-managed. In turn, because the employee feels her manager gives her autonomy and control, she will be more likely to perform.

Maintaining professional trust is one of the key ingredients to allow a relationship between managers and their subordinates to thrive. This especially is the case for new parents. The biggest misstep I see managers make is breaking this professional trust by not fully believing the expecting woman can take the necessary steps to manage her own leave.

As a researcher, one of the biggest indicators of a woman returning to her pre-baby employer is the level of Family Supportive Supervisory Behavior (FSSB) her manager demonstrates up until her maternity leave. Employees reported supervisors who demonstrated high FSSB noted higher job satisfaction, lower levels of work-family conflict, and fewer intentions of leaving the organization.

Ways managers can demonstrate FSSB are very simple. These include modeling good behaviors for work-family balance, creating a team that is supportive of family life, helping out with scheduling conflicts for new parents, and also by simply trusting that parents can manage their workload just as well as they did before having their baby. In fact, many of my female clients report becoming a parent was their greatest efficiency hack! They have to utilize every hour of the day well in order to get everything done. Also trusting expecting mothers will ask for support from their boss if they need it.

If my manager and I ever got to do a redo of our conversation when I announced my pregnancy, I bet he would have left it at “Congratulations” and saved all the other questions for later. I certainly would have felt he trusted me to take care of my work in the midst of the biggest transition of my life: parenthood.

FIVE WAYS TO SUPPORT YOUR EMPLOYEE OR COLLEAGUE IN THEIR FERTILITY STRUGGLE

Originally published in Mogul HERE

As a coach working with women who struggle with infertility or miscarriage, one of the main challenges I often witness is the perceived lack of support from friends, family, and colleagues.  Oftentimes when a couple reveals their struggle with fertility, it’s hard to know what the appropriate reaction should be.  It can be especially difficult for loose acquaintances or professional colleagues to know how to show up for someone going through this difficult life event. 

For other life challenges such as an illness or a death in the family, there is a prescribed way for showing support: we send flowers or perhaps a meal.  I can even look back on my own eight years in corporate and recall anytime I had a surgery or big life event, a colleague would send a little bit of love my way. 

This happened for the first time when I showed up my first week to my new job with two black eyes after I broke my nose running into a glass door.  (So embarrassing, but it happened!)  My co-workers got me ice packs and one even sent flowers to my apartment.  Another time, I went through ACL surgery and got tons of cards and flowers while I was out recovering. 

These small and silly injuries were not life-altering.  They were not tragic.  However, I did appreciate the fact my co-workers took the time to let me know they were thinking of me.  If the event was more serious, like a miscarriage, how would I have wanted my colleagues to show up for me?  What is thoughtful but not too invasive?  How can a colleague show concern but still respect the privacy of the individual going through the challenging time?  Here are a few of my recommendations:

1.       If a colleague reveals she is struggling with infertility don’t pretend it doesn’t exist.  Emotional issues can be glossed over because others don't know how to make them better or offer support. Once you become aware of another's struggles, check in periodically.  Always in private and out of ear shot of anyone else hearing. 

2.       Recognize your place- Women struggling with infertility often put up walls to protect themselves from being hurt any more than they already are.  Be mindful of these reactions and simply let the woman know you are there for her and that she doesn’t have to feel alone.  One of my clients eloquently said infertility is often so isolating, so throwing someone a life-raft can be an emotional life saver.

3.       Connect the dots- If you know others in the office who have had infertility struggles, connect those people to your colleague.  Having people to speak to who have gone through a similar experience can be invaluable. 

4.       Don’t gossip- This seems obvious, but I have seen this happen many times.  Once a woman tells you her struggle, treat it as sensitive information.  Consider it a gift the woman has shared with you and keep it close. 

5.       Be an advocate- Oftentimes fertility struggles require many doctor appointments.  This can lead to co-workers thinking the employee is not as “committed to the job” as she once was.  If someone makes a snide comment such as, “Wow Sally only works half-days now,” nip it in the bud.  Tell the co-worker to pipe down.  If you are a manager, take the person aside and tell him/her those comments are not appreciated. 

While it may be more difficult to know how to show up for someone struggling with infertility than an injury like my broken nose, it doesn’t mean pretending the situation doesn’t exist is an option.  In one of my earlier posts, I use the image of a well as a metaphor to be present to someone else’s challenges. Let’s resist throwing the rope down the well and trying to pull someone out of it, but instead jump right in there and sit next to them in their pain.  We will be better colleagues, bosses, and friends if we are able to do this.

Five Ways to Stay Motivated When Building Your Mission Driven Startup

As seen in Thrive Global

When I started my company, it was to fill a big gap for women who are in the middle of planning for a family and desiring to have a successful career. My business was really born out of my own personal experience, my struggle to find support and resources while I was having my first child. Whenever I am asked why I am so passionate about my work, I am always caught off guard. In my own head, I think what else would I be doing? I have no choice here. This is my true calling!

Unfortunately what I didn’t realize at first and (frankly has been a pretty painful lesson over the last year) is even though a mission driven business can be super exciting, it also has its own share of challenges. The primary one is I really struggle with rejection. I take it personally and have a hard time letting it go and moving on. This is a huge personal shift for me.

I spent my whole career at a big bank in Institutional Sales Trading in Foreign Exchange. Every week I would come up with plenty of trade ideas that I thought were good and should be shared. At the same time I always had clients, bosses, colleagues shoot down many of my ideas. But I didn’t really care. I kept coming up with ideas and some were better than others, but some were really good! It isn’t that I didn’t care about the feedback coming my way; I was just less personally invested in the outcome. I didn’t have that much skin in the game. Currencies were not my passion. I loved working in a super intense environment, but I didn’t believe in what I was selling.

Looking back I realized it was no secret to my team or even my bosses the lack of interest I had in markets. I remember once when I actually was taken aside and yelled at by my direct manager for spending the most time than anyone else on the team, surfing the web during business hours. If my boss checked what I was actually looking at he would find article upon article of women in the workforce, gender stereotypes, maintaining work/life balance, etc… I promise I was not online shopping!

When I left the industry I was even told by a colleague that the most excited she ever saw me in my career was when mentoring younger women; helping them in their journey in navigating the corporate world as a woman. Even though I didn’t know at the time, my passion was clearly starting to grab root and it was only a matter of time until I found the right outlet for it.

So now that I am doing what I LOVE to do, rejection is so much harder to swallow. It’s kind of like killing one of my babies. This is kind of funny (at least to me) because the work I do has to do with actual babies. Needless to say, the highs are super high and the lows are super low. I have always considered myself fairly even keel… I am not the type to get overly excited or overly down. I enjoy maintaining a status quo type of disposition. That has dramatically changed in the last year as my business has become more developed.

I oscillate on a daily basis between extreme joy and feeling absolutely defeated; questioning if what I am doing will ever make an impact.
So what keeps me motivated… here are five tips that help me and can help others who run a mission driven startup:

  1. Keep the dream alive! — Even on bad days remind yourself of why you are doing what you are doing. What made you start your business in the first place?
  2. Commiserate with other entrepreneurs- What I thought was something only I suffer from, many entrepreneurs experience. I didn’t really believe this until I met with a CEO of a global company working to improve gender diversity across the globe. If he still feels high highs and low lows after all his success, it is ok that I do too.
  3. Give Back- one beautiful thing about giving back, outside the obvious of helping someone, is it’s a great reminder of why you love what you do. Rarely do I ever hear an entrepreneur regretting giving away services to a meaningful organization. I find giving back is a form of care for both others and self.
  4. Take a Break- Once you become an entrepreneur your work life can become unstructured. Gone are the office days where you work a classic 9–5. Work spills over into nights and weekends and can leave you burnt out. Failing from burnout is no fun.
  5. Be Willing to Kill your Own Ideas- This is incredibly challenging especially for someone who owns a mission driven business. At the same time, critical analysis of ideas, decisions, projects are absolutely necessary. If you can’t do that, find a mentor or someone in your company who you trust and can help you.

For those operating a mission driven startup, I salute you and wish you GOOD LUCK !

Three ways on How to Save your Sex Life in your Infertility Journey

As seen on Huffington Post and originally published on My Binto

When a couple is experiencing infertility, sex can sometimes feel like a burden or a chore. Timing sexual intercourse at the right time of one’s menstrual cycle in hopes of achieving conception can be difficult. I mean how romantic is it when your partner calls you on the phone and yells, I am ovulating! Come home now! It is easy to see how there could be a loss in excitement or spontaneity in a couple’s sex life. This is incredibly common for those who struggle with infertility.

Logically it makes sense too… the primary goal of sex in this case is conception, not necessarily emotional and physical closeness. For couples who experience infertility for a prolonged amount of time, sex can start to lose its luster. According to a study done by Stanford University, 40% of women with infertility issues also struggled from sexual dysfunctions such as low desire and difficult becoming aroused, as compared to a control group of women without fertility issues.

In addition because infertility is often a silently suffered event for many couples, there is little social support for those going through it. Certainly talking about how one’s sex life is changing and becoming burdensome is definitely not talked about. Chances are though you aren’t the only one out there who is seeing a shift in your sex life. Even for couples without fertility struggles, sex lives ebb and flow. Some times are better than others…and it’s totally ok to talk about it!

1. Know this is a shared struggle- What I see often is both men and women not communicating to each other about their individual suffering. Infertility can be a trauma, but it’s not one that should be suffered in silence. Schedule weekly catchups and make an effort to be vulnerable. Share with your partner how you are feeling about your infertility journey as well as your sex life.

2. Create special moments- Romance sometimes is thrown out the window when sex becomes more dictated by your ovulation kit, rather than happening organically. I recommend couples invest more time in carefully planning time together that enhances emotional closeness. This could mean going on a weekend trip together or doing an activity you used to love while dating.

3. Drown out the background noise- Another element that exacerbates a couple’s infertility struggle is a decrease in helpful support from family and friends. I see it all the time: family and friends try to be supportive, but they aren’t sure how to show up. This lack of knowledge quite often leads to offensive comments and the couple retreating further into isolation. Surround yourself with people who can show up for you and create distance between you and those who can’t.

Ultimately my biggest hope for those whose sex lives have been affected by infertility is to take real actions where sex can still remain to be a positive experience. Sex is an act of true vulnerability, intimacy, shared experience, and love between two people. A disruption in your sex life is totally common, but it doesn’t have to stay that way.

 

How Division Of Labor Can Impact Your Sex Life

Originally published in Thrive Global HERE: 

This past weekend my husband and I kicked off our 2017 by pulling out an old Ali G dvd. It sounds random, but we were looking to begin the year together laughing and Ali G is hysterical. One of the episodes is where Ali G interviews Naomi Wolf, author of the Beauty Myth, and well known feminist. The episode is full of good laughs for those who haven’t seen it, but one statistic Naomi rattles off is: “The most erotic thing a man can do for a woman is housework.” This got me thinking about how division of labor can directly impact intimacy. This is a theme that comes up often in my work and is a complex issue for a couple to address.

Division of labor inequalities is something that affects all couples, but this tension tends to become more exacerbated once children are born. Clinical psychologists and co-authors of Balancing the Big Stuff, Miriam Liss and Holly H. Schiffrin, argue even though women are increasingly working outside of the home, they continue to do the majority of work inside the home. They coin the typical day of a woman who spends an entire day working and then comes home to a second job of housework as the The Second Shift. Whenever I point out to clients they are working a second shift they love that term: it encapsulates really what moms perceive as a second job. Also this second job doesn’t have a particular end time. It spills over into late nights and weekends.

Unfortunately washing dishes, doing laundry, picking up the house, etc are less than glamorous tasks for anyone. Many times women perceive their second shift as low role quality. These are tasks that need to get done, aren’t fun, and incredibly time consuming. In their research Liss and Schiffrin found women spend three times more on these tasks than men. As a result this breeds resentment and leads women to feel the division of household labor is unfair.

This is no good for marriage and definitely not good for a couple’s sex life. Not only is mom on her way to burnout by working this second shift, but chances are she’s not feeling too fondly towards her husband. Reasons for this could be resentment, under appreciation, exhaustion, and apathy.

In my work I have heard burnt out wives say the following regarding sex: “I am too tired, all I can think about is going to bed.” Another common phrase is “I have spent the whole day working and then doing all the housework, how much more can I give?” While these thoughts are perfectly normal and every woman has a right to her feelings, continual negative feelings towards sex and intimacy is not good for anyone.

Marital distress with intimacy can happen quickly and also sneakily. The formula is the following: inequality in the second shift leads to a woman becoming burnt out and/or resentful. Therefore, she doesn’t want to have sex. This happens time and time again and becomes chronic. Once this shift happens, positive associations of sex and intimacy are replaced with negative feelings. In sum, a couple’s sex life is in trouble.

Thankfully there are ways to prevent this from happening. In my professional opinion, it all comes down to having honest conversations. How can both partners share the second shift in an equitable way? Also it’s important to re-evaluate division of labor on a fairly consistent basis. We all have busier times in our career. This could lead to one partner picking up the household slack for a period of time. However once that time expires, how does the couple re-adjust? What makes sense now may not make sense in a few months. The plan is worth revisiting and revising frequently.

Too Edgy, Too Nice, Too Loud!! - How to combat gender stereotypes?

Inevitably, at the end of every year during my year-end review, my managers would report I was “too edgy” and I needed to pull it back.  What did this even mean?  Frankly I never found out because anytime I asked (which was many times) my managers were not able to put into words why being edgy was an area for improvement.  Or at least they couldn’t put it in a way that was politically correct enough for HR to give the green light.

Looking back, Too Edgy most likely meant I didn’t conform to the status quo.  My personality did not mold to what the system required.  I was able to hang on to my big corporate job for so long only because of hard work.  I never quite fit in.  I was never part of the inside crew, but… I was good at my job.   Simply put.

Women are constantly criticized for being “Too ****” (You can fill in your own blank).  I am lucky enough to be a member of the female powerhouse network called Dreamers // Doers, founded by the lovely Gesche Haas.  This group is comprised of hundreds of women who, at some point in their lives, were also called TOO “big” for their own good.   After taking a poll from the group here were their reported TOOs:

Too Ambitious

Too Intense

Too Direct

Too Feisty

Too Focused

Too Sexy

Too Smiley

Too Nice

Too Quiet

Too Loud

Too Excited

Too Strong

Too Quirky

Too Sincere

Too Young

Too Much

Too Redhead  (yes this is real)

At the same time, all of the women in this particular group have realized their TOOs are their secret superpower.  These were the crucial personality qualities that allowed them to start their own businesses, generate creative ideas, and change the world.  I also asked this incredible group of women to offer up a translation for their TOOs; to define it from a more empowering place.  For me, my Too Edgy is transformed into I am pioneer.  I am never complacent.   Another woman transformed her Too Quiet into a superpower of being very reflective.  Another replaced her Too Feisty with being known as a woman who stands her ground and commands respect. 

One of my all-time favorite TOOs was from a female founder who reported being called “Too Much.”  Her interpretation of Too Much is her presence, energy, and appetite for life is all TOO intimidating. Another real gem I received from my poll was from a young Asian American female founder.  She reported being called “Too Direct.”  When asking her the genesis of that TOO, she thought it was because most people expected her be a reserved and passive employee because of her Asian descent.

 Finally one last TOO was from an incredibly talented female CEO who said people call her “Too Smiley.”  I asked her how being smiley could be interpreted as a negative.  She said: “Too Smiley makes people think I appear dumb.”  Thankfully this CEO didn’t take this TOO Smiley trait (as a bad thing) TOO Seriously.  Her joy brings light to everyone she interacts with and is one of the many reasons clients desire to work with her.      

Gender stereotyping is nothing new and certainly something that all women face every day.  However, the pitfall is potential missed opportunities and unmet goals due the effects of stereotyping.  In a study conducted on four Midwestern universities, researchers found that implicit biases can foster negative attitudes and lead to damaging stereotypical behaviors.   They specifically looked at how stereotypes can negatively affect the education, hiring, promotion, and retention of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).  Only after gender diversity training did they see more positive, personal implicit associations toward women in these fields. 

It would be wonderful if we could transform our stereotypes/ our TOOs from something that needed to be fixed into parts of our personality DNA worth celebrating. 

 

References

Jackson, S. M., Hillard, A. L., & Schneider, T. R. (2014). Using implicit bias training to improve attitudes toward women in STEM. Social Psychology Of Education, 17(3), 419-438. doi:10.1007/s11218-014-9259-5

 

Sleep Training 101…. For Mom

Does this situation sound at all familiar to you?  It’s 3 am, my baby has been asleep since 8:00, and I haven’t gotten a wink of sleep all night.  I have read countless sleep training books and by some stroke of luck have gotten my newborn to sleep, but why am I still awake? 

Mom-somnia, or the more technical term: Postnatal Insomnia, is something many women, including myself struggle with for months if not years after the birth of our first baby.  When I expereinced my own bout of mom-somnia, I remember waking up in the middle of the night frequently thinking my daughter was crying, while in fact she was sound asleep in her crib.  Also, it would take me upwards of three hours or more to fall asleep most nights.  I remember ruminating over the previous day and all the responsibilities I had for the next.  This kept me up and unable to relax enough to get any rest. 

After reaching out to family and friends, I was frequently told not to stress out.  Sleep deprivation is totally common for new parents.  My insomnia will work itself out.  However, after months of crappy sleep, it didn’t work out.  I needed to be sleep trained just like I sleep trained my newborn. 

One interesting finding is mom-somnia has been found to be linked to postpartum depression and anxiety.  In a study that analyzed 257 women who sought outpatient psychiatric treatment, researchers examined the relationship between insomnia and symptoms of depression and anxiety.  They found women with high ISI scores (Insomnia Severity Index) during the postpartum phase had significantly higher odds for reporting symptoms consistent with depression and generalized anxiety compared to women with lower ISI scores (Swanson, pg. 1). 

So for anyone suffering from a horrible case of mom-somnia, I recommend a few things.  First, get checked out by a professional for postpartum depression.  Next, it’s time to sleep train yourself. 

What does this mean for adults?  It’s not all that different from what you find in sleep training books for newborns.  Create a bedtime ritual to help “turn off your brain.”  Certified sleep consultant, Alanna McGinn and founder of The Good Nite Sleep Site recommends a few ways we can start doing this: 

  1.  Incorporate a bedtime routine to help relax whether it be reading a book or listening to soft music

   2. Stay away from bright screens

   3.  Make sure your environment is conducive to sleep- Is it quiet? At the right temperature?

   4. Start a practice of mindful breathing: Alanna recommends Dr. Andrew Weil’s 4-7-8 Mindful Breathing technique

   5. Focus on mindful thinking when trying to drift off to sleep:  One way to stop the ruminating that typically perpetuates mom-somnia is by focusing on what is happening in the present moment.   How does laying down in my bed feel?  How do the sheets feel against my skin?  This type of mindful thinking helps us avoid worrying about what we didn’t accomplish that day and what we have to do tomorrow. 

    6. Remove baby gear/baby reminders from bedroom:  I found this extremely helpful.  Once I removed baby clothes and toys from my bedroom, I started creating some distance between myself and my daughter.  This allowed me to fall asleep easier. 

In conclusion, lets all get better sleep. 

 

References

Swanson, L. M., Pickett, S. M., Flynn, H., & Armitage, R. (2011). Relationships among depression, anxiety, and insomnia symptoms in perinatal women seeking mental health treatment. Journal Of Women's Health, 20(4), 553-558. doi:10.1089/jwh.2010.2371

 

Ice Cream and Infertility

Babies on the Brain will be closing the month of October, which is designated as Pregnancy Loss Awareness Month, with a deeply personal interview given by a woman who continues to struggle with infertility.  We are especially grateful to all the women who were so generous in sharing their stories of infertility, miscarriage, and still-birth during this special month. 

Please see below for this special interview 

How long have you been struggling with infertility?

8 years

How has your identity been affected by your struggle with infertility?

So growing up I was raised in a very traditional family.  My parents made it clear my two biggest life goals were to 1. Find a husband 2. Have children.  Since my struggle with infertility, I have questioned if I am a worthwhile person.  I have questioned what’s my life purpose if I cannot have children?  Infertility has stripped me of who I am.

Is there any image you feel really encapsulates your struggle with infertility?

Yes, an earthquake comes to mind.  I look at the ceiling and everything is moving and falling.  I am petrified.  I wonder if I should leave, what is happening?  There is complete chaos in my mind.  I am shaken to my core.  I feel lost, helpless and have no idea what to do next. 

When you speak to another woman who reveals she also is grappling with infertility, what happens?  How do you feel?

Honestly, in that very first second I have a sense of relief.  This is because for years I have felt so alone in this journey.  Then as soon as the initial moment passes, I have an instant wave of compassion and love because I know someone else is hurting and I understand their pain.  I am on her team.  When I meet someone who I already know “gets me”, it makes me feel loved and comfortable, even if I don’t know her story.

What does the pain of infertility look like to you?

This is an intense image but for me, the pain is like dipping my skin in acid and watching it burn.  I have had moments where I have had to remove myself from a room because the pain has hurt so much.  Infertility is a trauma: the pain can be so intense it takes your breath away.  

What do you believe is a common misperception you experience from others that's directly related to infertility?

Tons of these!  Mainly the following:

1.      “It isn't that bad”- People minimizing my pain

2.       “Everyone deals with infertility the same way”- My journey is unique and no assumptions can be made  

3.      “There is always adoption.” -  I want people to know that adoption is a calling.  It's beautiful and some couples are truly called to adopt, but some aren’t.  It’s not an equal alternative

How has infertility affected your marriage and your relationships with your family and friends?

The best analogy that sums this up for me is: “You don't look for ice cream in a hardware store.”  

Ice cream is great and you might really be craving it, but you aren't going to a hardware store to look for it.  One thing I have learned is that in my relationships with my family and friends, I may wish the hardware store would carry my favorite ice cream.  For example, my mother or sister would say the right things, but that doesn't happen in the way I would like it to be.  They are the hardware store and I am looking for ice cream.  I have to go elsewhere and that’s ok.

What type/kind of support are you missing in this struggle?  What do you wish for from others?

I look for true empathy: someone who can put aside their own comfortability and sit with me in my pain.  This is a risk for people.  They have to be willing to be vulnerable and know they can’t solve my problem.  I am not looking for my friends, family, and colleagues to solve my infertility, but it would be wonderful if they can be present with me in my struggle.  

What do you want the world to know about your struggle with infertility?

Infertility is a big part of who I am, but I am trying to define myself in other ways.  I don't understand why this is happening, but I do believe infertility has formed me into a loving, compassionate person.  I look back and realize my struggle has made me strong and beautiful.  I ask the world to be with me on my bad days.  I also ask:

Can you listen?

Can you not judge?

Can you please not attempt to fix my problem?  

If you know I am going through this, can you just ask me how I am doing?  

And if you can, can you pray for us?  

Struggling with Infertility- Will You Sit with Me in my Pain?

Whenever any of us attend social gatherings and are introduced to people we don’t know, one of the very first questions we are asked is “What do you do?”  When I worked in finance, this was a fairly easy answer: I am in sales in foreign exchange at a major bank.  It was pretty cut and dry.  After telling what I did I could safely bet my response would not stir many emotions inside the person asking the question.

Not anymore… Part of my work is empowering women in their struggle with infertility and miscarriage.  Whenever I reveal that in a casual conversation, a shift in the conversation frequently takes place.  While at first our talk may have been very superficial, with normal small talk, we shift into a much deeper space.  Quickly voices lower.  Emotions stir.  And it’s impossible to hide.  I have hit a nerve.  Most likely the woman I am speaking to is either personally experiencing infertility or a dear friend or family member is.  I see the next question written all over the woman’s face: Can I trust you with my story?  

I see this question coming and after giving reassuring body language, I leave it up to her.  After counseling many women who struggle with childlessness, one of the biggest lessons I have learned from my clients is each woman’s infertility struggle is unique.  And how I can help her is limited.  There is nothing I can personally do to help her bring a child of her own into this world.  What I can do is sit beside her, shoulder to shoulder in her pain.  

Sitting next to someone shoulder to shoulder in their pain is one of the greatest gifts we can give a person.  Relationship expert Lana Tamaro says a common reaction to seeing a loved one in pain is a strong desire to solve their problem.  She used an incredibly powerful metaphor that will always stay with me: the image of throwing a rope down the deep well that encloses the loved one to give her a way to climb out.  It takes a special kind of spouse, friend, or colleague to resist throwing the rope, and instead jump in the well with the person; to be able to be fully present with their pain.  For couples that experience infertility, there is no “quick fix.”  There is no rope that we as friends, family, and colleagues can throw down the well.  

According to the CDC, 1 in 8 couples have trouble getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy.  Infertility has been called by some an Anonymous Epidemic.  The part I want to focus on here is the word “anonymous.”  A recent survey of infertility patients reveals that 61% hide the struggle to get pregnant from friends and family.  As a professional in the space, I have noticed the silence that shrouds infertility further compounds the trauma.  Feelings of isolation, shame, and confusion dominate the woman’s head and heart.  

Research has shown infertility to be the fourth most dramatic life event in the lifespan of a woman, comparable with the death of parents and unfaithfulness of a partner (Matsubayashi et al., 2004).  Also, infertility is found to be associated with high levels of stress, grief, depression, anxiety, guilt, and identity confusion.  If infertility is considered one of the most intense events in the life of a woman, social support both professionally and personally is an absolute necessity.  

A dear friend of mine who currently experiences infertility eloquently says: “I always thought my purpose was to have a child and be a mom, so determining what my life purpose would be without a child is challenging.” (As seen in A Dream Not Yet Granted

According to the stats, almost all of us will either know someone who experiences infertility or struggle with it personally.  How can we resist throwing the rope down the well, but instead freely jump into it and sit shoulder to shoulder in our loved ones’ pain?  What is possible from that place of humility, love, and compassion?  

(To see Jena’s previous post on miscarriage please visit: Ways We Can Step Up for Women who Suffer from Pregnancy Loss

 

A VIVID ACCOUNT OF SUFFERING GRIEF AFTER STILLBIRTH

Today is my birthday – but celebrating is the last thing on my mind.

For the past 3 years, my birthday has not been marked with cake and candles and good cheer.  Smiles and excitement and joy have given way to tears and sorrow and despair.  My birthday list – once a mile long – is bare.

The truth is, the only things I want for my birthday, no one on this earth can give me.  I want my daughter back, and I want a guarantee that my son will remain healthy and happy and alive for the remainder of my (hopefully many) years.

But the knowledge that no one – not even, apparently, God – can make me this promise, forces me each year to confront the visceral terror that on better days simmers deep within my bones.  And the slogging battle to tamp it back down leaves me drenched with existential dread.

(Happy birthday to me.)

It wasn’t always this way.  Before the day I learned what the word “stillbirth” meant – after a textbook pregnancy with zero risk factors characterized only by an eager, innocent, anticipatory bliss – I had been an expert at invincibility.  I was lucky for 28 serendipitous years to be untouched by any real tragedy or heartache, and so it’d become almost a reflex to shake off the possibility of “it” (sub in whatever misfortune featured in the news that week) ever happening to me.

And don’t get me wrong – I was arrogant and naive, but I was also grateful.  I understood, at least on a rational level, how incredibly lucky I was to have been given all I’d been given, and I was as conscious as someone who’s never suffered adversity can be not to take it for granted.  I guess on some level I must have thought that that gratitude would protect me, and by extension, those I love.

Spoiler alert: it didn’t.

And so when I found myself walking into the hospital two days before my due date, after nine uneventful, blissful months, ready to finally, finally, finally bring home my baby girl – the much beloved and anticipated eldest daughter (and first grandchild!) that I’d dreamed of since I was only a child myself – only to learn that her heart was inexplicably no longer beating, well, my entire world was decimated.  This wasn’t supposed to happen to anyone, not this late in a healthy pregnancy – and it especially wasn’t supposed to happen to me.

I wandered in a daze through my delivery and the empty, heartrending, surreal, lonely weeks that followed.  I woke up every morning with her name on my lips, still in utter disbelief that she was gone, that I wasn’t going to get a do-over, that she would truly never again (never??) be here in my arms, where she belonged.

Eventually I woke cursing the very air I breathed and begging not to wake again, the salt of her tears crusted in my swollen eyes and a constant, panging ache in my gut.  I wept, all day, every day, for months and months and months on end.  And soon, I seethed, my soul consumed by an angry, often irrational bitterness, and the blackest of envy.

If you’d asked about my worldview in that first year, “bleak” wouldn’t even have begun to cover it.  I didn’t know how I would ever feel joy again.  I didn’t know how the hurt would ever, ever subside.  I didn’t know how I would ever learn to live with such a gaping, ragged hole in my heart.

And yet, somehow, I did.

Somehow, I found the courage to try again, and to face a second – now long, anxious, and terrifying – pregnancy with as much joy as I could muster.  Somehow, I let myself fall hopelessly and perilously in love with her baby brother, and let myself believe (or, at least, tried my damnedest to convince myself) that he would indeed be coming home from the hospital with us.  Somehow, I learned to let the smiles surface along with the tears, often in the very same breath.

We were blessed to bring home a son just a few weeks after what should have been her first birthday, and he has lived up to the meaning of his name: our beam of sunlight through the dark.

And now, as her third birthday approaches, with two years under my belt of the gratitude and heartache and wonder and guilt and fullness and anxiety and unadulterated, earth-shattering love that is parenting a living child (particularly after a loss), I’ve come to realize that I am well on my way to “integrating” (as they call it) her death.

Yes, I will always, always, always miss her.  But many days now, with my son’s toothy toddler smile beaming up at me and his soft little hands wrapped in my palms, it is both heartbreaking and a relief to realize that that ache is no longer quite so searing.  I know now that I will never leave her behind; she is a part of me, a part of our family.  Our love will endure for always.

And is that enough?  No.  Of course it is not.  But it’s all we have.  And most days, I can make do.

There will always be some days, though – like my birthday, like today – that will stand as a grim reminder of all that we have lost.

So, yes, as my wonderful family and friends refuse to let me forget, my birthday is worth celebrating – at the very least, for the significance it holds for my own mother, who never fails to remind me that it was the happiest day of her life.

But for me, now, I simply can’t imagine it ever feeling anything short of criminal to commemorate my managing to survive another year on this cruel, fickle planet, when my daughter didn’t even make it to her own birth alive.

My innocence, my faith, my child are gone.

And my birthday will never be the same.

But as grim as this all may sound, if there’s one thing I’ve learned to take comfort in along the way, it is this: I’m not the only one.  You are not the only one.

It is an unfortunate fact of life that we will all, eventually, suffer.  After all, grief is the price of love – the tradeoff for a life well-lived.  As a shockingly wise internet quote I once came across said, “None of us is making it out of here alive.”  And so, someday, we will all lose the people closest to us (unless, like my daughter, we are unlucky enough to go first).

It’s a morbid thought, but also a comfort.  Grief – especially that for a loss like stillbirth that is so poorly understood and little acknowledged by the general public (we “didn't even know her,” after all, so how can we miss her, right? Sigh) – can be incredibly isolating.  But it doesn’t have to be.

No matter your heartache – death, divorce, infertility, abuse, illness, rejection, you name it – there are other people out there hurting too, in the very same way, in this very same moment.  And if you can only find them – through a support group, an online forum, a mutual friend, whatever – you don't have to be alone in your pain for another minute.  Having been there, I can promise you, it’s all so much better when we do it together.

So the next time your birthday rolls around and you’re plastering on a smile while silently sobbing away the hours inside, ask yourself this: how many other people are doing the same?

And when the desolation of despair calls your name, instead, remind yourself that no matter how bad it hurts in this moment, tomorrow is a new day.  And there’s someone out there right now who understands, if you just put your hand out and reach for them.

 

Samantha Banerjee lives in Westchester County, New York with three of the four loves of her life – her husband, son, and cat – and carries her fourth love, her stillborn daughter, in her heart. In addition to penning novels and writing candidly about grief, she is also a sometimes freelance writer/consultant – though more often than not these days she’s on full-time mom duty! A former software engineer, Samantha said goodbye to the corporate world in 2010 to pursue her entrepreneurial dreams and lifelong love of writing. Learn more at www.samanthadurante.com.

 

Miscarriage: Ways we can step up for women who suffer from pregnancy loss

October is one of my personal favorite months: hoodie weather, football season, and a time to break out and try new craft brews.  At the same time, few people know that in 1988 Ronald Reagan proclaimed October as National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.  In tribute to this special month, Babies on the Brain will be focusing all of its content during October on building support and community around miscarriage, still-birth, and infertility.

Today we will be looking at grief and post-traumatic stress in women who have experienced pregnancy loss and how we as friends, professionals, and family members can all show up for someone who has experienced such a difficult event.  

A large focus of my practice is counseling women who struggle with infertility, miscarriage, and still-birth.  What has always attracted me to serving this special population of incredible women is a strong longing to help tear down the wall of silent shaming that surrounds these events.  One of the main sources of sadness and despair reported by women is not only that they lost their baby but that they have no one to talk to about it besides their partner.

OB-GYNs typically recommend not disclosing your pregnancy to people outside of your inner circle until you are past the first trimester, which is when miscarriage is most likely to occur.  In fact, according to the American Pregnancy Association, around 10-25% of all clinically recognized pregnancies will end in miscarriage.  This is not a small number.  When I give talks to companies on how to support a woman going through a pregnancy loss, I ask the audience for a show of hands of who knows a woman who has miscarried. Inevitably nearly every hand goes up.  Miscarriage is not uncommon; sharing the loss with family, a friend, and even colleagues, however, is.

How can we change this?  I propose two potential ways of looking at it.  The first is education regarding the impact pregnancy loss has on a woman. The second is ritualizing pregnancy loss no differently than we do with grieving the loss of a loved family member or close friend.  

To help understand the impact of pregnancy loss, let's take a look at a Krosch and Shakespeare-Finch 2016 study of 328 women who had been bereaved by pregnancy loss by miscarriage. The study found that on average participants reported moderate to high levels of grief and PTSD symptoms, with almost half scoring higher than established clinical cut-offs.  What does this mean in simple terms?  Miscarriage can be experienced both as a loss and as a trauma.

The study also examined gestational age at the time of miscarriage.  In short, it didn’t matter much.  What did matter was the mother’s developing bond with her unborn child.  This is referred to as prenatal attachment.  So the way a mother perceives the personhood and reality of her unborn child is a good predictor of distress following prenatal loss.  As a result, the degree of distress a woman experiences following a miscarriage is incredibly unique to the person.

As a coach who works with this specific population, spreading this knowledge that pregnancy loss is a highly individualized event is the first step to moving forward in creating community and support. The second is ritualizing bereavement of pregnancy loss.  There are currently no widespread rituals surrounding miscarriage.  In my opinion, this contributes to the isolation a woman typically feels after her loss.  When someone tells you they miscarried, what do you do?  Say sorry? Send a card? Flowers? It’s not very clear…

I have asked clients who experienced a miscarriage what they would have liked to see from friends, family, and colleagues.  One of the most common replies is simply an acknowledgment of the loss.  One client put it so eloquently when she said: “I guess I wanted people to acknowledge the loss because it made me so sad to think it didn’t exist to anyone else.”  

Another remarked the following: “I wish I could erase the idea that being pregnant means you're having a baby. I hated that I ever had that idea, and wished it was more mainstream and talked about that it's not a straight line and tons of people go through miscarriage.”

When asked if there were any responses that were particularly helpful or supportive after disclosing a miscarriage, one client said that she had a colleague come up to her and say “I don’t know what to say to you, but I know you are hurting and I am sorry.  Please show me what you need and I will be there for you in any way I can.”  

When asked why this response was so powerful and healing for the woman she said “even though this colleague didn’t know specifically how to support me, he asked! He realized he didn’t need to have the perfect answer, but he was willing to meet me where I was and ask what I needed.”  

Obviously we have a long way to go on truly understanding how we can best support families experiencing pregnancy loss, but whether you are a friend, family member, colleague, or even a boss who is told a woman has miscarried, acknowledgement and a genuine sense of compassion for the woman can go a long way.  

References:
Krosch, D. J., & Shakespeare-Finch, J. (2016). Grief, Traumatic Stress, and Posttraumatic Growth in
Women Who Have Experienced Pregnancy Loss. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research,
Practice, And Policy, doi:10.1037/tra0000183

Reacting to pregnancy in the workplace and what that means for your company

As seen in the Huffington Post

 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/57dff08be4b04fa361d99ff2?timestamp=1474294452543

With more and more women in the workforce, finding a high-performing and talented woman who easily meets the demands of a business is not a difficult task.  However, anyone of us who has worked in a corporate environment has seen the slow meltdown of a manager when a female star announced that she is pregnant.  Subtle reactions, such as a blank stare, less-than-enthusiastic congratulatory statement or concerning facial expressions do not go unnoticed to your female talent.  According to a study done on maternity leave policies and women’s employment across the US, Britain, and Japan, 46% of women in the US do not return to the same employer after delivering their first child.  With the median acquisition cost of a new employee equal to about 21% of an employee’s annual salary, female retention has become both a social concern and an economic issue.  Two of the most commonly blamed reasons why women leave their pre-baby employer are poor maternity leave policies and lack of flexibility.  Another reason that does not garner nearly as much attention is the lack of social support from supervisors and coworkers.  A study done by Jennifer Glass at the University of Iowa looked at determinants of job changing and labor force interruptions among employed women following childbirth. She found the degree of social support in the workplace was a main driver of a new mom returning to her pre-baby employer.

As a professional in this industry, I have counseled and interviewed many high-achieving women who have returned to the workforce after having given birth. While there are many reasons why new mothers might leave their job for another workplace, throughout my experience, I have found a few patterns in their reasoning. One client of mine reported after she announced her pregnancy to her boss at a large corporate office, he could barely get the word ‘congratulations’ out of his mouth before he asked questions related to how she would handle the workload once the baby was born – which wasn’t for another 6.5 months! After she came back to her desk and told her team, one of her colleague’s muffled, “Oh, you will never come back.” Both of these reactions were incredibly disappointing. This woman had put years into establishing a fantastic reputation at her company and now she felt that announcing her pregnancy put her on the list of women “not worth investing in.” One can argue that she overreacted, but a year after the baby was born, she left the firm to work for a competitor.

Bestselling author, Louann Brizendine, M.D. argues in her book The Female Brain: “women respond to the torn responsibilities of family and their own professional goals with increased stress, anxiety, and even reduced brainpower.” When a woman announces her pregnancy to her manager, she assesses his reaction carefully and draws conclusions as to how much support she will likely get in the subsequent months. Just like a first impression, if the manager’s response is negative, the expecting mother can start to feel overwhelmed. Most women that I’ve spoken with have already made up their minds about their future in the company well before delivery. When the lack of social support amongst managers and coworkers is present, new mothers tend to leave their pre-baby jobs. While many of my clients certainly argue that a lack of flexibility in the workplace contributes to their departure from the firm, I have found that if a woman feels that the birth of her baby is viewed in any way as an inconvenience, she is less likely to feel a sense of loyalty or obligation to stay with the same firm postpartum. On the other hand, I have found that if a new mother returns to work for the same company as before delivery and is able to stick it out a full year, she reports greater feelings of stability, happiness and overall satisfaction with work and family.

While certain inconveniences for managers do happen, companies have the ability to create an environment where a baby becomes a firm’s celebrated joy. One client of mine demonstrated a perfect example. After this woman announced her pregnancy to her manager, he bought her a beautiful flower arrangement and personally set it on her desk with a card congratulating her on the exciting news. I am not saying that all women can be bought with flowers, but I believe that a simple, yet profound gesture of kindness and compassion can demonstrate a manager’s support. This also sets the tone for the rest of the team. Her coworkers had to manage an extra workload during her maternity leave. There were no feelings of resentment or anger because her teammates were justly rewarded for being team players, which ultimately reflected in their performance reviews. This woman reported an incredible amount of stress during the first year of her daughter’s life. However, her manager and teammates were very supportive during the pregnancy and leave. She felt that she owed it to them to give her return a fair shot. Once a year had passed, she felt more confident, had gotten her groove back and was happy with her decision to return to her job. I would encourage managers to follow by this example and properly set the tone for how a pregnancy announcement is received by your company.

Ultimately, a small act of kindness towards an expecting mother can not only impact her and the team, it can help your company retain female talent.

A Dream Not Yet Granted

Like most little girls, I spent my childhood playing house – dreaming about marrying my Prince Charming and pretending to take care of my imaginary family and kids. I had so many plans at such a young age about what my “perfect” life would look like.

Luckily, in high school, I found the love of my life. We dated throughout high school, went to the same college, and after seven years of dating we were married. Marrying my husband was the greatest thing that has ever happened to me.  He is the person that knows me best and loves me unconditionally despite my flaws. Through our fourteen year journey of being together, we have only grown closer through our shared experiences. We got married soon after college, but like many young couples, we discussed early on what we wanted our life to be like as a married couple – where we would live, what we would do, and how we would raise our children. Life was good.

A year into our marriage we were just getting settled in new careers and starting to get our footing as a newly married couple. We were open to children, but not actively trying. I had gone to the doctor and told her our “plan” for children. When she heard we had been married for a year -- and not using contraception – she told me that was cause for concern. As a first step, she told me to have my husband get tested.  This was the beginning of a long and uncertain journey.

After countless tests, MRIs and ultrasounds, and meeting with one of the leading infertility specialists in our region, we found out that my husband has low sperm count, motility and mobility. Doctors were feeding us numbers and statistics at such a rapid rate that it was hard to keep everything straight.  I had so many questions. What does this mean? What are our options? What can we do to increase our chances?

The doctor explained to us that male infertility is a common problem, but there isn’t much research or information about the cause of these issues. Our options were limited. The doctors couldn’t find a cause for the infertility that could be fixed with medicine or surgery. Based on the information, the doctor told us that we had a 1% chance of conceiving on our own and that IVF or adoption was our only option. These words hit me like a ton of bricks. 1% chance of conceiving naturally? How could this be?

We left the doctor’s office in a fog. I couldn’t process the information or that fact that this was our reality. I found myself spiraling out of control. My husband was able to better cope with this information than I could. He was very comforting and supportive, but I spent weeks fixated on the information. I knew I hit bottom when the stress had caused me to develop shingles. Something had to change. With my husband’s help, I tried to focus on the positive and look for hope in the situation – not giving up on the chance for us to conceive naturally. We started to develop a plan. We knew IVF was not a route that we were willing to go; therefore we would try to boost our chances as much as possible.

After six years on our journey to conception, we still have a void in our lives. We continue to maintain reserved hope for the future, but do not know what is in store.  Uncertainty is the hardest part– wondering if we will ever conceive a child of our own or if we need to close that chapter on having our own biological family. There isn’t a day that goes by that we do not think about our struggle to have a child. My husband and I talk to each other about this issue constantly and know when we need to take a break from testing or trying because it becomes more of a production that ends up leaving us emotionally drained. Over time we have learned to better cope with our emotions, but there are still moments when a particular comment or situation can catch us off guard and bring out emotions that we have suppressed.

I always thought my purpose was to have a child and be a mom, so determining what my life purpose would be without a child is challenging. We never thought of a life without children until we were met with our infertility struggles, but we also know we can not dwell on this or let it define us. Like any obstacle, I know that we have to overcome the sadness and live our lives. We are lucky to surround ourselves with friends and family that open up their families to us and make us feel like part of their own. We pray for a miracle every day and want other couples out there to know that the struggle to conceive is real and that they are not alone.  This obstacle in our lives will only continue to make us stronger as we continue in our vocation as a married couple. 

I Have Hope

You are having a baby girl! My doctor said these words with genuine excitement for my husband and me at my 16th week prenatal appointment.  While my husband looked shocked, yet so full of joy, the same words instead left me dazed and confused.  I was overwhelmed with a complete flood of emotions.  Some were feelings of excitement.  I always wanted to have a little girl, someone who would look up to me as a woman of strength, resilience, and of deep faith.  I always knew having a son would be equally amazing, but there is something about having a child that’s the same gender as you.  It holds a unique place.  I could imagine my life with a daughter a bit more clearly than having a son:  I would tenderly brush her long hair; I would watch her prance around in mommy’s clothes and heels; I would be excited to see what crazy combination of outfits she would pick out, while using the tutu as her staple piece.  These were some goofy, but fun memories I had as a little girl.  They were small, seemingly insignificant, but as the reality of having my own baby girl set in, these fun memories became alive again. 

Then without warning, came a tornado of fear, anxiety, protectiveness, and searing pain.  I always thought God would give me only boys because of what happened in my past.  That being a rape survivor was bad enough to go through in one’s life.  What would happen if my daughter had the same awful experience?  The shame, guilt, isolation, loneliness, betrayal, depression… these words were swimming around me and completely overshadowed the joy of having a new child.  A black hole appeared and I saw every amazing memory of my own childhood fall into the abyss.  Only pain and darkness were left.  They were the shadows of my past.  A past, I am still and will continue to heal from; a past I hate talking about; a past that I am afraid could somehow, in some way, mess up my daughter; a past that I am petrified ever happening to someone I love.          

I have spent years and years and years in therapy over the rape.  Seeing different people, trying different techniques.. if a method of healing exists, I have probably tried it.  It felt I have tried every single thing in my power to heal from that event.  While I have made so much progress, nothing prepares you for the potential idea of having it happen to your own child.  People may think this is ridiculous.  Just because a trauma happened to me, doesn’t mean it will happen to my kid.  My response is “till it happens to you, you don't know how it feels.”  I am not a huge Lady Gaga fan, but the woman makes a good point and she’s right.  You don’t know how it feels until it happens to you.  You don’t know what future anxiety exists not only for yourself, but for those you love.  It’s a whole new type of pain.  It’s deep; living far below so many layers, that you never knew it was there.  However, when it makes itself known, it takes over.  You feel nothing else, but that paralyzing pain and fear.  It’s as if I am reliving the same nightmare all over again, but this time it’s happening to my kid. 

I wish I could say that these fears and anxieties have lessened over time, now that I have grown into being a mom and have watched my baby girl grow up, but they haven’t.  They are still present, raw, and in my face.  However I can say over time I have developed other viewpoints on my unique situation.  I have given more reflection what it means to be a “strong woman.”  What do I want to teach my daughter so she has the best chance of surviving in this world?  Can I embrace my past pain and trauma and inspire her and others? How can I learn to let go?  To trust in the divine, that he will take care of both of us?  To begin to maybe believe the past doesn’t absolutely HAVE to be repeated.  Finally, to have the courage to realize I don’t have any answers, that uncertainty exists, and to learn to give up control…

So while I know I have very few answers, I do have hope.  I hope and I pray my daughter never has to go through a painful experience like I went through.  I hope that she knows I will love her unconditionally no matter what happens to her.  I hope she knows I always will have her back, that I will always do my best to protect her.  I hope that she trusts in God to take care of her; that she can depend on Him at all times.  I hope that I can grow as a mom; that I can continue to grow in my healing around my past and learn how to better integrate it in my future.  I also hope one day I will feel comfortable and confident enough to share my experience with my daughter: to show her how pain and sadness can be transformed; that we can be fully loved and accepted, regardless of the wounds we carry.  Like I said, I have no answers, but I do have hope….. 

-T

Every Mom Has a Story

Every mom has a different story; all I know for certain is that we are all giving the best of us.

I’ve only been a mom for four years, my eldest just turned four and my second is 22 months. I think it’s taken just about all those four years to help me find some sort of equilibrium in my life – a feeling that as a family and an individual, we’re at a place where things seem to work.

When I gave birth to my first son in 2012, my husband and I were going through a tough time. He was dealing with a lot of chronic pain issues, which led to depression and to him needing to leave his job. I had decided previously to also leave my job after having my son because I didn’t want to have the pressure of needing to go back at a certain time. So there we were, both unemployed, having serious tension in our marriage, and with a new baby.

It’s easy to look back now and count our blessings, but during those crazy, sleepless nights and half-awake days, I would question everything – our family, our marriage, my ability as a mother and wife, whether my baby would EVER go to sleep and stay asleep, whether staying at home was the best choice, and whether life would ever be normal and happy again. It’s the strangest thing, to feel such deep love for your child, and yet such extreme anxiety and anger over your inability to control his behavior. You begin to realize how little control you have over your life in general.

One of the few things that would make me feel better was listening to other, more seasoned moms, reassure me over cups of coffee, “Don’t worry, there IS a light at the end of the tunnel.” To that thought, I clung. Sometimes I even forced myself to close my eyes and imagine that light. One day, I thought, I’ll have to drag my teenage son out of bed at 10am on a Sunday! Imagine that!

My husband and I worked hard on our marriage through the rough patch, coming out stronger on the other side, and we eventually found a comfortable rhythm for our family. We had a second baby boy, and it was much easier this time around. I had already learned to give up expectations of having control, and with a bit of previous experience, we didn’t struggle with as much of the same anxiety as before.

Yet, the third year into being a full-time mom, I started having a different, unsettling feeling. My eyes started to notice my peers and their escalating careers. While folding yet another load of laundry, or wiping up the table for the fifth time that day, I started wondering if I was wasting away all that I had previously worked hard for.

I wrestled with these thoughts for many months, at times wishing I could go back to the old life, and at times recognizing the importance of my current situation. I felt like all the outward things I’d built around myself were slowly being stripped away, and I was being forced to discover and come to terms with my true identity.

My upbringing, my private school education, my double major in college, my years of being called a “rockstar” at work – things that had previously helped me “control” my situation in life – none of that mattered when it came to being a mother to my child. My academic knowledge or job expertise didn’t make me a fantastic mother. In fact, it oftentimes made it more difficult for me to be content with motherhood.

Being career-groomed meant that being successful and productive was where I placed my self-worth. The little to no acknowledgement of the day-to-day tasks of motherhood was and is a great struggle of mine. If no one sees the things I do, if there is no appreciation, no pat on the back, no “Nicely done”, not even a paycheck, or a promotion, what does that mean for my value?

There’s something so raw and real and self-shattering about living so completely for the wellbeing of someone else. But the beauty of it is that once I’d been reduced to nothing, I found that in the center of me now there existed this immense love – a love that I had never felt for anyone or anything else in my life – a selfless, sacrificial, mothering love. The kind of love that could turn you in an instant from a sweet, doting mother of a sick child, to a fierce, vicious animal if someone threatened your family. The kind of love that could span continents and time.

Through the ups and downs that make our days feel like roller coasters, this love will be a lasting impact on my child’s life. YOUR love will be a lasting impact on your child’s life. It may take years, even decades, for the things we’re putting in now to bear fruit, but our motherhood WILL leave a legacy.

I remember sharing my struggles with my identity as a full time mom with a lovely older lady who is a mother and grandmother. She told me this and I will forever carry it in my heart, “There is no one in the world more qualified to take the role of mother to your children than you. No one else can ever hold that job title because no one else can love them in the way that you do.” And it’s true. Love is what keeps us going. It’s as cliché and simple and real as that. We love them without end, and only we can be their moms.

I recognize I’m only four years into this mom thing and I still have much to learn. In the meantime, I do what I can to maintain a healthy balance for my brain and heart. I do still love to work, so I’ve started working as a part-time freelance consultant Even with a very supportive husband who gives me most of Sunday away from the family to simply work, it can feel like my life is balancing on the edge of a knife. Everything needs to be juggled carefully and with precision or else I end up playing catch-up. It’s hard not to feel like I’m being a bad mom when I focus a little too much on work, or feel like I’m not staying on top of my work during the weeks I spend a little extra time with the family. But I know that for now, this is what will allow me to be the best mom that I can be. And you know us moms, we always give our best.

-C