I’m so excited to welcome Michelle Tagge to the blog today! She and I met at a Modern Mamas retreat, and I love keeping in touch, sharing, and learning from each other. Her piece, on the work life balance of motherhood, is a great read that I feel grateful to share. Enjoy!
When I went back to work in a full-time executive position at 6 weeks postpartum with my first, I had nothing but breastfeeding on my mind. My son had a tongue tie; he lost weight in his 2nd week of life and my milk supply was low. I was power pumping every chance I got and not getting any sleep. I was renting a hospital pump, and lugged that giant case to and from the office every day. I really wasn’t ready for this.
I had been very career-focused in my 20s, and was climbing my way up the ladder in my early 30s. After I got pregnant, I interviewed for and got offered a new opportunity at a new company. I knew I was ready to leave my current position, and I also knew that if I waited and kept applying for jobs, I likely wouldn’t be offered anything once my pregnancy started showing. I accepted the position, and since by the time I gave birth I would have been at the company for less than a year, I would not qualify for any additional weeks of FMLA leave. But 6 weeks sounded like plenty of time to have “off”.
I remember starting the job and wanting to go a month before telling anyone I was pregnant so that wouldn’t be the first impression people had of me. I was googling, “when will I start showing first pregnancy tall” all the time. After I had my baby and returned to work, I wanted so badly to make it “not a big deal” and pick up where I left off. None of my clothes fit, so I was wearing maternity pants and large nursing tops every day so I didn’t have to get undressed to pump 3 times a day. My son had his tongue tie released a few days after I went back to work, and all I wanted to do was nurse him. I obsessively tracked the ounces I pumped and added sessions in the car driving on my commute. And I had to do all this power pumping at work without ever talking about “pumping” because it isn’t a professional bodily function to talk about in a male-centered workplace.
I was under extreme stress, physically and mentally. I didn’t want this, but I also wasn’t going to give up years of work while I was in this hormonal mess and not thinking straight. I saved up milk (by supplementing with donor milk) so that I could go back to work travel at 4 months postpartum. My marriage was suffering. Neither of us were prepared for me to sink this deep into this postpartum hole. I mentioned the word divorce a lot. My husband stepped up for my son in a big way, doing all the bottle feedings while I was exclusively pumping. But I didn’t feel supported.
I didn’t really get out of that postpartum haze and feel like myself for 15 months, a month after I stopped breastfeeding. Even with only 1 kid, it was a struggle to keep up with it all. My husband and I both traveled for work, and I spent 90 minutes commuting every day. I couldn’t keep up with the expectations I had for myself at work along with wanting to exercise, cook meals at home and, as is often last on my list, spend quality time with my husband. This life is sustainable in a way, but for me, it felt like I was always just trying to keep up with everything I was behind on.
Fast forward 2 more years to when I went back to work after having my daughter, we were in the middle of a pandemic and I didn’t have to return to an office. I also had 12 weeks off, and I was in a much better pace physically – no breastfeeding issues, I was sleeping well and I really took better care to nourish myself. I created my Postpartum Prep Guide during my maternity leave too, and working felt good. And I decided that staying in a demanding full-time position with 2 young kids wasn’t a healthy option for me.
I asked my job to go part-time and they said they wouldn’t consider it almost immediately. There were very few part-time people at the company, but I knew how valued my work was, and I didn’t think they would want to lose me. I was wrong.
I reached out to a company I worked for previously, the job I quit when I was newly pregnant, and they wanted me back part-time. Since I was negotiating, I said I wanted the position to be fully remote and flexible hours. They valued me enough to agree, but what I didn’t get was equal compensation. When you lose benefits, many people respond “can’t you go on your husband’s insurance?” but there are so many other benefits, and it is much more expensive to get the insurance through his company. Other benefits include paid lunches, paid vacation, sick days and holidays, disability pay, 401K contributions and stock options. I sat and calculated it with someone in HR, and it comes out to about a third of my compensation. It did make me feel less valued by the corporation and I’m not sure why it works out like that.
I took the flexible position, and I spend flexible time on my nutrition business too. I am much happier and feel like I’m out of the cycle of constant stress that it’s impossible to take a break from. Sometimes I just drop the kids off and decide I need a bath. It gives me time to exercise and take day dates with my husband.
My takeaways from this experience are that the 6 or 12 weeks or whatever is given to women after having a baby should not be 1 size fits all. It was traumatic to go back to the office 6 weeks postpartum with my first, but with my second it might have been ok (though I had no desire to). It was difficult to be thrown back in part-time without any support in how to manage these challenges in the workplace. And I think women should have more options to work in a way where they are able to play the role they want in their families. And yes, I think men should have this option too. And I fully support women who want to work full-time. But for those who don’t want to go back right away or who can’t afford the unpaid time, I hope we can move towards finding better options for working moms.
Michelle is a mother of two and former insurance executive. She is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and has a Master’s in Data Science. She teaches a course on starting babies on solid foods and is passionate about educating moms on nourishing themselves and their babies. She also is the creator of the Nourished and Nurturing podcast.