On being a new mom

Thoughts and observations on heading back to work after maternity leave

Ceci Stallsmith
Nov 26, 2018 · 6 min read

I’ve packed up my pump, laid out my outfit, and triple checked my calendar. Tomorrow I’m back to the commute that I’ve done hundreds (thousands? Feels like thousands) of times. But tomorrow everything is different, because it’s my first day back at work after maternity leave.

In late May I abruptly went from being a director at a growth stage company, one day away from my biggest work event of the year, to being a mom. I was working on final edits to a keynote as contractions kicked in (side note, not a bad way to get through labor). Lily decided to come surprisingly early.

Lily at Spec — Slack’s first developer conference

I haven’t seen a lot of women leaders talking about this complex transition, so before I dive back into the maelstrom, I wanted to jot down my thoughts. This is a true mash-up of lessons and observations so far. Yours will be different, but I hope my sharing can be helpful.

1 Being a parent is amazing. I say this with a lot of sensitivity — I know that the entire process, from getting pregnant, to staying pregnant, to a healthy birth, healthy baby, healthy mom…has a wide range of outcomes, some of which can be excruciatingly painful or challenging. I’ve felt this pain and it’s so tough.

I want to say that being a parent is amazing, though, because I often see more complaints and frustration about parenthood. Yes — it takes a lot from your body, mind and life. But my new identity as a mom is so fulfilling and fun. So fun. A totally new, challenging adventure. The overwhelming, overflowing gratitude of the whole experience is something that I didn’t see coming — but it has made all the difference. Gratitude transforms all the “hardships” — late night screaming, spit up in your hair, joints aching from no sleep into something truly beautiful.

2 Taking leave has (good) tradeoffs. I took a long maternity leave. This is in part because I built my maternity leave plan based on my due date and then my little one showed up earlier than expected. I do not regret a second of taking an extra long leave. And, another disclaimer here, I am insanely privileged to be able to take long-leave.

Did things shift and did I miss out on work in the time I was gone? Yes. No doubt. Especially at a growth stage company like Slack. Not being AT work means that you can’t advocate in the same way for your team or for yourself — it’s just reality. For me — that’s ok. My career is much longer than these 6 months. Work ebbs and flows.

Accepting this trade off wasn’t easy, and I don’t think I knew beforehand it would exist. I am a big believer in going to bat for your people and can’t just turn that off. I took a number of calls with team members and leadership through significant decisions. It was easy to weigh what was worth taking time on and what wasn’t. It’s also a nice change of pace to take interesting work calls when you’re strolling your snoozing baby around the neighborhood.

I couldn’t be more grateful to be at a company like Slack with such geneous leave. If you’re thinking of procreating, Slack is an amazing place for it. Stripe is as well, while I’m plugging companies. My husband got 16 weeks of time off which has been a treasure for our family.

3 Leave is more than baby bonding time. You get to do what you likely haven’t done in years — slow down and think. OK — you’re exhausted, and you have a new, insane, (more than) full-time job, but amidst the baby-fun you get to watch…yourself.

Listen to the new beat of your heart. Without the constant thrum of work, what lights you up? What do you spend your time thinking about? (Other than nomming your child’s cheeks and deliberating over sleep training?) What do you find interesting? I found voice-everything — audiobooks, podcasts etc. super useful with a babe. No screen required, so no distracting or ignoring baby, but you can still engage your brain. It was fun to explore new ideas and get the creative juices flowing in a way that they don’t necessarily in the day-to-day grind.

4 You do you. Pregnancy. Childbirth. Child rearing. Goodness gracious. People have OPINIONS. I guess this is mine: you usually know what’s best, or will find out what’s best. Want an epidural? Great! Want to breastfeed? Using formula? Good on ya. Want to stop working (if you can) and be a stay at home mom? Great! Want to head back to work early because you feel it’s better for your family? Rock on! You. Do. You.

There are so many spoken and unspoken expectations laid on us. I don’t know why but it feels there are more than usual in this making-a-family stage of life. I just want to encourage — the noise can be so stressful. I am sick of the “shoulds” of being a mom. Let’s love our families and ourselves to the best of our abilities. Throw the shoulds and the unspoken, burdensome expectations to the wind.

5 Love, love, love. This parenthood thing has opened up new chambers of my heart and life. I think I’ve grown a deeper, gut level sense of love. Wow, do I love my daughter and husband and family in a new way. I’m not just saying this to be like, “oh wow, I’m the best, soooo loving,” but because I think that this new, sharper, focused love has changed how I am and will be…all the time.

I want to cut the BS — I have too much to go and LOVE. It makes me want to spend more time mentoring and coaching, building people up (in and outside of work). It makes me want to STOP getting worked up over bozos and chest beaters. Who has time for that? I guess this new love is an internal compass for what I actually want to spend time on. And fear? It squashes fear. I used to be afraid to write things like this. Maybe people aren’t going to like it! It’s scary to put myself out there! Psh. I’ve got this love.

I want to take this love, and for everyone out there who is humble and genuinely trying — I want to share it with them, to multiply it. To big you up, because…you really are amazing. It’s likely I don’t even know you, but I am sure you have gifts and thoughts that the world needs. I hope you have people cheering you on along the way, and that you can bolster others up, as well.

And with that, tomorrow (truly tomorrow, I’m editing and adding to this in a true-to-life timeframe) I really return to work. I expect it’s going to be fun and engaging, and emotionally tumultuous and exhausting. I’m just hanging on to that love, trying to let it guide me. Maybe in a couple of months this will seem like naive, sleep-deprived ramblings, but maybe not. And if not, I hope it can be helpful to you, too.

Have a good one!

Ceci Stallsmith

Written by

Platform @SlackHQ. Alum of @BessemerVP and @BoxHQ. Student of platforms. Squash player. Enneagram 7.

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