How to Change Careers While Pregnant and After

I had been thinking about transitioning to User Experience (UX) design for almost a year. I took designers in my company out to lunch to find out more, attended design events and read about it as much as I could. Yet, I couldn’t find the courage to jump in and make the switch from my comfortable job… until I saw that positive pregnancy test.

My husband and I decided to start a family around the same time I finally decided to make the career switch. I expected to have some time to work on my new career path before pregnancy, but we got pregnant faster than either of us expected. As I stared at those two pink lines, I had two thoughts:

  1. There is never a prefect time to make a big change.
  2. It’s all or nothing!

At ten weeks pregnant, I told my boss that, given my new situation, I decided to take the leap of faith and explore a design career. Two weeks later, at the end of my first trimester, I began my 10–week full-time design program at General Assembly.

Now, just 2 years later, I am a proud Product Designer at a small tech company.

In my parent networks, I often run across moms and pregnant women who want to make a career switch, but feel stuck or do not know where to begin. Career change is not easy for anyone. It seems especially daunting if you’re expecting. I have good news, though: with the right preparation, expectations, support and mindset, expecting moms can absolutely do it. In my opinion, it’s easier than raising a kid!

Here are a few things that I learned from my experience.

Make a Plan

Before taking such a big step during an already emotionally charged period of your life, figure out what skills you currently have and which skills the new role will require of you. Then, figure out how you will get those skills in the time you have before you pop or after baby arrives. Make a list of your options to get those skills and get cracking. Keep your expectations and plans realistic and adjust as your pregnancy progresses. You won’t be able to get everything done before baby, and that’s OK.

If you can, try to get a little experience in your new career before you go on maternity leave, even if it is a free project for a friend or a project you made up.

Another important decision is when you’ll start getting back to your career after baby’s birth. Even if you are planning to leave your full-time job like I did, treat your time after birth as a proper “maternity leave.” I agreed to give myself 5 months to fully enjoy with baby, and after that picked up my career transition. Keep yourself accountable (and make your partner do it) to this timeframe and don’t push it off if you can help it.

Get Your Support Network On-board

This is the most important piece of advice I can give. Without your support network, this journey will be very tough and very lonely. If you have a partner, make sure they are 100% on-board with your plan, because they will be your cheerleader, crying shoulder, and (likely) provider. They will also need to make many sacrifices to support you in your journey.

I feel more than blessed for my husband, who fully supported me in the transition, comforted me, told me he is proud of me, and lovingly challenged me not to wallow in self-pity. He was the one who told me repeatedly I could get a design gig at 7 months pregnant and to continue networking. He was right.

Announce Your Intent

I didn’t think anyone would be interested in working with a 7-month pregnant lady, but I was wrong. A few former co-workers who just started their own company reached out to me. They knew I was new to the field and about to turn into a pumpkin, but they took a chance on me anyway (for which I am forever grateful). The only reason they knew to reach out was because I was very public about my new transition and career aspirations.

Tell people about your plan on LinkedIn. Meet for coffee with former colleagues and classmates. Tell them you’re interested in work and don’t be shy to ask for a connection or recommendations.

Also, studies show that if you make your intent public, you’re more likely to follow through on it.

Build Your Network

This goes hand-in-hand with the previous point. You want to start building your network before you need a new job. Relationships are like babies — they need 9 months to grow.

Start out by asking your friends and colleagues to connect you to others in their circles who do what you want to do. Take those people out for coffee and ask for advice about how to get into the field, their story, etc. Keep in touch and occasionally update them on your progress. Meet up occasionally. When you’re back from maternity leave, tap these people again and ask them for advice again. This time, ask about job search tactics, companies hiring, types of companies, interview advice, or anyone else they can connect you to. Often, those you’ve built a solid relationship with will offer to help. I would never have been successful without the generosity and help of those I met during that time.

Create Space and Time

As a new mom, you’ll have a lot on your plate, but personal time isn’t one of those things. When you are ready to re-start the career transition, take it easy. At around 3–4 months you can start to network online during nap times. You can even grab coffee close to home and bring baby along. I’ve done that with people I knew would be understanding and it worked well (until baby woke up and stole all the attention with his cuteness).

However, the above tactic will work for only so long. At some point, you will need dedicated time to be able to go out to events and to network. My husband and I invested in full-time daycare, which gave me the ability to focus on building new skills, finding clients and networking. If full-time isn’t an option, you can ask a family member to help watch the baby or get childcare part-time. Alternatively, network when your partner can be home and watch the baby. This is where the 100% buy-in comes in handy. Your partner must be willing to take over baby duty so you can focus.

Prepare for the Roller Coaster and Keep on Keepin’ On

They tell you to prepare for the postpartum emotional roller coaster. Joy one minute, crying the next…

Well, this is pretty similar. One day you’ll feel like you’re making great progress, and the next you’ll be wondering what the hell you’re even doing. This is, sadly and gladly, a normal part of the journey.

I heard the expression “Keep On Keepin’ On” when I started looking for work after maternity leave, and it stuck with me. In the moments when I felt down, I repeated it to myself and it helped me keep going.

I also reminded myself that every great journey begins with small steps, and all I have to do is put one foot in front of the other.

Learn From Your Kid

I am amazed at my son’s persistence and tenaciousness. He came into this world with a few instincts and almost no skills. Now, at 16 months, he’s running around and trying to talk. To get here, he’s taken falls and failed many times. He still does. Watching him is a lovely reminder that we all started at zero and have learned skills by practicing, trying and not giving up.

As I went through my career transition and continue to grow in my new career, my son is a wonderful and joyful source of inspiration. He not only reminds me why I decided to do this, but also that each of us can achieve many things if we’re willing to take a step, fall, stand up and try again.

If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch via comments or in the Contact section of my portfolio (www.aprokhorova.com/contact).