Welcome to the 3rd installment of my series Moms to Marvel. Each month I am sharing a story from an inspiring mom to get her take and experience on balancing working and motherhood. Check out previous posts here. If you have a story you want to share, or just want to pontificate about this topic with the rest of us, contact me!
I’m so excited to introduce you to Gillian. Our mom friendship kicked off in birth class in San Francisco. Natural-birth class, that is, because we were both into that sort of thing. (Story for another day!) We happened to live within less than a mile of each other, and our due dates were ~10 days apart. And after watching numerous VHS tapes of women from the late 1970’s giving birth, we were bonded for life.
Gillian was such an amazing inspiration for me, as I felt we were both struggling with the same silliness that is becoming a parent in the heart of a not so baby-friendly city. She was a fellow Bay Area transplant trying to figure out where to physically fit a baby in a few hundred square feet of living space, while also figuring out how to mentally fit a baby into a career identity that is completely intertwined with the booming tech and innovation culture of San Francisco. She became a shoulder to lean on when my other (very dear, wonderful but childless) friends in the city didn’t quite understand why I couldn’t and didn’t want to be out and about for last minute brunches or adventures. We’d walk our girls around Grace Cathedral or go to mom groups together. Along the way we’d brainstorm new business ideas– right after mulling how to get our babies to sleep, for the love of God.
Now Gillian and her adorable family are living a wild new dream, partially born from her working mom journey. They’ve gone on hiatus from the Bay, in pretty much the most fabulous and authentic way possible. You are absolutely going to want to follow this lady on the road (I’ll tell you how at the end)– so without further ado, meet Gillian:
I am/was/will be a working mom. Right now, though, I’m a working mom on hiatus. I’m traveling the country in a teeny tiny space with a toddler. Why? Maybe I am an extreme masochist. But here’s the thing: That’s how I felt before I left on this trip.
My whole life, I’ve been your stereotypical Type-A, career-focused, often selfish and self-centered kinda gal. If you asked me two months before we (purposefully) conceived our daughter, I probably would have told you I didn’t know if I wanted to have kids. And the truth is, in theory I did want to have kids. But I didn’t think it was possible to have both a successful career and functional family life (read: kids who don’t want to murder you, continued loving relationship with the father of said kids). And please don’t tell me to “Lean In.” I’m way the fuck leaned in.
And then… I got pregnant. I thought it would take some time to happen, that I would have time to “adjust” to the idea of being a mom. But, low and behold… I got pregnant on the first try. No time to get comfortable with the idea, only time to Google “What to do when you find out you are pregnant.”
Being pregnant at work was THE WORST. As someone who usually regaled herself as “one of the guys,” my growing midsection was a clear sign that I was biologically tagged differently than said co-workers. People started asking me what I “needed.” And, aside from a frequent urge to use the bathroom and keep strong smells away from my desk, I had no idea. I worked at a tech company in the Bay Area, so this is admittedly not the best and not the worst place to be pregnant (hello, mommy track!). I was the first of what felt like a “class” of women about to have children, and as such people were trying to get a read on me. I felt like questions about how much time I was planning on taking off were actually veiled attempts to see if I was coming back. I felt like my work environment shifted dramatically, like I’d lost control of my career and had no idea how to get it back. I was advised by a mentor to just take the time to have a peaceful pregnancy, and leave it at that. So I tried.
I had my daughter, Avery, 3 weeks early. I literally went into labor the morning after I started my maternity leave. So, again… no time to prepare. Then, she was in the NICU for the first 8 days of her life. For most of that time I think I was keeping some emotional distance between her and I, protecting myself from getting too close or too attached in case something horrible happened.
And here is where I got my wake up call: this is what matters in life. Not how I get promoted. Not how I get assigned a cool project, or make sure a higher-up notices me.
I could be up all night answering email, the first to get into the office in the morning and the last to leave — but why? I wasn’t helping anyone, I felt like I didn’t have a purpose anymore at work. Especially not compared to the extreme, overwhelming sense of purpose I felt at home. Post-NICU, I needed more time to bond with my new baby and break down those barriers I had put up initially. To top it off, my daughter had a mysterious, extreme and scary case of bloody poo right when I went back to work. Cue: mom guilt. I went down to eating just five foods for two months. Doctors were convinced it was something I was eating. It wasn’t. Baby girl became dangerously anemic and I stepped back out of work for a few weeks.
After the second leave I switched jobs, hoping for a fresh start in a more flexible environment that was less about “face time.”
My hours changed. My peer set shifted. On paper, I got what I wanted. And still, something wasn’t working.
I had gone from pumping in a plush mom’s room with my own chair, fridge and schedule, to pumping in a freezing cold server room, kicking out the occasional curious engineer (points at pump: “what is that thing, anyway?”) And at first it was great — with no other moms in the office, I didn’t have to compete for a spot in said mom’s room. But over time I realized I needed those other moms. I needed someone to know in one look that I didn’t sleep the night before because of a sick/teething/regular baby, or someone to sit with in silence at lunch. Instead, I became an alien–or at least felt like one– in a sea of happy-hour-going 20-somethings. I didn’t miss a pumping session, and I didn’t miss a meeting. I started a LeanIn circle. I was pushing too hard on the gas at a time when I needed to back-off.
To add to the chaos, my childcare situation at home was…inconsistent. Thanks to a most gnarly flu season and poor planning by the CDC, my nanny got sick frequently and to the point she was almost entirely unreliable. Most days, my husband and I had no idea whether or not we’d have childcare for the following day. We compared calendars, split days, and worked from home. In a dual income household with a small child, both working parents can’t be stepping on the gas at the same time. It doesn’t work. My feminist ideology raged: Why should I be the one to have to back off?! Equal partnership, equal parenting!
In retrospect, as someone who has suffered from anxiety since adolescence, I should have seen this coming. I should have recognized the signs, but instead convinced myself I was okay. I was clearly not okay. And that is precisely what I said to my husband one morning on our co-commute to work:
I am not okay.
Those four words set off a longer conversation, and we decided to take time off of work to travel together as a family — something my husband and I had been promising each other we would do since we started dating almost nine years ago. I realized I needed to be more mindful, more purposeful of how I thought about creating a career and family life… but I had no idea where to start. Maybe I needed a huge overhaul, but maybe I could just make a few minor adjustments. Either way, I needed a break from The Bubble of the Bay Area and a reality check.
We spent a month planning the trip, with longer stops built in for extended visits with family so they could get to know Avery (we live far from most of our immediate family). Being the type-A mom, I researched our safest options for living and traveling on the road and settled on getting an Airstream trailer (fun fact: RV’s are not crash-tested. The safest place for kiddos is in the car, in their carseat). We bought a 1973 Airstream and had it completely remodeled, including building a pull-out bed for Avery in the bedroom. After more than two months on the road, we feel like we’ve come a long way but we still have more growing to do individually and as a family.
So instead of worrying about who will fill in for the sick nanny or how we will balance childcare for competing corporate offsites, I am crammed into 170 square feet with my toddler and husband. For now, I get to enjoy her growing up, practicing her words, watching her imagination start to take off. For now, I get to be in between being a stay-at-home mom and career mom. For now, I get to pretend like I don’t have to choose between working and being a mom. But, I’m scared. Not too far ahead lies my reality. And I am not sure yet what that will look like.
Anyone else ready to jump in an RV and blaze around the country? Forget the scenery- she’s clearly discovering something way more important. If you want to follow Gillian and her family, they can be found at Rubber, Road, Abode, and also on Instagram, @rubberroadabode.
Photographs provided courtesy of Gillian MacMannis
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