Welcome to the April installment of my series Moms to Marvel. I am regularly sharing a stories from inspiring moms to get unique takes and experiences on balancing life, working and motherhood. Check out previous posts here. If you have a story you want to share, contact me!
Cristin and I met via a mutual friend who astutely observed that we happened to be pregnant/due at the same time, and more importantly, we both were miserable and despised pregnancy beyond description. Thus she concluded we might get along! Turns out that’s a winning formula, I’ve never been set up with such a fabulous friend.
I’m so excited to share this because Cristin tells the story of the decision that I know SO many moms face: to work or not to work? Enjoy her take!
If you would’ve told a younger me that I would be a stay-at-home, mother-of-two, business owner at 29 years old, I would have fallen off my chair.
Growing up, and well into my college and professional years, I was a type-A, corporate-ladder-climbing type of person. I did well in school, worked hard on assignments, and usually led my group projects and assignments by sheer necessity due to my uptight nature. I became a forensic accountant, and later moved to corporate finance, which suited my need for order and structure perfectly.
I was a girl who knew what she wanted and went for it, no matter how crazy or out-of-reach it seemed. When my husband and I were dating, he sat me down one day and told me he was unsure about whether or not marriage was something he wanted any time soon. After quickly reviewing his spotty track record with long relationships that ended up going nowhere, I broke up with him on the spot. Even though we had only been dating for six months, he was shocked by my lack of discussion or ultimatum, apparently impressed by my resolve (which he would later loving call stubbornness) and we started planning our wedding the next week. We lived happily in our tiny San Francisco apartment, thoroughly enjoying dual-income-no-kids status, and making our way up the ladder in our respective companies.
Then I got pregnant.
That year, I was gunning for a promotion, and my pregnancy made it all the more urgent. Despite being incredibly sick for the majority of my pregnancy, I pushed through, worked my tail off at work, and regularly discussed my promotional plan with anyone who would listen to me. I was told it was all but guaranteed. Staying home after my daughter was born just wasn’t an option. I can distinctly remember the moment when my boss called me to tell me our group was being reorganized, and he didn’t know where I would fall out. He said he would do his best, and while he went on and on about how hard it would be for everyone, I sat there holding my colicky, crying baby, knowing this would not end well for me. Two weeks later, I checked my work e-mail to see an announcement to the group that the promotion role was being filled by an external male candidate with fewer qualifications than I had for the role. I was never even given a courtesy call to inform me that I didn’t get the job, I just ended up on an org chart later at my same level.
At that point, my husband and I began discussing our options. I would continue to search for a new job within my company, but given the amount of reorganizations happening, we knew it would be a long shot. I wasn’t prepared to go to another company just yet, because my current one was so friendly to mothers (in comparison to the Bay Area tech world), and I was a trusted and valued employee who could demand more flexibility. Over the next few months, we started discussing me staying at home. My husband works a ton of hours, and the thought of starting a new job, and then having to be a full-time solo-parent at night and in the mornings seemed impossible for us to manage. Add to that the cost of daycare, and without a title change and raise, I would basically be breaking even.
A few weeks before I was supposed to go back, we made our final decision, I would stay home. We had said this was going to be temporary, 6 months at most before we re-evaluated. I would still pursue other jobs and wait until I found one that would work for our family. Those six months were some of the hardest in my life and my marriage. My husband was working around the clock to make up for the generous paternity leave he took (12 weeks!) and get promoted, and I was alone at home with a colicky baby. The friends I had made on maternity leave had all gone back to work or moved out of the city to somewhere more affordable, and I felt like I didn’t fit in anywhere. I never saw my working mom friends, since weekends were sacred family time to all of us, and I didn’t have a solid group of stay-at-home mom friends just yet.
I started going to mommy groups and trying to meet people, but everyone just seemed so different than me. They loved being mothers and thrived on housework and activities for their kids, where I just tolerated them. I loved my baby, of course, but I was not exactly the ‘mothering type’ before having her, and it took me a long time to enjoy motherhood. At the same time, I was getting job opportunities, but while they were close to what I wanted, including a few that would give me that promotion I had craved, they weren’t right for our family.
It was at this low point, right around the six month mark, in November, when Martha asked me to take her family pictures based on my previous experience. I had a photography business that I had started in 2012 and done on the side with my regular job for a few years. It fell by the wayside when I became so sick with my pregnancy, and eventually, I felt like it wasn’t worth saving. When Martha asked, I was hesitant because I was a little out of practice, but I was doing it for free, and she just wanted one for her Christmas card, so what was the big deal?
As it turns out, it was a big deal.
That shoot changed my trajectory for the next year, and hopefully for many years to come. I finally felt like me again. I was doing something I loved, by myself, without my kid attached to my hip, and I was actually still decent at it. That night, I went home and immediately began planning my comeback. As anyone who knows me will tell you, when I get an idea in my head, I can’t stop until it’s complete, and I didn’t. Within two months I had a brand new website, had taken a few classes to brush up my skills, and had created financial and growth goals for my next year in business. I sent out an e-mail to my close friends asking if anyone would be interested in having a discounted session with my to fill my portfolio with my new skills and areas of focus, and within 24 hours the majority of the spots were filled. The next day, I remember sitting at my computer with happy tears in my eyes (I’m a crier, it is what it is) that I had such a positive response.
Now I’m nine months into my newly revived business and I’m proud to say that I hit all of my financial and growth goals within my first six months. I love what I do, and it’s breathed new life into my role as a mother.
Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not all butterflies and rainbows around here. I’m very much torn between the two worlds. Sure, I bring home extra income to my family, and I have responsibilities, but I can’t claim the struggle of getting my kid ready for daycare, going to a day full of meetings with a boss or a company that I may or may not like, rushing to finish my work to pick up my kid in time to get them home and ready for daycare the next day, finishing my work in the evening and then doing it all again. I don’t face discrimination at my job because I’m a mother, and I can take unlimited PTO days and sick days when my kid or I are sick. Oh, and I almost never had to pump, despite breastfeeding my daughter for over a year. For as much as I hated pumping, that fact alone may have kept me from going back to work.
I also don’t quite fit in with the stay-at-home-moms. The women I met tend to have packed schedules for their little ones where they leave early in the morning in full hair and make-up, and only come back to re-stock supplies or for nap time. They try, but often don’t understand why I need to stay home for half the day to do dishes, laundry or clean, and while they would never say it or maybe even think it, I always feel like a mess when I show up with no make-up, in whatever clean clothes I can find, usually late.
Nap-times are for working on client galleries, marketing, answering e-mails, and editing. That means that the rest of my day is split between errands, housekeeping, and my daughter’s needs. If I can get to the park once a day, I’m feeling pretty good.
I even asked my pediatrician what the minimum amount of time I could be outside with my kid was, which, for a person like me, felt like putting my old self in a coffin, never to be seen again.
Minimums are not my thing. Well, they weren’t my thing. Now I constantly find myself trying to figure out the minimum amount of make-up, laundry, cleaning, and work I can do in order to give the maximum to my child and my business. That usually means my house is a disaster, and my face and hair are hidden under a hat, but I’ve become strangely okay with it.
On the flip side, I get the benefits of being a working mom, without many of the sacrifices, and I get the benefits of being a stay-at-home-mom, without a lot of the isolation that I felt before. I get to spend the day with my daughter, attend music classes or swim lessons on a random weekday morning and I’ve finally found a few fellow moms, most of whom happen to work part time or own their own businesses too, that I can hang out with once a week and rely on.
It’s also allowed me the flexibility to pull back when I needed to. The fall and winter are the busiest times for photographers, and it happened to be the time when my body decided it was time for another demon parasite baby. This last time around, I was officially diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum (if you want to know more about it, please read Martha’s series!), and it’s been a tough go. I was on bed rest for a few weeks, which luckily coincided with a time when I had a break in clients, so I didn’t need to cancel on anyone. I was able to hobble together a few marketing posts and keep my fall prospective clients happy and moving along from bed. Once I started to get back to a semi-functional state, I moved the dates for a few of my clients, but pushed through sessions with my maternity and newborn clients, since their sessions can’t really be rescheduled.
There have been nights when I sit on my computer, staring at the screen at 10 pm through teary eyes after a long day of vomiting and baby-care, with my husband still not home from work, and wonder why the hell I’m still working. Then I turn on my girl-power playlist with the likes of “Run the World” by Beyoncé, and “Endangered Species” by Dianne Reeves, and I push through it, because I need this job more than I ever thought I would. It was hard to let some of the newly minted goals I made when I achieved my first round get dusty while I took care of my body, my growing baby, and my active toddler, but I pushed through it, and now I’m just finishing up my maternity leave, still with a thriving business, and larger, thriving family.
I don’t know what the future holds for my business, but I’m happy to know that when my kids go to school, and when they leave the nest many years from now, I will be able to have a set of skills to rely on, and an established business that I can ramp up or down based on my needs, the needs of my family, and the demands of the marketplace.
I’m still not the mothering type, but now that I’m finally doing justice to that piece of me that craves professional development, I’m happier with the title of mother, and I no longer correct people when they call me a stay-at-home mom. Stay-at-home mom, working-mom, entrepreneur, working-part-time-when-I-feel-like-it mom, you call me whatever you want. Whatever I am, it’s working for us, and right
now, that’s all I could ask for.
Anyone else ready to throw in the towel on corporate mumbo-jumbo and pursue monetizing their personal craft? I’d do it in a heartbeat if only I had the guts… and some talent.
Cristin is a Bay Area photographer, and lucky for you she is just wrapping up maternity leave from baby #2. You can follow her on instagram at @cristinmorephoto or check out her website and blog, www.cristinmorephotography.com.
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Photos by Cristin More and Anita Martin