Working Parenthood: Being two places at once

By Marissa Bowman

I gave birth to my firstborn over a year and a half ago. I led Customer Success at a startup, working and commuting into San Francisco through 36 weeks of my pregnancy. I soaked up as much information and advice to carry me through this big transitional time as I could. I had 3 months of paid maternity leave as my company’s first expecting mother. I felt ready.

Anyone that knows me well knows that I love to work and I pride myself on my career and my network. When I came out of recovery and the newborn care fog called sleep deprivation, I faced the reality that the clock was ticking toward the day I would “go back to work”. Holding my precious son close was a gift. Figuring out parenthood with my partner was a thrill. Entering motherhood was an honor above everything else in my life. I never thought I’d think twice when it came to re-entering the workforce. I had the privilege of making the choice to go back to work when that clock was up and I was 100% torn.

I thought I was ready to face the transitional phase known as the 4th trimester, the three postpartum months after birth. I had a generous parental leave that was respected by my employer. No, I was not checking email or fielding the occasional fire drill. I was focused on my baby boy and adjusting to my new identity as a mother. I had every intention of going back to work, yet I found myself researching how to negotiate more leave. I wondered how long I could manage to be the primary care provider for my son, paid or unpaid. I missed my work friends and a hot, casual lunch. I longed for a project or two outside of managing our compostable diaper service, doing community organizing work and going to mom and baby yoga to keep busy. When I managed to leave my baby for more than an hour for a well deserved break, I became anxious and felt like I needed to be two places at once. If I felt that way while getting a manicure and running a quick errand, how would I be able to re-insert myself into a demanding job?

Who would I leave my son with (and why the hell is care so expensive in the Bay)? Can I take a year or so off to raise my son under my direct care? Should I pursue a different company or role? Can I handle dealing with customers and managing a team while being away from my baby? Is it worth it to try? I called the working moms I knew well to find out more about what it’d be like to manage work and still be all in with my family. I devoured blogs and books during nap times. My partner and I had long conversations batting around pros and cons. I extended my parental leave (unpaid) by a few weeks to make the right call for my family. Again, I was more torn than I’d ever expected. Why couldn’t I just be two places at once?

After a year + of reflection, here’s why I re-entered the workforce:

  • I want my son to see women like me in the workplace- in positions of power and in board rooms. Going “back to work” was a power move. I didn’t want to have to “slow down” my career as a result of my motherhood. If I showed up, I may be able to help other women and other mothers show up alongside me. I have every reason to believe that sharing my experience and building out my career journey benefits those who follow in my footsteps.

  • Taking “a break” to be a stay at home mom was not appealing to me (even though I thought becoming a SAHM was the answer at times). I knew I wanted to work whether Atlas was 3 months, 6 months, 18 months or 36 months. The question wasn’t really if or when, but how. How was I going to show up as a working parent? How was I was going to make the most of my contribution at work knowing so much precious time was on the line now that I was physically away from my son? How was I going to partner with our care provider(s) to give Atlas the best experience whether I was there most of the day or not? These questions were overwhelming at first, but helped me double down on “the how”.

  • Financial Stability- my partner and I celebrate the fact that I'm the breadwinner in our household. Continuing on my career journey unlocks opportunity both in the short and long term. We took our first trip to Jackson Hole with a 6 month old. I went skiing for the first time and we had the opportunity to visit a special colleague and his family. I can't say we would have [comfortably] had that experience had I not been back at work.

  • The “Lifetime Value” of my career was a key driver for me post-parental leave- a concept that resonated with me from Labor Force by Vivienne Wei, a mother of 2 and Salesforce employee. At the time, I wasn’t thinking about savings, benefits and retirement. The calculated long term visioning really helped.

  • I realized that my son will be in pre-school when he is between 2 and 3 years old and then quickly in TK and Kindergarten. Having my own thing, my career, was highly desirable a few years out even though it may have been difficult out of the gate. Again, that long term view helped me rationalize re-inserting myself.

A few of the common questions I heard when I first re-entered:

How hard was it to leave Atlas?

  • Of course it was not easy. My mom dropped everything to look after my son the first week I went back. I’ll never forget being packed up, waiting for my Lyft and looking over at her. She was holding him with loving care and said “Just go”. She was the ultimate role model for me of a working mom that prioritized motherhood but isn’t afraid to hustle. My goal the first few weeks was literally to just make it to the train into the city- that was the hard part. Setting micro goals made it all possible.

Are you back part time?

  • Nope. I am transitioning back into my full time role (with a smile). Reducing my work hours was a welcomed option. I personally wanted to attempt a full time schedule before I made a decision to make significant changes to my hours and pay.

Can you work from home more? Why don’t you?

  • Being back at work means showing up everyday with all I’ve got. Yes, I can work from home. Now that I’m a mom, I actually prefer to be in the office. Partly to be fully present and to get to know my team members. Partly because people need to SEE me. Representation Matters.

How do you manage pumping at work?

  • I added in tons of discipline to a demanding schedule. I pumped three times a day for at least 5 months- mind you, I was the only woman in my office using the pumping room. It was stretching, quite possibly the toughest thing to manage in my transition back. I had to step out of a few meetings here and there, but I always had my calendar blocked and took it seriously. I wasn’t afraid to cut a conversation and say “I’m sorry. I have to go pump right now.” It was my chance to normalize it. I'd use the time to get back in touch with myself and eat a snack and/or check in with my care provider on my little one. This topic is so near and dear.... I think I know my next article topic!

What is the biggest change you’ve noticed after coming “back to work”?

  • Hyper focus. The workplace I went back to was pretty much the same after 3.5 months, but I was different. I was more organized, moved with more urgency and ruthlessly prioritized. Dealing with major issues no longer made me anxious or nervous. I trusted my instincts and judgment more than ever. Integrity and impact became everything. I was able to thrive with a real sense of the value of my time. Most importantly, I gained a super power to quickly “turn it off” when I go offline.

The morning of my first day back. Atlas was 3.5 months old. Keep in mind I was still waking up to nurse through the night!

We recently celebrated my son’s 18 month milestone. I now work at Quip, a Salesforce company, an environment where woman thrive and where parents thrive. I look back on my decision to go back to work and I can honestly say it was worth it. It is worth it to be the working mom that I am, building my family and my career. It is way more challenging that I ever expected to manage the daily juggle and to be “on” most of waking hours. I constantly remind myself of those early days that felt so much like survival to keep myself grounded. I also feel a deep sense of accomplishment and pride from my decision(s). My hope is that a parent in that “survival phase” can read this and know the “thrive phase” is coming. We may not be able to exactly be two places at once, but we can be amazing and present parents with kick ass (and guilt free) jobs. It’s about how we show up in the one place we find ourselves blessed to be in.

One of my newfound passions is supporting new parents in their journey, working or not. One of the reasons I put my experience to paper is that I was searching for validation and connection when I was wrestling with re-entering. So if I can be helpful in any way, please do not hesitate to reach out. My family and I are here to listen and/or help.