Now that you’re hopefully through the worst of morning sickness and are feeling physically good again, you might want to start thinking about the bigger picture of your social networks and support system.
No, we haven’t gone all soft in thinking that just because you’re pregnant you will need support. Rather, in our (admittedly rather unscientific) observations, it’s often the steely, determined go-getter career woman that’s most knocked down by the change that a new baby brings to her life.
There are a lot of logical reasons for this. For starters, people who are very invested in their careers are usually used to having a lot of control — both over what they do and how people perceive them (because they tend to consistently deliver, among other reasons). Also, to state the obvious, career-oriented people tend to invest in their professional and social networks in a way that prioritizes, well, their career. As in, not-their-bigger-picture-identities.
In other words, if you’re a woman plugging away at her career in consulting, you may have previously prioritized building relationships with the partner in the practice group you’re interested in pursuing. Or perhaps you’re doing the same thing on Wall Street or in a law firm. What you may not have done is looked at who in these roles a few years ahead of you has a family and, in particular, is a mother.
While we’re not saying you need to develop a network of female supporters and mentors, we are saying that it can’t hurt. Having a baby, especially as a working mom, can be an isolating experience, particularly if you are one of the first in your environment or cohort of friends to do it.
Georgene, our co-founder, was sort of right in the middle of the pack of her college and law school friends in terms of having a baby. However, many of her friends who already did have children were either becoming stay-at-home moms or didn’t plan on having very ambitious careers. So, while her girlfriends were great about supporting her with baby sleep training advice and moral support during the trials of breastfeeding, she didn’t have anyone to talk to about what she should do at work.
In hindsight, she realizes that she probably didn’t take time to cultivate a professional network that included enough working moms. Because she worked in financial services, many of her colleagues and contacts were men, and she found it harder after she had a baby to keep in touch with people she used to see after work for drinks. She had a baby to go home to and she felt like she lost touch for a couple years with some of her relationships.
Romy, our other co-founder, joined a digital community that hosted in person meet-ups in her neighborhood and was so so grateful to have it. Romy is a full-blown extrovert, and since she was used to spending the day around other people, when she found herself alone with her baby, she felt terribly isolated. She was so glad to find a group of great women who were literally in exactly the same situation in which she found herself.
She still remembers the comfort she found when she and the other highly accomplished yet intensely sleep-deprived moms had a lengthy discussion about whether diaper flaps are meant to stick out or be tucked in. (We won’t keep you in suspense... they are supposed to stick out.) Romy is still very close with those moms and to this day couldn’t get by without their advice and support.
Anny Bezilla of Pittsburgh talks about how important her colleagues who are moms have become for her. She says:
Grabbing coffee together while venting about the rough night you had with the baby with another mommy who is in your shoes makes life easier. You are both exhausted, and in the trenches providing for your family... You can grab lunch together and reminisce about the fun weekend you had with your kids that was way too short, as always. You can push each other to achieve your goals even when the going gets tough. Sometimes coworkers can turn into amazing friends.
Just be aware that it takes time to build authentic relationships. Some women will be more open to it — and have more time for it — than others. Asking someone you admire to coffee or sending them an email to ask them a question or share your worries about having a baby at your company is a good way to start to build a relationship.
Sometimes employers have employee resource groups for parents, as well as for women. You may be able to meet other like-minded people this way internally if you aren’t sure where to begin. Looking outside your company is also perfectly fine. While it may seem counterintuitive to go out there and try to network at a time when most people expect you to head straight home to nest after work, if you’re feeling physically up to it, there’s no reason not to expand your relationships while you’re pregnant.
There are also plenty of digital groups on Facebook or other online communities where you may find the support you might need in the months (and years) ahead. Juggling your competing priorities and identities isn’t easy but others are going through (or have gone through) what you’re about to, so there’s no need to re-invent the wheel.
Connecting with other working moms and hearing how they’re managing can make things feel just a little bit easier. There’s no better time to start than the present!