What Does Equity Look Like for Working Women Who Choose Parenthood? (5 things I’ve discovered while being self-employed and pregnant)

1.      There is no advice.

If you’re interested in my initial reactions to being pregnant, I posted a poem about it on my personal site here. After the initial flood of emotions and thoughts my first clear question was, “How do women who run their own businesses navigate pregnancy?” It took me about an hour of google searching to find one site. In hindsight, this might have been because I was looking for a specific type of women. I wasn’t interested in mommy-bloggers and crafters, who are entrepreneurs as well! I was looking for women who owned service based companies, like Via Arts. How had they told potential clients? How had they navigated meetings? What about maternity leave?
The essence of what I found was silence. As in, stay silent, pretend it’s not happening, don’t let anyone know until it’s obvious.
I blew up this advice when I was about 10 weeks pregnant and had my first onset of morning sickness while away for a conference. My husband’s advice was, “Just say you’re nauseous.” My vehement response was that, “No one wants someone who is about to vomit to teach a workshop!” I finally decided to tell the organizer of the conference that I was pregnant, experiencing morning sickness, and would be leaving after facilitating my workshop. She was kind, but overall unfazed- which was exactly what I (didn’t realize) I wanted.
Telling women to hide pregnancy or act as though it doesn’t impact them, might have suited someone along the line- but it’s not a healthy way to embrace humans as they are. In short, silence is poo.

 

2.      …Unless someone wants you to BE them

In this same vein I have received many pieces of advice.

Thoughts like:

 “This won’t change anything or slow you down, you can teach the day after you have the baby.”

“I had my newborn at work within two days of giving birth.”

“You don’t need a maternity break! You can hop right back in.”

While some of this was in jest, I don’t believe most was. There’s also the opposite, women who tell me how I won’t want to work after I give birth. Or ask why I'm not converting my home office into a nursery.
As a society, we have really touted this narrative that motherhood will consume ‘weak’ women or barely impact ‘strong’ women. I believe neither to be true. My pregnancy has definitely impacted me, I expect that my birth and crash course in parenthood will as well. That is, in its simplest form, part of life. Most importantly, I’m not interested in contributing my story to a culture that shames humans for being humans if that impacts their work. This is also poo.

 

3.      We identify either “mother” or “worker” as central rather than treating both as roles.

I am large, I contain multitudes.
— Walt Whitman

There are many parts of me that I would consider essential. Being Black, being a woman, being a sister, being an artist, being a partner, being a business owner. I am now adding a role to that core, expectant mother. However the term “working mothers” sets up a dichotomy that plays out in all workplaces. Some women may be working jobs that are not part of their core, for them the phrase “working mother” might suit. For me, however, the phrase bristles. I feel as though the rest of my core is being exchanged and is now solely relegated to my association to my child. The assumption being my role as someone who works is secondary to my “true core” as a mother. That doesn’t sit right with me.

Don’t get me wrong- I AM EXCITED TO BE A MOM!

I am also excited that this company I have spent three and half years of my life building is going well. I love my work and find purpose and connection in it. I hope to share my work with my child the way I share it with my partner, friends, and family. It is an essential part of me.

As a theatre person I tend to think of roles and the actor. One actor may play many different roles, all a part of them- none all of them. None of my parts (black, woman, sister, artist, partner, business owner, mother) define the whole of me. I am not taking away from Kristianna to become “Mother”, I am adding the role of mother to the person, Kristianna.

 

4.      Inclusion is rarely seen in tandem with redesigning (even though we must redesign in order to include)

For the ease of men, we have built a world where the elderly, the young, and women are not allowed unless they play by a certain set of rules.  I’m privy to many conversations about equity. While it is refreshing to be in spaces that provide food and childcare the space itself has not changed. There’s usually a focus on silence and stillness, one speaker at the head of room, a room of chairs directed towards that one speaker. All of the physical cues of space which maintain, “This is how things are done.” The thought process being that “taking care of distractions” (like hunger and children) will allow the room to maintain its historic equilibrium.

Is that what we think inclusion is?

Pregnancy and parenthood force flexibility onto parents. Why is this not seen as an AMAZING asset for the workplace? In a time where we are becoming intimately aware of the need for adaptive strategies, why are we not harnessing the knowledge being given to childbearing, child-preparing, and child-rearing folk? Why are we not having open conversations about how business meetings should be structured if children are present? How can our work environment function more fluidly so that one person’s absence/presence doesn’t disrupt the entire system? Nature has provided us with an amazing opportunity! Think about it, a meeting that is able to entertain and involve a 5 year old will probably be more productive and interesting for the adults in the room as well. (Obviously, I’m biased to the idea of incorporating work and play) How do we re-envision the board meeting so that if it was filled with kids- we are able to encourage both current and future collaboration? Not every parent may want to work next to their child, but some will- how do we create new spaces that truly include them? Parents in the workforce are providing every workplace with the opportunity to reinvent themselves for tomorrow- it is a shame that so few fail to pilot new programs in favor for a status quo.

 

5.      In a world where women are encouraged to define their own way, I still struggle with motherhood being an opportunity rather than an obstacle.

 Being pregnant is still seen as a backwards step for MANY women. What an absolute shame this is! 
Being pregnant has made me better at my work. 100%. For me, pregnancy has come with an intricate set of vulnerabilities and boundaries that my pre-pregnant-self interpreted as “things to push through.” However, there was no “pushing through” the fatigue of my first trimester or the nausea that accompanied it. There was little ability to “deal with” the needs of others when I wasn’t prioritizing a healthy self-care (simple things like eating regularly, drinking water, taking breaks).
I was quickly forced to take care of my needs before entering a room. Which meant every space I went into I was present. I have been able to see a wider range of needs, and readjust my plans with an open mind- rather than frustration. There is no doubt in my mind that pregnancy has furthered my commitment to my work, and deepened my ability to do the work well.

Yet, my largest critic is the voice in my head that says it’s irresponsible to be both mother and business owner.

I am still nervous to say no to projects that occur on my due date for fear of being seen as weak or having poor commitment. I have fear about being open about my maternity leave, lest my attempt to bond with my child is seen as putting my career on the backburner. I look around me and think “the only way to move forward is to mimic the choices of those around me.”
In a world where I believe we can all build a more creative and liberated path for ourselves, my inner critics try to convince me that motherhood may be taking from me, rather than giving to me. It is a voice I believe most women who work and raise children experience. It is a difficult voice to overcome.

BONUS: There are more people willing to change than ready to stagnate!

While this has been my journey, I see the tides shifting. I see more dads with toddlers, more breastfeeding mothers, and more children at the meeting. I believe that my pregnancy is in the midst of a changing world, and I am so excited to take the next steps with you all!

I will be taking my maternity leave from May 25th, 2018 until the middle of August. I will be occasionally checking email and look forward to the partnerships and projects we will be building together in the Fall and beyond!

 

Cheers!

Kristianna