By Leanna De La Torre, AIA and architect at Humphries Poli Architects
The transition to motherhood was an uncertain one. There’s no way to really know what working will be like once you become a mother. Would I even want to go back to work? Would I feel like I was missing out on being with the baby if I did? Or would I be going stir crazy at home, desperate to return to my normal life with adult conversations?
I was lucky with my situation; while paid leave was not in the cards for me, I did have the opportunity to take three months off work, receiving short term disability for a period of that time. I can’t even begin to fathom going back to work right away after having children. The physical and mental exhaustion of parenting is something you can only know after going through it, and that’s not even mentioning the recovery process after giving birth. However, with three months at home, I’ll admit, I was getting a little restless. There’s almost a bit of jealousy that forms with others close to you in that they can continue with their lives how they used to be, even your spouse, who may not have been able to take parental leave. Let’s just say, as much as I enjoyed having the time to figure out this parenting thing, I was missing a bit of my old life.
I was also lucky in my return to work. I had the opportunity to return part-time; which, in my opinion, was getting the best of both worlds. I was, and still am, able to spend time with my daughter; enough to where I don’t feel like I am missing out on her life. However, I also get 20 wonderful hours a week where I just get to be me – not permanently attached to a tiny human who is dependent on me for everything. I can get a cup of coffee and enjoy it throughout the morning. I can take bathroom breaks when I feel like it and eat my lunch in peace (or work while working as the case may be). Motherhood is exhausting, and it is nice to take a break from it.
The most challenging part, at least for me, is pumping. I’ve chosen to continue breastfeeding after returning to work, which comes with the not-so-pleasant task of finding time to sit and pump throughout the day. In general, this is a fairly easy routine to stick to. In my office, I even have a room to use where I can bring my laptop and continue working. Deadlines are another issue. As anyone in the architectural profession can attest to, more often than not, with a deadline approaching, an extra effort is usually required. In what is often a rushed final push, it is hard to find time to step away. This is compounded by the fact that in this profession, work is almost never solitary. Therefore, sequestering yourself in a room for 30-40 minutes, unable to converse and strategize with coworkers can dramatically cut down your productivity. This generally means that the deadlines win out, and pumping gets put on hold, hopefully not too painfully.
Another challenge with the design professions, are the inconsistent hours. While architecture is typically an eight-to-five job, as projects come and go so does the need to work a bit extra to accomplish certain tasks. When everyone is counted on to pitch in and get the tasks completed in time, striking that balance can be difficult. However, even as a part time working parent child care creates an obstacle. Unless you are lucky enough to have a support system with a complete flexible schedule, this can create issues. Our nanny works from 8:30 to 5:30, which means no matter what, either my husband or I need stick around in the morning until she arrives, then make sure we are home in time to relieve her. My husband and I have set a schedule where we can make this work, accounting for the occasional scheduling conflict, but it always means that he will be late to work, and I will have to leave early. Unfortunately, this also means passing on most off-the-clock office bonding time. It can feel like you are disconnected from your coworkers at times, especially when you are only part-time.
The last issue that I feel should be addressed is finding time for all the other aspects of life. If I was working full-time, I have no idea when we’d get groceries, clean the house, cook meals and make the never-ending Target runs. Not to mention the other sorts of semi-chore/semi-pleasure activities, like working out, reading books or taking the dog for a walk. Even basic self-care (nail trimming, haircuts, dental appointments, etc.) is its own challenge. To all families with two working parents, I applaud you. I simply don’t know how you do it.
In going back and reading my ramblings and realize having a baby doesn’t sound all that appealing for a working professional. However, amidst all the sacrifices and exhaustion there are so many rewards. The days I get to be home with my daughter are invaluable to me. I get to be the one to teach her, and play with her, to see her laughs, frustrations, her new discoveries and everything in between. It is such an amazing opportunity that I wouldn’t trade for the world. And, I really do feel that I get the best of both worlds, in that while I get to share those wonderful days experiencing motherhood and all it has to offer, I also get time to just be me. I get dressed, get out of the house and go to my job. I get to interact with my coworkers, and have a sense of normalcy. Fortunately, I’m lucky enough to do what I love, I get to work on unique projects every day, designing, detailing and working on what excites and interests me.
Architecture and motherhood may not be a match made in heaven, but if you can find a balance, it can be a very rewarding life.