Motherhood as Mentoring in Business and at Work
As I browsed my Droid after our family Mother’s Day brunch today, I saw this Facebook post from my friend and colleague Rhea Drysdale, nearly 9 months pregnant, CEO of Outspoken Media and recent 40 Under 40 recipient:
In honor of Mother’s Day, my kid decided to come early. Pretty sure this is happening. Contractions are about 5-6 mins apart, water broke, and some other pre-labor stuff I won’t go into. I still have six proposals to finish… Hahaha. I know I’m thinking about work, but I’m calm.
I saw Rhea last Thursday from a distance at the 40 Under 40 Luncheon, but we did not connect. She connected with me later on Facebook:
Deb, I saw you, but I had to run off to the bathroom (I live there these days). Wish we had a chance to chat.
No worries – been there, done that, my friend – never had to go on stage at 8 months though, completely understandable! We’ll catch up soon – can’t wait to meet the little man!
12 years ago, I was nearly 8 months pregnant with my own little man. I was older than Rhea is now, and had not achieved, career-wise, what Rhea has already achieved at the age of 30. But this is not a competition, or a race, for that matter. Joel and I are quintessential late-bloomers, and proud of it – no wine, career, business or parent before its time. ( I can still hear Orson Welles’ sonorous voice from wine commercials from my own childhood – remember those?) Bottom line, we started later because we waited until we felt ready to be parents – a late-bloomer theme for us. We married later in life, and we were married nine years before our son Noah was born.
Because we started later, in the wisdom borne by hindsight, my fertility was winding down and therefore had its limits. We had no problem conceiving, only sustaining. We went through nearly 3 years of false starts and several miscarriages, including two early second-trimester losses, and I didn’t miss a step, work-wise – work actually kept me going, and surprisingly centered. Since I had reached a few key personal milestones in my career, I saw the path to motherhood as just another career challenge.
The condescending nurse at the fertility doctor’s office was certainly not the first person in my goal path to tell me that I couldn’t achieve my goal. That’s a career theme with me, too: throw down the gauntlet and just try to discourage me from pursuing a goal driven by my commitment and passion, and I will eventually find a way to do it, with energy renewed and fired up by that gauntlet. Don’t kid yourself – I white-knuckled my way through the grief over those pregnancy losses and the physical challenges of that time period, and waited to exhale after certain blessed milestones during Noah’s pregnancy, which we had decided would be our last try: the morning sickness during the first trimester that had not been present during any prior pregnancy, a good omen for a good pregnancy; making it to week 20; and the weekly chance to see Noah grow via ultrasound until I could consistently feel him moving around, the kind recommendation of my doctor so that I would know that Noah was okay.
Noah’s pregnancy was a wonderful experience. Every day was Take Our Children to Work Day as Noah attended meetings with me in utero, constantly hiccuping and kicking me to make his presence known (a precursor to his life outside the womb, no doubt). Aside from the requirement to abstain from caffeine and sugar, the only limitation I experienced was during the last 3 weeks leading up to my due date, when I couldn’t drive my standard-shift car to work anymore: every time I engaged the clutch, I’d have a Braxton-Hicks contraction – annoying at stop lights, and to other drivers. It was getting a bit difficult reaching the clutch pedal, anyway. Joel chauffeured me back and forth to work. The doctor took me out of work on my due date.
And unlike the unpleasant experiences from earlier in my career listening to stereotypical speculation about pregnant colleagues about to give birth (“I don’t think she’ll be back after she has the baby, do you?”), there was no question about my return to work after Noah’s birth. I was one of the first women to reach Director-level at my company; and I was the first woman Director to have a baby. Another gauntlet foiled.
Noah was nearly two weeks late, and fortunately, I had arranged for project work during my maternity leave. A few days after my due-date passed, I was overjoyed to learn that a difficult lawsuit I had worked on for months had been dismissed on summary judgment. When our counsel on the case called to tell me, Joel found me jumping on the sofa for joy. It did not hasten Noah’s arrival at all.
After Noah’s birth, Joel and I established the pattern that has become our family paradigm. After two weeks of recovery, I reported to work at my upstairs home office, while Noah taught Joel (and me, at meal-times, early mornings, evenings, weekends and vacations) how to parent.
More importantly, because Joel and I had already established careers and businesses as older parents, Noah also shifted our parenting paradigm to periodically incorporate mentoring. Like when Noah was a preschooler, and went through a phase when during the Sunday service, he believed that our minister Reverend Priscilla was there just to talk to him, and would engage her in philosophical discussions during the service, to the thankfully great amusement of our fellow congregants. Instead of hushing or shaming Noah for his bubbly enthusiasm, I instead could speak to Noah authentically and share my experience, strength and hope with him: that I was a lot like him, and this is what I needed to do to get along with others: raise your hand, and wait to be called on, to allow others to contribute to the discussion during The Child in Us at church.
And, surprisingly, Noah has mentored me. Like when he would invite me to sit on the couch with him and ask me to get my laptop and his VTech handheld game, so we could “laptop” together and watch SpongeBob Squarepants. Not only did Noah adapt to my work life: through our love for each other, he mentored me that it was the quality, not the quantity of the time we spent together that mattered the most.
The biggest gift of all, aside from Noah himself, is the career lesson he has taught me: that bringing Noah Best into the world and nurturing his life to date has been my biggest contribution to the world. All prior and subsequent achievements are gravy for which I am most grateful, in business and at work.