The 11th of October was supposed to be just another Wednesday. Little did I know that it was the day to end all boring Wednesdays!
With a small probability of rain, and no hectic deadlines on the horizon, I reckoned I was promised a casual workday, powered by a delicious keto omelette sided with avocado and bacon. Nothing could prepare me for what was about to get served instead…
As I was treating myself breakfast, I had that annoyingly wacky feeling that, although everything seemed to be in place, something was just not right. Something was out of place. Something was missing. Wait! What’s the date again? October 11th? Something was, indeed, missing! I…was…three days late! And, you should trust me when I say: I am never late!
The moments that followed that realization, stress overcame me. I still remember the facts, but images are kept like a blur; a foggy vision in my head. I remember tearing apart the plastic wrap -in a frenzy that only served to delay me- eager to pee on that stick as if my life had depended on it. The agony of having to wait those three minutes was excruciating. Could this really be happening?
The two dark pink lines made it clear that, as far as this particular pregnancy test was concerned, I was with child. I left the rest of my omelette hanging on the table (sorry keto dish, it just wasn’t meant to be today!) and rushed to a drug store near by to get myself another test. Because this one must surely be mistaken. I got a different brand this time, just to exclude the potential statistical error due to manufacturer bias (yeah, I am that geeky). I was starting to risk getting late for work, so I took the test to the office with me. I crossed the door with a guilty look on my face, as if I was hiding a weapon in my handbag.
The jerky process all over again. Only this time stress had built up so much, that I just couldn’t pee! On top of that, I had a weekly conference call I had to attend. Thank god the box came with a second test. I sat back on my desk and endured the call that lasted an hour drinking as much water as possible. The conference felt like ten long years. At least I had consumed a whole liter of water just to make sure I had the peeing part covered.
Guess what? Two lines again. Blue ones this time. There went the mental blur again. I instinctively sat on the bathroom floor. Petrified. I started counting the tiles on the wall, with great determination to uncover the Almighty answer to the Meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything. Anything to get my mind off that overwhelming feeling that was devouring my cool. Don’t get me wrong here. It’s not that I was feeling disappointed, but I sure was experiencing some huge shock because I wasn’t expecting… to be expecting any time soon!
It’s not that having a baby wasn’t part of our family agenda. It surely was. But my OB-GYN had made it clear to me that, from where he saw it, our chances were less than slim. You see, I go by with only one functional ovary (the other one was removed some years ago due to a large dermoid cyst). At the same time, I have been told that I am suffering from a hormonal imbalance that had me enter the pre-menopause state as soon as my early 30s. Long story short? From a statistical viewpoint, it looked quite improbable for me to conceive without some sort of medical intervention. But the pregnancy tests begged to differ.
Only after I had recounted the bathroom tiles and made sure they were nowhere near 42, did I think of calling my OB-GYN to seek for guidance. The omnipresent midwife answered and informed me that two positive pregnancy tests do not necessarily mean that I was pregnant just yet, but a respective blood test (namely βhCG) would need to take place that same afternoon and re-taken a few days later. I was listening to the lady talk about tests and procedures, and all I could think of was a late-afternoon work meeting I had scheduled, and how much I couldn’t afford to miss it.
Only then did I realize that I had been in denial on the importance of the matter all morning and thought of finally bringing the happy news to my husband. Then I went on to cancel the (bloody) late-afternoon meeting and, the minute am heard a thunderstorm roar, I felt genuinely grateful for that umbrella I had dropped in my bag in spite of the weather report.
The consecutive blood tests came out to bring our hopes and wishes to reality. I was, indeed, carrying a tiny fertilized egg which would evolve into a fetus through a long process that tested both the physical and mental planes of my existence for a good 40 weeks to come. But, to my surprise, besides those initial feelings of excitement, I realized that extra luggage had been added in my emotional burden.
Fear and anxiety encompassed almost every step of the way forward: How will the pregnancy evolve? How will my body change? How will our life with the baby turn out to be? How much time will I need away from work? Will that time-off affect my career? These were only a handful of the storm of questions that surrounded my thinking. Once again, I felt overwhelmed by an incoming swarm that seemed to keep coming only to be left unanswered. At the same time I was frustrated and angry at myself for not mentally preparing for any of this. (Yes, I am that type of person who imposes unrealistic expectations and goals upon herself and then beats herself up when -naturally- they are missed!)
I spent a good month or so huffy at most things living: the weather, the swollen feet that made all shoes unbearable, the incessant need to pee, the cravings for milk, chocolate and all things sweet.
Up until my pregnancy I was living under a self-formed protective illusion that I could effectively -and efficiently!- control the elements of my life. It felt as if I was doing fairly well too! I had formed a routine that suited my everyday needs and lived happily and peacefully in my bubble bobble. Radical change had been my enemy in all fronts of my life, and a mere hint that I could somehow manage to lose my grip (call me control) made me miss sleep over forming paper plans to avoid it. I dreaded change and, at the same time, wanted our family to grow. I longed to see a tiny human roam around the living room, but wouldn’t want him or her anywhere near my Swarovski miniatures!
This cognitive dissonance led me to experience my first mental breakdown half-way through my pregnancy. It manifested with me crying practically all the time (thanks hormones for empowering that nasty feeling!) and with a strong urge to stay in bed. I didn’t want to see friends, I didn’t want to go to work. Anything that used to give me joy was miserably failing: from my beloved keto omelette to spending time with my lovely husband, who never ever fails to support and cheer me up when things look gloomy and hopeless. I was stuck in inertia, my emotional state ranging from numbness to total despair and vice versa.
We could spend the day in this chapter with me giving out a thousand or more more examples on my irrational thinking and feeling at the time, but everything would boil down to this: I was dealing with (yet another) rich set of those unrealistic expectations of mine, that were only there to drag me further down into despair. I thought I would go through a major change in my existence (becoming a mother) without experiencing actual change on a personal level and, more importantly, without losing control over the transformational process. Oh how I was in for a treat!
I am a very (very) stubborn person when I realize I am stuck in finding my way out of a bad situation. Although negatively motioned, stubbornness (or self-agency, as they call it in infant development) is a core strength of mine; it allows me to not (ever!) give up on myself. To keep pushing walls and handles till the doors open. And, in times like this, I resort to the one thing I know how to do best: I read and polish my thinking over what I am experiencing: imperfection, grief, and change!
Reading helped me realize that there was an underlying pattern in all my emotional manifestations: it wasn’t me dodging responsibility because I am flawed and irresponsible. It was me acting out due to genuine fear. Fear of a “Great Unknown” that was appearing immense in all its dimensions. I was not prepared. And for that hard step forward, I owe Brené Brown and Jorge Bucay some flowers and a firm handshake.
After a couple of weeks of reading and self-reflection, the reason behind all this extravaganza became clear as day: I was genuinely afraid of all the incoming change, and, the more I remained in inertia, the more I was allowing panic to get the best of me. I needed a here and now intervention.
While contemplating a plan to see myself out of those dark mental woods, I gave myself the following set of options: either give up entirely on trying to control the situation and allow myself to flow through it (sounds poetic when you put it like that, doesn’t it?) or learn as much as possible about the incoming change and come up with practical ways to handle it. Although I enjoy poetry as much as the next gal (okay maybe a bit more) I went for the second path.
I repositioned my reading time towards a different topic: motherhood. From pregnancy to caring for a newborn, and from playing to educating a toddler, the reading list could go on. I needed to get rid of that dark cloud of doubt and ignorance that was looming over my head, but at the same didn’t didn’t want to lose myself over a ton of information that I wouldn’t be able to use in the near future. So I started with reading about my pregnancy alone. My favorite place in the world (the Bookstore) offered many great options on the matter. I picked the top 3 recommended ones and returned home to give it a go.
Reading to know more about my pregnancy worked wonders in calming me down. So many stuff were going on with my body and the baby, and I didn’t have a clue! It so happened that I hadn’t heard of any of this early on in my life; I didn’t have siblings or cousins (or friends!) who had babies, so all the incoming information was brand new to me. Learning about them and rationalizing what I was experiencing put my mind to rest: everything was going according to a process, and it was hardly a chaotic one. There were control points in the “system”, even though I wasn’t the one controlling them. It was doing okay. Nature has a plan.
For the first time after weeks of living in panic and despair, I found myself slowly but actively engaging with the new situation. I was getting excited over smaller or bigger details of all current and future states, eager to share my newly acquired knowledge with my hubby. As I felt more and more confident about myself while undergoing my major personal change, I was ready to fully embrace what was going on with my life and step up from the ad-hoc support of books and my beloved to building a support system for myself.
The fact that I didn’t happen to known people who had babies before I got pregnant didn’t mean there there weren’t any out there floating on the same boat as me. On the contrary! Once I set my head towards that direction I kept bumping into likeminded people. Pregnant ladies we could discuss pregnancy milestones with. New moms who had the same need as me to share intimate thoughts and receive emotional support and comfort. Experienced and new parents I could go to for tips, tools of the trade and practical help. Open souls that felt the need to rejoice together. My mom; whose line of thought and decision making capabilities I finally came to understand.
As I write down these short descriptions trying to honor all those people who (knowingly or unknowingly) embody my support system, I feel blessed, humbled and lucky to have had them around. Only after I had experienced the rejuvenating effects of receiving support did I feel at ease to fully embrace the imminent change and stop trying to control The Great Unknown.
Integrating the transformative effects of my pregnancy into my everyday life didn’t mean that I cut down from working long hours, though. Quite the opposite! I had recently been awarded a position to supervise a newly-founded Department, with a mandate that ignited my professional passion for the first time in years. I was eager to set up as much of the foundation as possible before embarking on my maternity leave.
As a starting point, my new manager and I set up a working pace we were both comfortable with. Given that it was a new area for me to work on, he gave me ideas on some new topics to look into, to help better integrate the functions of the new Department into the everyday life of the Organization. One of the training topics he suggested we focused on? Change Management.
When I took my first MOOC on Change Management, I inevitably stumbled upon the Kübler-Ross Change Curve (the foundation for the Change Management Process, which we will surely be discussing in a future post).
I spent some time looking at the model, sharing it with colleagues at work, until it finally struck me: here it was, a nifty tool meant for the business world, whose resolution steps I was already unknowingly using in my own personal quest to manage my becoming a new mom! Each and every one of these steps, I had already been through!
- Shock about receiving unexpected news, so much that I remained still, sat on the bathroom floor, counting tiles and planning meetings.
- Denial of the imminent change and looking for evidence that it wasn’t true by taking a second pregnancy test made from a different brand!
- Frustration when I realized that I can not avoid a new situation I knew absolutely nothing about
- Depression from feeling helpless over controlling the Great Unknown and losing all will to get out of bed
- Experimenting with designing a here and now intervention for my self, based on reading about my pregnancy as a means to initially engage with the new situation
- Decision to consistently work towards upscaling my here and now intervention by building myself a support system and, finally,
- Powered by my support system, start integrating change into this newer version of myself
I had been using a work-related tool to deal with a family-related situation! Could it be that there are other business tools out there that can prove handy to my quest towards motherhood? Aren’t there other moms out there, just like me who -knowingly or unknowingly- get down to bringing forth every (and any) tool they got in their mental arsenals to brace themselves and handle the numerous complications of motherhood?
Seeing how the Kübler-Ross Change Curve reflected what I was going through in my personal life made me think differently. Perhaps I wasn’t so ignorant as I thought. Maybe all these business-related things I have been investing my whole life studying, could somehow serve my motherhood quest as well. Are my business skills and knowledge transferable to life at home with a baby? Do I bear more knowledge than I am aware of? Am I an unconsciously competent new mom after all?
This broad realization was my epiphany.
- What if new moms like myself who know business stuff unconsciously know more about motherhood than they think?
- What if stay-at-home Moms are unconsciously competent in business-related stuff as well?
- What if, all we need to make lives at home and at work easier and more aligned, is to use Analogous Thinking and reverse engineer solutions based on the similarities of situations?
- Wouldn’t that make striving to score “work/life balance” irrelevant? Wouldn’t that forge a strong work/life connection instead, pointing towards a more holistic approach to living?
Here’s where I felt a compelling need to step in. I am an Engineer, after all, and I can’t help it! Where there are tools, there are ways. And this blog is dedicated to showing Moms and others around them such ways.
So, dear Mom, whether you are aware of it or not, chances are that, sometime during your motherhood quest, you went through all those steps that form the Kübler-Ross Change curve. Whether it was during your pregnancy or those first chaotic months with the new baby around, or trying to balance life with a toddler and a baby, I bet some of these feelings and stages resonate in you and sound familiar. And, if you are currently going through a change process and find yourself stuck somewhere in the middle, take a deep look at the curve, breathe and rejoice: it clearly shows the upcoming steps and what you could do to find your way out of what now seems like one big mess. You got a strong tool to deal with all that change coming you way. Go ahead and use it any time you need it, to fight through those hardships or rationalize any unbearable emotional burden.
As for you, dear Recruiter or Hiring Manager, when it so happens that you are interviewing a mom for a new position, do bear in mind that being able to manage change is probably one of the most critical traits any professional should bring to the corporate table. As markets are shifting and businesses are transforming, being able to adapt and deal with changing circumstance in an efficient and effective manner is, hand down, the strongest asset to look for in a candidate. So if you have an opening that requires constant adaptation to moving grounds, all other skills equal, go for the Mom in the candidate pool. She just knows Change, she has used her practical skills to manage it, and she will do it again because she has sharpened that Ability.
Everything Changes? You got this!