Shame On Us: The Impossible Journey of a Working Mother

Let me tell you a story. A story that has me so angry on so many levels that I am not sure I’m going to be able to get this out without writing expletives on every other line, but I’ll try.

Meet Julia. Julia worked her ass off to put herself through business school. She took out a massive amount of student loans and commuted to Boston from her home, 60 miles south, in Rhode Island, every day for her first job.

Her first job was tough. She worked for a Hedge Fund company and the hours were long and the work was intense. She worked harder than she ever had before to prove herself and gave them her all. Her entire first year out of school was spent schlepping around the country for work. Practically living in airports, she was lucky she was dating a nice guy who understood her insane hours. Julia and Tom eventually got married and it took her two years before she realized that her current place of employment wasn’t jiving with her family plans. 

“You Can’t Have a Family” was practically written in their company handbook. Maybe not in ink, but it was made pretty clear by their expectations and the hours she was required to work. As she took a quick look around at the perpetually single and happily married but child-less co-workers who surrounded her, she knew that if she wanted to have children, she would need to change firms.

Julia moved onto greener pastures and found the perfect fit- a firm that was comprised of all women. It was everything she had been looking for: a place filled with strong working women, moms and wives who understood the daily struggle it is to be a woman in a man’s world. When she got pregnant shortly after starting there, they congratulated her and threw her an office baby shower. As her pregnancy progressed and her doctor appointments became more frequent, they understood; they too had been there at one time. She managed to fit her appointments in and made it through the calendar year without one sick day. Julia felt lucky to work in such a great working environment. She continued to pull her weight as a productive member of the team and earned the highest bonus in the company, while simultaneously preparing her home to welcome her much anticipated little bundle of joy. 

 She never slowed down and continued to work hard, even raking in one of the company’s biggest clients the week prior to her due date. Julia fully recognized that she was one of the lucky ones when she began her twelve week paid maternity leave when baby boy  arrived two days early.

Dylan was beautiful, even more perfect than Julia had imagined him being. Julia and Tom spent her maternity leave soaking up squishy baby cuddles and visiting local daycares. They enrolled Dylan in one of the top daycares in their area and Julia prepared to return to work. Twelve weeks flew by in a blink of an eye.

Julia had been back at work for two weeks before she had found herself in the same shoes as many other parents: exhausted from going back to work, continuously pumping and getting little to no sleep. Her immune system was down and she had caught a cold. She shipped Dylan off to her parents and told her boss that she would work from home. By Tuesday afternoon, she had spiked 102 fever and was diagnosed with strep throat and an upper respiratory infection. Julia was forced to take another sick day on Wednesday. She had been back at work for three weeks and had taken 2 sick days back to back , with one day working from home. 

Julia often worked from home prior to having the baby, but somehow, this time was different. Her phone didn’t ring once. No one from her office emailed her. Communication went dead. They were icing her out. Still sick as a dog Thursday morning, she knew something was up and she was going to have to go in to the office.

“We see that you are struggling Julia, and we want to help you out. We love you and we want to make you shine, but you are having a hard time and you are making yourself sick.” Julia’s boss explained, feigning a concerned tone. “We would like you to move to working as a consultant per diem. We have certain expectations of you now that you are mom, and simply put, you aren’t meeting them.”

“I wish someone did this for me, its sooo hard being a working mom. You know how much we love you, and we are doing this for you.” Some bitch, (obviously meant to be in the meeting as a witness) chirped. No one mentioned the fact that they had hired someone else while Julia was on maternity leave. “You will see this move as a gift, not as a punishment.”

“Yes,” Her boss interrupted, “I know this will be a big pay cut, but since you earned such a big raise last year, going per diem shouldn’t effect you so much. Think of all the money you will be saving on daycare now, too! We are doing you a favor.”

For Fuck’s Sake. Were these women for real? Had Julia had a streak of bad luck? Yes. She most certainly had, but she hadn’t even been back at work for 3 full weeks! Not only were they demoting her, but they were selling it to her like they were doing her a fucking favor. Shame on them. Julia sat there in silence, with a pounding headache and a sore throat, as she listened to these women feed her line after line of bullshit. 

Julia had a perfect record working in this company up until this point, and the fact that they escalated things so quickly after her coming back seems a little more than unfair. I have more issue with the fact that they pretended this was in her best interest than the actual fact that they demoted her. They planted the seed in her head that not only was she failing as a new mother, but also as a working mother. If she wasn’t able to handle one baby and work, how was she ever going to think about adding any additional children to her family? Her confidence immediately  plummeted the more they continued to talk. She left the meeting feeling emotionally exhausted, defeated, and like a piece of shit. Her self worth, both as a mother and a working woman had been attacked, and her psyche had been severely screwed with.

I’m all for gender equality, and I am all for having a solid work ethic and what is expected from employees in a professional setting.  All that being said, I question if this conversation would have occurred at all if Julia was a man. I severely doubt it. I have heard story after story of working women being considered a sub-par employee once they have children. I have seen it and lived it. I’ll admit it; It’s almost impossible to give 100% at work and at home. I spend the most time I can during work hours with clients, only to race to pick up my children from pre-school and daycare, make dinner, give baths, read books, cuddle and put them to bed.  Once I pickup the house after everyone has gone to bed, I pull out my lap top and get BACK to work. Ask any of my clients or co-workers. They’ve received an email or finalized documents at 12:35am in the morning from me.

The chips are stacked against us women. I’m not a man-hater, I’m just stating the facts. If Julia was a man, she wouldn’t have been on maternity leave in the first place. This is something that no one can control. Men are simply not equipped by nature to give birth, and therefore, this honor falls on our shoulders. 

 If Julia was a man, she would have not only been the target of such an attack, but I also firmly believe that if the bosses in this scenario were men, such personal issues wouldn’t have been brought into what should have been a business conversation in the first place. 

Fine, you don’t think I’m doing the job I should be? Demote me. Fire me, even. That’s fair. Don’t insult me by telling me you care about me and are doing me a favor. Why do women always feel the need to bring personal issues into business related material?

So, on some level, this story is made worse for me because her bosses are fucking women. They should know better. They should know that it takes some time for adjustment going back to work after having a baby, and getting sick is especially something that you cannot control. 

Julia is a perfect example of all that is wrong with the way the United States views new mothers and maternity leave. I have discussed the Glass Ceiling in previous posts, and this is a prime example of why it is virtually impossible for mothers to excel in the workplace. Working and managing a family, especially living with a newborn is not easy. Julia was set up to fail from the moment her FLMA leave time expired. 12 weeks is not enough time to spend at home with your new baby and adjust to your new “normal”. At 12 weeks old, Dylan had just started to wake up from his “newborn slumber” and was starting to become pretty fun as he became aware of the world around him. He was beginning to respond to Julia and Tom and his social smiles were more frequent now. Parenting had just begun to become more rewarding, and Julia watched as Dylan grew leaps and bounds both mentally and physically as each day went by.  Despite this exciting time, Julia was still exhausted; she was breast feeding and pumping every four hours and Dylan was still waking up three to four times a night. She hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in months. 

 At 12 weeks, your baby still needs you just as much as the day it was born and yet, some political genius out there thought that 12 short weeks all the time you needed to bond with your child before shipping them off into someone else’s care and heading back to the work force- not to mention that it’s not mandatory for your employer to pay you while you’re on maternity leave. I took the maximum 16 weeks I could when my second baby was born sick. I lost out on a quarter of my salary that year, not to mention the potential commission I lost because I work in sales and missed meeting with clients.

Unless you are blessed with available family, your child will spend their time with a stranger at a daycare, as you get a collective four hours of (non-consecutive) sleep a night and are expected to function like normal human being at work.

Shame on these women, shame on this broken system, and shame on us for allowing this sort of thing to continue in the United States. Turn the news on and all you will hear are politicians preaching about job reform, employment rates, and making sure that our economy grows. It’s never going to happen if we can’t address this glaring issue within our society. THINGS NEED TO CHANGE. We are living in 2017, not 1955. We are drastically behind on the times, and it’s embarrassing. Don’t kid yourself, this issue does not just effect women, it’s effecting everyone. 

Like mine, Julia’s  entire family’s income changed overnight, adding stress to her and her husband, and with the increased costs a child presents to their family, you can bet your bottom dollar they are going to be contributing less to the economy. The single guy working at the local restaurant that Julia and Tom frequent is now going to be out a few extra dollars since they won’t be in as often. The owner of that restaurant has lost two customers for the time being, and the person who supplies that restaurant’s produce has just received a slightly smaller order for this week. You may not think that this effects you, but it does. It trickles down to everyone. For being the most “powerful country in the world”, it’s deplorable that we haven’t figured out a better way to handle maternity leave and working mothers in a better way.

Let’s do something to change this. Start with Julia’s story and be inspired. Don’t let this happen to your family or someone you know, but the sad reality is that it probably already has.

And simply because I didn’t get to use enough profanity as I had hoped to in this point, let me close with offering those two ladies a big FUCK YOU on behalf of Julia and all the other working mothers and families out there.