Who says working mothers in tech can’t find the perfect work-life balance?
Unfortunately, that was the word on the street—or more accurately, among my friends at tech companies—when I mentioned I wanted to return to work at 20% time after having my second child, Talya.
The First Maternity Leave
A bit of background: In one of the first posts on my personal blog, I discussed returning to work after maternity leave for Gaya, my eldest.
You’d think I wouldn’t worry about a second maternity leave. However, with Gaya, I was working in a global, relatively slow-moving corporation. By the time I had Talya, I was at Singular, an innovative startup in hyper-growth. Being away for half a year is an eternity in Singular terms. I knew what I was leaving but had no idea what would happen when I came back.
On top of that, most of my current colleagues aren’t parents. Very few are mothers of small children. Although this is gradually changing at the company, I often feel the difference—I have non-standard working hours and late meetings, and engage less in office small talk.
Enter Baby No. 2
Over the two years I’d been at Singular, we always found a way to make things work for me and the company. We were flexible and creative and just made it happen.
And yet—when I shared the news about my pregnancy, I was still insecure. All my concerns came back: What would the reaction be? Would it affect my advancement? How would we ramp my work back up when I returned?
There was actually nothing to stress about. Everything had worked out so far, and I was sure it would again. I already knew the culture. There was simply no reason giving birth again would have a work impact. Still, I couldn’t shake my anxieties around it. (I also wrote about it on my blog.)
Striking a Post-Maternity Balance
When I was on maternity leave with Gaya, I didn’t really disconnect. I kept track of major developments in the office and with clients. This made it much easier to return to full-time work.
This time, I thought it’d be great to come back to work gradually, instead of being so plugged-in while trying to care for a newborn.
Instead of going from zero to 200%, it seemed wiser to ramp back up slowly—starting part-time, a few hours a day, a few days a week.
As I explained to the company, this way I’d be there for Talya in her first months while keeping up with company business.
To my pleasant surprise, Singular said yes.
I still had some concerns and reasons to hesitate. But, I was optimistic and hoped we could really make it work.
The thing is, I wasn’t ready to go back to work at all. Things at home were too hectic, and my every thought centered on my children and my family.
Despite all of this, Singular management was extremely supportive. They understood the changes my family was going through, and didn’t pressure me to come back.
After four or five months, things suddenly shifted for me. I thought about work—I figured I could start in a 20%-time position, and after a set period of time, I’d go back to full-time.
I suggested to the company that during the part-time period, I’d do anything to help the team, such as admin or back office.
I set low expectations, knowing no one had done this before—only two female employees had come back in a full-time capacity after three months. I hoped for the best.
Thankfully, my initial, little idea became a big breakthrough for me and my family. The company not only accepted my terms—my managers thought out of the box and created a special project tailored to me, where I could use my skills, increase my value, and help my team (way to go!).
As I started working part-time, I realized how much our product had changed, and I was delighted to have an easy restart. Talya was getting used to her new nanny. (Plus a special thanks to my mother, who took care of Talya while I was away and helped me out a lot.)
On Singular’s side, it meant I came back earlier than planned.
Most importantly, it signaled to all other female employees that Singular welcomes mothers and supports a flexible framework for coming back from maternity leave.
This was a pure win-win.
An Added Bonus
Now, about breastfeeding and pumping—breastfeeding is super important to me. But I hate pumping so much! I can’t stand the noise, the mess, and sitting there waiting for the bottle to fill.
When I went back to work after having Gaya, I refused to pump. The second time around, it’s been different because we have a nursing room. It’s a nice, cozy, private little space, with a small refrigerator and a sofa, that gives me all the privacy and intimacy I need for pumping. Pumping at work isn’t so bad anymore.
A Modern and Sympathetic Workplace
This is the organizational culture I always go on about. I’ve written about the major role that corporate culture plays for me. As a mother of two small children, the unfortunate truth is that wanting to work is not enough. I have to belong to a company that understands me and accepts me as a mother. A company with a flexible mindset that allows me to maneuver according to my needs. I’m thrilled Singular is here for me and grows just like its loyal employees do. No wonder our turnover rate is one of the lowest in the industry.
And I grew, too. I now know when stresses are mostly mine and when they’re unwarranted, even if I still don’t understand the source of the stress itself—why was I so afraid? Is it all just me? Am I hypercritical of myself because I think of pregnancy and birth as obstacles to a career? Or is it because I feel my needs as a mother are special in the office and require unique adjustments?
No matter what stories and speculations I hear, I can trust myself more now. I know that I started by carefully choosing a company with a great culture, and that there’s no reason why things would be different with a family-changing event like birth. Singular chose me very carefully for the skills, knowledge, and experience I contribute, and provided me with the flexibility I needed to maintain a strong work/motherhood balance. That’s a great way of solidifying an already solid commitment to one’s work, team, and company.