I just finished my first semester as an adjunct design professor at a local community college, the info-graphics needed to complete this year’s annual report for one of my favorite non-profit clients—826LA are almost finished, and I am 5lbs away from my pre-pregnancy weight (but am still sporting a squishy pooch where my 8lb 4oz baby once nestled against my guts). 40 weeks ago, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl who my husband and I named Sofia. It’s taken me as long to get back to blogging as it took me to gestate her.
The topic of professional passions, motherhood, feminism and the concept of “having it all” is something I have discussed in pre-baby blog posts, and I feel it’s only fair to circle the wagons and give a real-life update.
Right now I feel like I have landed the perfect balance between new mom and design professional. 38 weeks ago I felt like I had struck the perfect balance between ice packs and nipple cream. 30 weeks ago I felt like I had struck the perfect balance between napping and playtime, and 20 weeks ago I felt like I was finally ready to strike a balance between being a new mom and getting back to nurturing my career as a design professional.
Most everyone I know who is expecting their first baby, planning on making a baby or debating whether or not they want to have babies has asked me “How is it?” with wide eyes that beg for honesty.
It’s hard to describe thoughtfully when you are taking slaps to the face by a squirmy fun-sized human that doubles as a mini-furnace pressed tightly against your body. The parent-child life adjustment continues to provide me with lessons that run the gamut between deeply profound, and being completely humbled by my own lack of practical problem solving skills (mom-brain is real). So I do my best version of “summing it up” by saying—it’s totally worth it! It’s a super cliché response but parenthood is full of clichés—clichés that you will love and treasure.
It’s true that you will never understand the unconditional love that comes with having a child—until you become a parent. You would never meet a person on the street, befriend them, fall in love with them give everything you have to them, and protect them with your own life the instant you see their face. It’s also true that they grow too fast, but the profound thing about their growth is understanding that their life has become a fixed measurement of time in your own life. Nothing will ever make you feel your own mortality in this way. Ten months have gone by and it feels like a 45 second movie montage and you wish you could relive it again and again. You’ll never wish for Friday to get here sooner, because you know better than to wish away this precious time. It’s a very bittersweet reality check.
It’s also true that babies will change your sleep habits. The weird thing is though, that when I became pregnant, my circadian rhythm changed instantly. I was exhausted by 10pm and awake by 6am. The days of staying up and playing the internets until 3AM disappeared without me even having to make a conscious change. By the eighth month I was up every two hours to pee in the night. Nature has her clever ways of sleep training you before your little sleep bandit joins the party. The new mom mantra is “Sleep when the baby sleeps.” Also, most babies start sleeping longer evening stretches once they hit the 12-13lb mark. This is your motivation to keep up with that 1-2 hour feeding schedule in the first weeks.
Work! The career topic has been the most concerning and highly debated among myself and my freelance and creative professional pals. Before I talk about work, I feel like I need to make a disclaimer: in no way do I believe that my experience is typical, or preferable above all others. My friend/client Katherine summed up being a new parent perfectly: “It’s not that it is hard work…it’s that it is constant.”
Being a parent jolts you into a state of rapid-fire change, your tiny human is growing, and learning new things very quickly. You have to adapt, and you have to improvise. These are things that I love! I love changes, I love adaptation, I love figuring out the system—perfecting it—and then dissecting it and rebuilding it again. So for me, there’s a certain zen to the chaos that I find very comfortable.
The hardest truth for me was realizing that I was not going to be able to return to work the way I had known it for a very long time. Pre-Baby me thought I’d be back in my studio in a couple of weeks with a blissfully sleeping tiny human in a bassinet next to my desk. NOPE. My tiny human loved being held, and loved eating…all the time. She wasn’t much of a crier, but if I tried to put her down she would fake cough at me until I picked her up again. “Ah-hah!” was my new name.
For the first three months of her life, I sat in the rocker in our little den, feeding and rocking little boo, with one arm, and using my free hand to answer email, quote hunt and create pinterest mood boards via my iPhone. Jay did all of the creative heavy lifting during the day, and when Sofia went down for the night I could pop back on my computer for a few hours. This went on for at least the first three months, keeping the income coming in if I had been a solo freelancer would have been impossible without some professional help.
When Sofia was just about four months old I got an offer to teach at a local community college and it totally changed the game. I had the income to hire a part-time nanny, I was able to get out of the house and talk about design non-stop for 6 hours a week, and when the nanny was here I was able to get into my studio and sit down to do some concentrated work during daylight hours. I currently work 20-30 hours a week, and about 15-20 of those hours are daytime hours, the rest of my design time still happens at night after Sofia is asleep. I love this schedule because I still get to spend so much quality time with her.
Now, at ten months old Sofia has become more independent, loves to look at books, dump out baskets of toys and watch Yo! Gabba! Gabba! So I have a small desk set up in the play-den and I am able to get a few hours of work done while she plays. Work can still get a little crazy when the projects are big, but being married to another designer really helps. I have a great partner and feel very supported.
I can honestly say that I feel like I’ve found the perfect balance between work and motherhood, but then I know she’ll be walking soon and I’ll have to figure out what the new balance structure looks like!
My advice? Be flexible.