Congratulations! You’re pregnant with your first baby! Now I know what you’re thinking. You need to plan the next 5-10 years out, and prepare everything for everyone (husband, coworkers, boss, parents, mother-in-law) to get along while you’re out (or, sorry healing). And. I know you think that because, well, I’ve been there. Literally! I’m here to tell you what I know now.
First – Relax.
Resist the urge to log on to your computer, pull up excel and calculate the most cost-effective diaper brands. You’re best laid out plans will be foiled by the unanticipated and the unexpected. Those things will stress you out and planning for the unexpected really becomes exhausting and…. you essentially go crazy trying to manage it all. You all will be fine. Why? You’re an engineer. You’re a trained problem solver and that skill translates into your parenting. As an example, you take an 8 hour trip with the family and your little one breaks their headphones 30 minutes into the trip. You know what? You fix it with Band-Aids from the first aid kit you have in the glove box. Nice work. Everyone is happy. You didn’t have to stop. You didn’t have to spend more money.
So relax. Enjoy the moments. The kicks, the dreams, the blackout-pregnancy sleep, the hiccups, the beautiful hair and nails, the nesting. There will be other things that just plain suck and that you will have no control over (designated maternity parking spot the day after your labor, shitty maternity leave, pelvic joint pain, people waiting outside the bathroom to ask you about a redline on a drawing…).
Just know, when the chaos comes up, you’ll know how to figure it out.
Second – Things Aren’t As They Seem
People are watching – but not to judge as you might initially think. Please, blame our suspicious nature of others’ true intentions. People are watching and taking notes. And when they see you do something they have never seen done before, they will be the first to preach it to others who are traveling the same road as you. It’s not that they don’t think you can do it… it’s more they don’t think they can do it. What am I talking about, you ask? It’s called projection.
pro·jec·tion – /prəˈjekSH(ə)n/ – the unconscious transfer of one’s own desires or emotions to another person
As an example. When you’re six months pregnant, you will be told that you are a “shining star” employee, but once you have the baby, you won’t be a shining start anymore.
What that person said will bother you. You’ll hang onto that and you’ll work hard to prove that person wrong. But what you’ll figure out is that there is truth to what they told you…. Just not in the way they thought.
First, you won’t be the “shining star” junior engineer anymore. You’ll master your skill and yeah… you take your twinkle to another domain. So – they won’t see your light anymore. They will think your star has burnt out. But that couldn’t be farthest from the truth. You’re multiplying your shine in your children. You are shining your light at work and at home. So technically, your lumens have multiplied. Tell them to put their sunglasses on, sit back and watch. It is in your nature to figure it out. Like I pointed out before, solving problems is what you were trained to do, and you’re good at it. You didn’t get this far by pure luck.
On a future note, and supporting evidence to my claim is that, your PhD advisor will call you a “star student” when he reviews your final Prospectus draft. He sees your shine.
Third – Don’t Go It Alone
A lot of your life goals, challenges, and dreams have been completed with a small support group. Your parents. Your sister. Your husband. Your super super super close friends. All that you can count on your one hand. You didn’t want people to think you got any favors for being a woman in engineering. But now things are different. This is what life is about. This is the good stuff! Those walls that you built up to try to go it alone are going make things scarier through this journey of becoming a parent.
Side note! Please don’t get me wrong. Those walls are necessary for certain people! However, I highly recommend you start with chain-link fences. And work your way down to something like those imaginary dog retaining barriers. People can see you and they’re welcome to talk to you, but if they cross the boundary you’ve setup, they will get an electric shock. They’ll eventually figure out your boundaries. All I’m saying is 10-foot cinder block fences aren’t necessary by default.
With that said, make friends. Sharing life and it’s beautiful and difficult experiences are some of the sweetest, best feelings. Your challenge will be walking the ambiguous, illusive line of identifying as a strong independent woman, while at the same time being self-aware enough to know when to ask for mental and physical help. Asking for help isn’t a weakness. You’ve never done this before! You are the only one to walk your path and there are no right or wrong decisions. But you aren’t the only one to walk the path of becoming a parent while maintaining an engineering career. Reaching out to a person who’s walked the engineering-parent path will make the journey more enjoyable and less scary.
Finally – You Won’t Be The Same, So Stop Trying to Keep Things From Changing
Pre-mom-you will cringe and die a little at this thought. You’ve worked hard to get to this point. The career credibility, the academic know-how, the late nights of working, the studying of vibration analysis when there was no homework, showing up before anyone got to work. All of that will not be lost. No one can take that from you. It can never be erased – you know it happened.
You try to be the same person you were before the baby. You try to do it all yourself. Not accepting help, and trying to overcompensate to be the person you were before the baby. You don’t want people to question your qualifications now that you’re a mother; like, will you be committed enough to the job? Will her sick kids make her miss deadlines? Can she still perform or will she be distracted?
Those are stupid questions that, unfortunately, people still ask. They have no-brainer answers. You will still perform, although more efficiently. Thanks to becoming a parent, you’re more decisive because you don’t have time to waver on decisions. And quite frankly, now you don’t need to care about what anyone thinks except for your new little family you’ve made.
What’s going to happen is that you’re going to gain further wisdom. This is your transition into an even better version of yourself. Things you thought mattered cease to exist when that tiny person looks through your soul, directly at you with those steel blue eyes. When that tiny hand, with the unimaginably tiny fingernails, grasps your finger for the first time, you will be changed. Life without that person will seem like a fond memory… but only a place to vacation and not to live. The moment they say “Mama” for the first time, and when they say “I love you, Mommy” you will never be the same. And you will be grateful for it.
So in summary, enjoy this transition. Sincerely experience the good and bad times. This is what life is about. Happy Mothers Day to you…to me…to us. Love Always,