I wish more than anything that The Student Affairs Working Mom: A Beginner’s Guide existed. It would undoubtedly start with a chapter on how and when to break the news to your supervisor that you’re expecting a child during “the busy season”, followed by a brief discussion on sharing that same news with your co-workers in a way that won’t instigate a panic attack as they visualize your many projects being nicely cut up and sprinkled upon their already full plates. The guide would offer advice on how to prepare for maternity leave—how to move up and cram three months worth of projects into your current, already busy schedule to most responsibly prepare you, your colleagues, your supervisor, and your students for your absence. It of course would include tips & advice on actually being out maternity leave, perhaps a whole section dedicated to e-mail alone… Am I obligated to check and respond to my e-mail?, How do I avoid an inbox that’s filled to capacity? I can’t access my archived folders from home… how do I survive? Another section would answer questions such as I’m going back to work in 4 weeks—are these huge knots in my stomach normal and if so, how can I untangle them?, Will I need to explain why my office door is shut for 15 minutes every three hours? The last third of the guide would focus on how to make it through your first day, first week, first semester, and first year back to work— Did I really work this many weekend events and late nights last year??, My days are always packed with meetings—how will I ever be able to stick to my pumping schedule?, I know my eyes are open, but am I expected to be awake and productive after the night I just had!?, Is it okay to leave at 5:00?. The closing chapter would bring it all together, talking about how to make sense of this new definition of normal, your new identity as a student affairs working mom.
What a rollercoaster of a year this has been for me. From the day I shared the news with my supervisor that I would be out on maternity leave for most of the fall semester to bond with my September baby, I worked to find a way to squeeze my “Fall To Do List” into every other “To Do List” on my desk. The “used-to-be-stress-free” June suddenly was a madhouse. I aimed to conquer my September projects in June; in July, I’d tackle October, etc. etc. There was a method to my madness and things were getting done! On Thursday, July 21st, I spent most of the day at our Transfer Student Orientation program and balanced the later part of the afternoon with a mixture of sending out minutes from our most recent Homecoming meeting, updating our website, looking forward to the relaxing three-day weekend ahead, and maybe even sneaking a peak at my baby registry. In essence, it was a perfectly normal day with only a small hint of third trimester discomfort. I had my on-going To Do List sitting to the left of my desk, with a handful of items highlighted in green—those were the things that absolutely needed to get done first thing on Monday morning. Little did I know that when I went home that night, I was in for the scariest moment and biggest surprise of my life; little did I know that my Monday morning To Do list would stay there till November, that my strategically planned summer would be thrown out the window and that my summer would be spent in NICU: My September baby arrived 10 weeks prematurely. Suddenly, those “Monday Must Do’s” highlighted in green faded away and were replaced with purchasing preemie clothes, assembling a nursery, spending 8+ hours a day in the hospital, and playing phone tag with HR to translate the Family Leave paperwork into a language I understood. In an instant, I quickly learned control was just an illusion, a thing of the past. At that moment, my priorities changed, and I knew nothing else in the world could possibly be more important.
Seven long weeks later, my little man was healthy & strong enough to come home. I could go on and on about the unique challenges and experiences of being a NICU mama. I was so relieved to be able to spend the last half of my maternity leave with my little guy at home, yet, still felt cheated out of a “normal” maternity leave. Fast forward to the end of maternity leave and my desire to find The Student Affairs Working Mom: A Beginner’s Guide grew stronger and stronger. I forced myself to practice my morning routine more than two weeks before returning to work to make sure it was actually possible to feed baby, feed myself, shower, and get caffeinated, all while getting to work on time. How did all the working moms I knew make it look so easy? Where did they get their red cape, and more importantly, how do I get one? I barely noticed any of them scrambling in late for work, complaining about being exhausted, discussing the struggles of being a breastfeeding working mom, talking about the guilt of staying late at work and only being able to spend an hour with their child before bedtime—or even worse, coming home when they’re already fast asleep. Was it taboo to talk about these things at work? Was I just not paying attention before? Or was I just never really part of the conversation because it’s one of those things you don’t fully understand until you’re there?
I wish I was able to offer more answers than questions, but the truth is, I’m still very new to this and very much in the process of coming to terms with my new identity as a working mom in our field. As a student affairs practitioner, we regularly talk with students and colleagues about the need to find balance, but talking about it doesn’t exactly mean it’s easy for us to do. I am thankful to have some amazing student affairs mamas in my life who have been able to respond to every panic-induced conversation, phone call, text message, e-mail, etc. and am forever appreciative of their ability to help me through every hurdle. I’m proud that in my six weeks being back to work, I’ve been to work on time every day and have only shown up to work once with my sweater on backwards. I’m not sure how long it takes to earn that red cape, but it’s something I’ll continue to strive for as I patiently learn to juggle my worlds.
To other new student affairs moms—What struggles are you facing and where do you turn for support? If you had the opportunity to read The Student Affairs Working Mom: A Beginner’s Guide, what chapter would you turn to first?
To the veteran working mamas out there—if you had the opportunity to contribute to The Student Affairs Working Mom: A Beginner’s Guide, what would be the title of your chapter?Lauren Wilson Assistant Director of Student Development, The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey South Jersey Regional Coordinator, The Jersey Alliance