Portrait of me as a professional woman: running the meeting in high-heeled booties and a tailored dress; leather bound iPad in one hand, shiny travel mug latte in the other, brown leather tote keeping all my handouts clean and in order; hair tousled to perfection, skin blotted to natural matte, shiny red lips; articulate to a T.
Portrait of me as a mother to a young child: running to storytime in decade old yoga pants and punk rock shirt full of unintentional holes and ketchup stains; dirty cartoon underpants in one hand, three small shoes in the other hand; sippy cup of milk tucked under one arm and missing dinosaur stuffed under the other; strands of hair flying all around my splotchy, sleep-deprived face.
If you see me on the street, or even just hear the clack of my boots and the purpose in my voice, you might never guess how I moonlight. Unless you happen to catch me in one of those magical moments when there’s a tiny little voice on the other end of the line, calling me from someone else’s phone to tell me she misses me and to ask if I’ll be home in time to put her to bed, unless you happen to catch me in one of those suppressed yawns or momentary looks of despair, one of those fleeting feelings of panic at being separated from my child.
I am two different people: professional woman striving for gender equality in the workplace by day; harried, hurried, half-awake mother striving for patience and vulnerability in the presence of my child by night.
But pregnancy. Pregnancy has changed all this. Suddenly that line between identities has blurred, suddenly I can’t help but reveal my true nature just by standing up from behind my desk. I am no longer equal; I am the Other. In each and every moment of each and every workaday, I am Mom.
Pre-meeting small talk no longer consists of faculty gossip or shopping tips or advance planning on future projects. Now the first question is always pointed at me – how are you feeling? Is the nausea all gone now? How are those vitamins treating your digestion? Or, my personal favorite, the straight declarative, Boy you’re getting BIG!
Just because I’m pregnant does not mean I have authorized anyone outside of my family, closest friends, and medical support to team to ask such personal questions about my health. Just because I’m pregnant does not mean I’ve given consent to have a public discussion of my shape and size. Would anyone in the room feel comfortable with a coworker telling me how great my ass was looking after I added a hill workout into my weekly running routine? Or find it appropriate to comment on the new flabbiness they noticed in my arms since pounding too many milkshakes over the summer?
Of course they wouldn’t – or they would at least have sense enough to know they were in for a harassment complaint if the comments continued. But somehow with pregnancy all those rules go out the window. There are discussions of whether or not I’m eligible to go through natural labor – isn’t the fact that VBAC starts with the word vagina clue enough that we shouldn’t talk about it at work? There are questions about whether or not I plan to nurse – questions that invariably lead toward all eyes on my prizes. There are worries that I may just not come back to work after giving birth – as though the process of insemination also somehow doubled my bank account and completely eliminated my ambition.
And through it all, there is that ever present recognition that I am no longer just another person at work. I’m clearly, unmistakably, a mom at work. And to most people around me, it seems, this clearly means that I have more important things to be thinking about than my actual work.
And the trouble is, I do have more important things to be thinking about.
All of the questions, the prying, the pleading to feel my belly just for a teensy weensy little bit, they all come from a good place. I work in a (mostly) collegial environment, and spend most of my time working with the same few pods of people. We’ve all gotten to know each other pretty well and personal questions aren’t all that uncommon (it would actually be uncommon to not talk about personal issues while waiting for a meeting to start).
The trouble is not with them – it’s with me. Me and my inability to square my life as a mother with my life as a professional. My inability to admit to being not just human, but human and a life giving female. How can I keep a modicum of respect (and dare I say just a little fear) if instead of power boots I’m trudging along in sneakers to keep my feet from swelling? How can I pull off this juggling act of distracting people from my softer side when my body is literally becoming soft in front of their very eyes?
The simple answer is that I can’t. The ruse is up and there’s no going back – except maybe when I’ve shed the baby weight and ditched the breast pump. But maybe by then I won’t feel such a need to go back. Maybe by then I will have embraced my secret earth goddessness and will have forged a new path for a kinder, gentler education administrator/political wrangler to emerge.
Or maybe all the renewed sleep deprivation will make me shrewder than ever.
Either way, it seems the only thing I need to work harder at right now is owning up to some pride in what I really am – just another mom at work.