Pregnant once again?

To all mums and dads keeping things afloat: thank you, from the bottom of our hearts! You’re absolute superheroes from our perspective! 

Kaat Martens is a communication manager. As fresh twentysomethings, she and Rilla Lysens shared their first job, and even now, Rilla still describes her as being a kind, creative, conscious and competent young woman – someone you meet and of whom you hope they never leave your life again. Several months ago, she became a mother for the first time. This had quite the impact on her life, her family, and her values: her passion remained (more than ever), but now, she also felt the same concerning that beautiful creature on her arm. How could she manage her ambitions of being a good employee and a good mother?

***  Read her blog below  ***

Pregnant once again?

You asked in passing, confidentially, one hand resting on my shoulder – not one of those #MeToo hands, but rather a fatherly, concerned hand. I could’ve told you; I would’ve told you, there was that little #MeToo to be detected in said hand. The only thing was … I wasn’t pregnant, and I hadn’t been for one year, two months and six days (to be precise).

You seemed to be an empathetic man; in this same fashion, you saw me reacting lively, straightening the creases in my dress and shrugging “no”, whilst you pointed at my can of Coke Zero in an ostentative fashion. (I wondered, though, whether or not my drinking behaviour at other events had ever been problematic, but right after, you comforted me by asking me how I was.) To be honest, I wanted to tell you about being tired, winter, and Roseola, but I was dumbfounded after your thesis posed right thereafter. “I’ve been wondering quite often, these past days, why it is that so few women break into middle management.” You looked genuinely concerned: alas, I wasn’t really prepared for such a discussion (and, you know, I was already feeling sort of dizzy because of the champagne and wine I’d had before my Coke Zero, that evening). You told me that we really had to be following the example of Asian companies, since women there seemed to get higher up in the bureaucratic hierarchy, and that people there seemed to take in household carers more easily; that those practices were more “accepted” in said society. You asked me if I’d thought about getting an au pair, as, however expensive it might become, such people really are the ideal solution for the upbringing of children of working parents, and that comfort had to be a standard.

Retrospectively, the above was a predominantly monologous talk held by yourself, next to which I only nodded from time to time, and from which I eventually fled in a cowardly fashion whilst briskly murmuring something about dancing colleagues and a group photo. I still feel bad about the whole ordeal, since I had liked to serve you with a proper, genuine answer: u truthfully seemed to be asking yourself those questions, most probably because you – correctly – sensed that I hadn’t really found my place at work again. I know that you were probably trying to encourage me implicitly, with great belief in myself or my capacities, and that you too feel like you aren’t surrounded by female managers enough. Kudos to you for that.

But here’s my problem … Ever since that little boy of mine came to life, everything’s changed. Literally. Every. Thing. We’re not talking about a bit more different, like when going for an entirely different haircut, or more different like when moving to a foreign place … No, I’m talking a fundamental, upside-down-world-ish quantity of different. Suddenly, I was a mum, 24/7.

I don’t think I need to explain the organisatory difficulties this brings with itself, because your answer to the problem already accounted for that. You also made the accurate estimation that, despite my motherhood, I wanted to be of some importance at work. What’s more, is that a clean office filled with grown-up people without boogers can somtimes be akin to an oasis of rest, after a hectic morning wherein a double change of clothes took place – once because your favourite jeans still don’t seem to fit properly, and another time thanks to the baby’s reflux.

You see, the absurdity is in the following. Even though I can sometimes get plenty of boogers on me (really, it’s an issue) and sleep but three hours, my little boy still makes my husband and me enormously happy – and with that, I mean incredibly happy; unfathomably happy, in fact. It’s a kind of love that makes me not only have to care for my baby, but mostly want to care for it. So, you see, there aren’t just organisatory problems, but it’s a case of fighting a primal instict: caring for offspring. (Not only an instict females have, that is: a lil’ one that clutches onto you like a tiny monkey every morning when you get him out of bed and ready for the day, also moves its dad … From speaking to many male colleagues, I’ve come to understand that many dads actually crave more time with their families, and yet don’t take such time off thanks to the stigma surrounding men who, a.o., work 4/5.) This is why I’d like to broaden the focus of the problem you posed.

But … why wouldn’t it be possible? Why wouldn’t it be acceptible that people – men and women alike – but their career on hold to parent their newborns? Why should I have to decide between the two? My career path has a minimum duration of approx. 40 years (which is … a long time). I work hard, have always worked hard, and will always keep working this hard: why then shouldn’t it be acceptible to soften the workload for about five years, without being marked as being an underachiever, or ending up in a position below my competence?

Believe me, the proverbial fire inside myself (the drive to build out an enjoyable, varied career and company), is still there. However, having a young child to care for, which asks for your attention every two seconds, makes it impossible to achieve as much business-wise as before, and drains the necessary energy to do so (like when little, vile teeth protrude through red, swollen gums, preferably at night).

The problem isn’t me being unable to find a sitter to care for those teeth and grant me some comfort; because when I carress my lil’ one’s crown, sing his boo-boos away or give him his medicine, I feel as if I’m doing the most important job of all, however tired I may be at that moment. I prefer to know my child: I know his ways ‘n’ words, understand him (though to others, he might be incomprehensible), feel when he’s about to throw a tantrum, and know what I have to take with me with every displacement (i.e. half the household). I’m his mum; he’s only got a single one, you see.

Now, let’s consider Asia. There isn’t any other region in the world where employees spend more hours at work, don’t dare to say “no” thanks to an oppressive hierarchy, and have to bow under unbearable workloads – isn’t there any other way for us to manage things? Of course there is.

I’m not having another baby, for various reasons. In this same regard, it’ll only happen once that my boy’ll be this small: hell, in just one year, he’ll be attending school! In three years’ time, he won’t even be able to nestle himself in our creases as he does now. Sure, we’ll take those boogers anyday. My husband and I would like to enjoy all this. The only thing I ask, is some leniency from my employer.

I might be absent more than usual (I want to be honest about that), but my time’ll come. More importantly, the things I still do at work, I do with pleasure, and well. My remaining time, I spend in a useful manner: that is, at home, I’m in the process of nurturing a tiny human being as to have him become a nice, active and dynamic world citizen, who’ll help give shape to our societal and economical structure. I’m sure that in no time, he’ll be realising fantastic things, unfolding his talents, and building a successful career path. From the bottom of my heart, I hope that he’ll be able to combine this with a family of his own, for which he’ll be caring from dusk till dawn.

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