My Working Mom Hat
By Jeanine Pesce
I am a working mother. The word “working” comes before the word “mother.” That is not a coincidence.
For most of my life, I've obsessed over my work. Whether it was as a waitress in my parent's Italian restaurant or an editor for my high school newspaper, I defined my worth by my work. When I was growing up, the harder I worked, the more I achieved, the more my family loved me. When I started my career, I would always be the first one in and the last one out. I would push myself to the brink of exhaustion on a regular basis, and I would wear that exhaustion like a badge of honor.
In theory, I knew I always wanted to be a mom. I mean, I didn't know when and with who, but in my early 20s, I remember letting the universe know I was open to it. When I met my husband, I knew he was the one to take the leap with. A few days after giving birth to my daughter, Annie, I had a very lucid, incredibly symbolic dream about becoming a mom. I was naked in the bed of a pick-up truck holding Annie while my good friend was driving. As she stepped on the gas, the truck jerked forward and launched my body into the air. Luckily, I was tethered to it by a rope. I was screaming for her to stop the truck, but she couldn't hear me. The faster she went, the further my body was suspended. I remember reaching for my baby, who was still in the truck, helpless and afraid, but I couldn't get to her. When the truck reached full speed, the cord connecting me became taut, like a kite on a windy day, and then snapped. As she drove away with my baby still in the back, I tumbled to the ground and rolled over to the side of the road. I lay there naked, broken and bruised until a group of strangers discovered my helpless body and took pity on me. This was my subconscious entré into working motherhood. Never fully there, always watching from a distance trying to reconnect with my baby.
When I was about seven months pregnant, I went to check out a birthing center in L.A., where I was living at the time. When it came time to talk about career plans, I explained how I had built my creative agency from the ground up and felt like it was my first born. I was proud. Holding someone else's placenta in a to-go container, the woman who owned the center told me, "Well, honey, it's time to take off your business hat and put on your mommy hat." That didn't sit right with me. If I took off my business hat, who would wear it? It was a special hat I earned the right to wear and I wasn't about to stick it in the closet until next season.
That was the moment I realized I might not be the mother I planned on being. And I walked out, head spinning. I thought I was ready for this transformation, to part ways with my former self and flawlessly transition into motherhood with grace and ease. I read every natural birthing book, I did prenatal yoga, I found an amazing doula, I had all the right rocks and crystals. I had this vision of myself as some kind of Earth mother, so consumed with the act of mothering everything else would just fade away, especially my drive to work. I assumed my obsession with my career would transfer to an obsession of being a mom. Spoiler alert: that wasn't the case.
After about three weeks of maternity leave, which I barely could provide for myself, I found a nanny and went back to work. Breastfeeding on conference calls, scheduling meetings around naps. I missed feeling competent and in control, and I had a really hard time figuring out who would be "me" while I was off being "mom." Eventually, I came to terms with the fact that if I was focused on being a mom, my business suffered and if I was working, my relationship with my daughter suffered. It's a brutal cycle of self-inflicted guilt I deal with on a daily basis.
As my daughter got older—she is 2.5 years now—things started to get more manageable. Eventually I found my working-mom groove and started to embrace my unique position as the master of my own destiny. I've definitely had to make sacrifices along the way, which in turn has affected my ability to scale my company, but that's the funny thing. Growing a company is not the same thing as raising a sweet, loving child. I think I just needed a little perspective and a physical space from the postnatal insanity I associated with the first year of her life. In reality, I am truly a better version of myself now. I have boundaries with my clients, I eat lunch most days, I don't work on the weekends (gasp!). I've made peace with who I am and not who I thought I would be.
Jeanine Pesce is Annie's mom and the founder of RANGE, an independent agency and magazine inspired by the culture of the modern outdoor movement. she will also participate in the 6.21 nyc mom panel on the birth of the working mother. to learn more please check our events section.