Becoming Maman amidst the Paris Fashion World
BY MARILYN SMITH
A PARISIAN IN PORTLAND, OR
With my first born (she's 3 now) I went back to full time work in fashion when she was nearly 6 months. I was living in Paris at the time where there’s good maternity leave (compared to US standards) and I was able to earn 100% of my salary during my leave. The return was BRUTAL. I knew it was not going to be easy but I didn’t expect it to be that hard. Even though I had great working conditions (as long as I had the job done, my boss didn’t care what time I left work), I left every night to rush home in time for the nanny, always with a half guilt feeling that I was abandoning my colleagues that were still working away at their desks past 7 PM.
I pumped at work for a short while (to reach my 6 months breastfeeding goal) before I finally gave up, my milk flow was not coming anymore. I remember sitting in the nurse’s office at work pumping and checking my work email instead of looking at pictures of my daughter. I felt guilt from both sides. For not being with my daughter and for not being 100% involved at all times anymore with a job that I adored. All that guilt was also unfounded, all of it I was creating in my head, my daughter was thriving at home with our wonderful nanny (whom I still miss everyday!) and I was doing great at work, even getting a promotion the 1st year that I returned from maternity leave.
To top it all off, I began to have insomnia from all the guilt and anxiety. I would lay awake at night and think to myself, how am I going to go to work tomorrow on 3 hours of sleep? Well I did, many times, that’s the thing with motherhood, you realize that you can do things that you thought you wouldn’t be able to ever do (i.e. birthing a baby!!). During one of my insomnia-ridden nights, I ended up booking an appointment with a parenthood psychologist as I was convinced something was wrong with me for not being able to cope better as a working mother. I went to see her twice and she soon made me realize that absolutely nothing was wrong with me as a mother and that all the angst I was feeling was more linked to a previous traumatic work experience I had had (that’s another story maybe for a book one day on the crazy Parisian fashion world!).
Eventually things sort of clicked, I got into my new working mom routine, learned to say no to my work when I needed to and to set boundaries so that I could feel safe and in control of all these changes happening in my life. We recently relocated to Portland where I now also have an almost 5 month old son in the mix, and I’m about to go away on my 1st work trip as a freelance fashion consultant (exhilarating!). After experiencing going back to work full time with my daughter, it was important to me to have a shift in my career. I found that transitioning into freelance work gives me more freedom and time.
I think that there’s no perfect solution yet for the working mother, but that talking honestly about its challenges does help, to share our stories and to actively listen to other mamas does actually help. We always focus on the pregnancy but it’s the 4th and 5th trimesters that are the hardest.