Women are expected to do it all—and even more significantly, we expect this of ourselves. I’ve learned that nothing tests this personal resolve like being a so-called momtrepreneur. For me, the meaning of “having it all”—founding a business, balancing a full-time job, and most important, caring for my baby, George—changed dramatically between pregnancy and after giving birth.
Let’s start at the beginning, when I was around five months pregnant and began to work on the idea for what would become Emilia George. Looking back, this period was manageable, including balancing my full-time career at the UN. I loved being pregnant, though due to hematoma, it wasn’t an easy time—a sense of “balance” for my husband and I included getting to know ER triage in ways we certainly hadn’t anticipated! Then I gave birth to George five weeks early, and absolutely everything changed. My nascent business ground to a halt, and during this sensitive, crucial period, caring for our premature baby was our sole priority. (Here I should mention that I was fortunate enough to be able to take four months of paid maternity leave, which I regard as the single best period of my life. Extremely frustratingly, this is far from the norm throughout the US.
Yet even with my four months and the one month off my husband had, I soon found myself working to juggle raising an infant, starting a business, and staying on top of my full-time job, where immovable deadlines precluded taking a more extensive leave. At transitional moments like these, we question what balance is.
With my baby as my top priority, the truth is that certain things do go out the window. I’ve traded off a social life—to my beloved friends, I will see you again one day—and I admit that self-care like gym-going has remained elusive. But time moves forward and life with an infant changes more rapidly than we can ever imagine. Fast forward to the lead-up to Emilia George’s launch. I had more or less recovered from my c-section. George was a little older and on a schedule, my husband and I were both back at work, my mother helped us—it truly does take a village—and we were and are extremely grateful to have a trusted nanny. Balance returned, albeit at 100 miles an hour. During this period, I’ve learned what I’m truly capable of, even if sleep seems to be a relic of a bygone era. A Chinese production partner once asked me if or when I ever sleep, and the truth is that I got, and get, very little. But with suppliers in Europe, Asia, and the US, the the sun just never sets in my personal time zone. Momtrepreneur life has required a daily commitment to accomplishing that one more thing, whether it means working while my baby naps or squeezing in a final task at night. The positive effects of these efforts are wonderfully cumulative, but crucial to me is that I manage them without sacrificing a moment of time with George.
What has helped make this possible is a strong support network, including my mother, and in particular, my husband. Rather than painting a picture of doing it all on my own, it’s important to me to give credit where credit is due, particularly to a husband willing to help cart fabrics through Manhattan’s Garment District on weekends, in between truly sharing parenting responsibilities. With his support, I’ve also carried out somewhat extreme decisions in pursuit of balance, like moving our family home closer to my office. With work in walking distance, I can now come home on days without lunchtime appointments for an extra midday period with my baby. Does a move from Queens to Manhattan just to make this possible seem like a lot? Yes. Did it make my family pretty grouchy at the time? Well, yes to that, too.
But in the pursuit of momtrepreneurship, I’ve learned there is no single path to making it work, only a highly personal, wholistic set of decisions involving support, family, time trade-offs, and yes, sometimes an entirely new family home. Given that, I would love to hear from you. What does having it all mean to you? How do you balance work and motherhood? What are some of your trade-offs and perhaps most important, what will you never let go?