Life as a consultant with two under two

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Life as a consultant with two under two

When corporate consultant Janice Yeo came back from her first parental leave with her daughter Kate, it would only be a few short months before her second leave with her son Chris. In the course of figuring out how to manage these two back-to-back leaves within the context of a high-flying corporate role and career, Janice learned a thing or two about making working parenthood truly work. We’re grateful that she has shared her thoughts with us here.

During my career at The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), I’ve attended countless client meetings. But there’s one in particular that I won’t soon forget: the time a lunch companion tossed her meal all over the office floor and erupted into tears, all over a misplaced cup of water.

This wasn’t a tough-to-please client but rather my daughter Kate, who, at 8-months old, had accompanied me on a client get-together while I was on parental leave. Since then, I’ve mastered the art of juggling the needs of a fussy toddler with the high demands of work. But like any challenging project, there have been some triumphs – and tricky situations – along the way.

I had started with BCG in Singapore office in 2008, fresh out of university, and later transferred to Toronto, Canada as part of an associate abroad program. I now call the charming – yet chilly – Canadian city home. I became pregnant with Kate, and spent a year on parental leave. But here’s where my story differs from most: when I returned back to work in June of 2018, I was already expecting my second child.

Sharing the news of my first pregnancy was a cinch. I had worked for BCG for many years, boasted an excellent track record, and was on an enviable career path. But my confidence waned when I learned I was having a boy in January, only a few short months after returning from leave. It’s hard enough integrating back into the workplace as a new working mom. But as a pregnant new working mom leaving yet again in another few months?

As I navigated this tricky situation, I discovered a number of strategies that I believe can improve how we talk about pregnancy in the workplace and the way we view working parents.

My first instinct was to apologize for my second pregnancy. As women, I think we’re conditioned to feel bad about inconveniencing others.

Resist the urge to say sorry. My first instinct was to apologize for my second pregnancy. As women, I think we’re conditioned to feel bad about inconveniencing others. But the truth is, I love my job, I love how I’ve planned my life, and I’m excited about having a second child. By staying positive, and not apologizing, I’ve encouraged my BCG family to share in my happiness and support the next stage of my life and career. Similarly, I’ve learnt to stop apologizing for having to leave the office earlier to be home for dinner with Kate. My co-workers can still count on me to deliver the work even if I’m not in the office.

Seek out other women for advice. I turned to a female BCG career counselor and a couple of female colleagues who have had been on multiple parental leaves for advice. They helped me see my situation in a different light: one clear benefit of me completing my family in quick succession (I only plan to have two children), was that I’d return to the workplace permanently – a perspective I wouldn’t have gained if not for meaningful conversations with respected confidantes.

When regularly scheduled 9AM meetings with the client became too difficult to accommodate, I spoke with my male client counterpart and asked if we could shift our morning meetings to 9:30. Turns out, he also handles daycare drop-offs and happily agreed.

State your limitations. My default setting is to quietly acquiesce to any request as I didn’t previously think twice about putting in an extra hour of work. But that’s changing as I grow into motherhood – an extra hour of work means an extra less hour I get with Kate. I set “office hours” with my teams, providing them visibility into my commitments, so they know when to expect me in the office. I find open communication is key. For example, I’m responsible for dropping off Kate at daycare. So when regularly scheduled 9AM meetings with the client became too difficult to accommodate, I spoke with my male client counterpart and asked if we could shift our morning meetings to 9:30. Turns out, he also handles daycare drop-offs and happily agreed. I never would have known if I hadn’t communicated my needs.

It seems the less flexible my life becomes as a mother, the more laser-focused I am as a consultant.

Embrace being a working mom. Motherhood, in turn, has made me a better consultant and manager. Three o’clock in the morning feedings, on-the-fly diaper changes, and poorly timed tantrums can teach even the most experienced consultant a thing or two about workflows. Case in point: I’m now more efficient than ever. Email responses are perfectly timed, my calendar is determined weeks in advance, and I can complete a presentation deck in a fraction of the time it used to take me. It seems the less flexible my life becomes as a mother, the more laser-focused I am as a consultant. Another upside: I’m no longer reluctant to delegate tasks. This not only allows me to get home at a decent time, but it provides my team members with new learning opportunities. A hectic schedule has also curbed my tendency to micromanage, granting colleagues the freedom to make their own decisions.

Certainly, not everyone can relate to having two children in two years. But I hope my story can help change the mindset and messaging of working parents. These days, I wake up excited to make breakfast for my daughter. But I also wake up eager to work on some really compelling projects with people I respect and admire. It’s not always easy. And having my second child, Chris, will bring a whole new set of challenges. But by talking openly about pregnancy, delegating responsibilities for better work-life balance, and not being afraid to set boundaries, you’d be surprised by how many people are willing to move mountains to make things work. Even if it means having the odd messy client lunch.

#MindrMama Janice Yeo is a Principal in BCG’s Toronto office. She first joined the firm as an associate in the Singapore office in the fall of 2008, and spent a year in the Toronto office as part of the BCG Associate Abroad program. Her project experience covers telecommunications and retail sectors across Southeast Asia, The U.S. and Canada. Prior to rejoining BCG in the Toronto office, Janice spent two years with Starwood Hotels & Resorts, leading up their specialty select brands in Asia Pacific. Janice holds a double degree in Economics and Business Management from the Singapore Management University. Outside the office, Janice enjoys spending time with her husband and daughter and cooking.

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"I nearly died after giving birth. Now I'm on a mission for other moms."

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"I nearly died after giving birth. Now I'm on a mission for other moms."

This is a story about how I almost died after giving birth two years ago – and what I’m doing about it now to make sure what happened to me doesn’t happen to anyone else.

I had delivered my beautiful, healthy boy on Mother’s Day 2017, and had just come home from the hospital when I realized that something was wrong. Of course, I had expected to feel wrecked after childbirth – who wouldn’t? – but this was different. This wasn’t “normal.” My face was swollen, my heart was racing, my head pounding, and while I thought I could cure this with a nap, I suddenly had the feeling: If I go to sleep, I won’t wake up.

We went to the closest ER, five minutes from our home. I told the staff that I might have pre-eclampsia. I was no expert, but I had just read about a mom who died of the condition because her symptoms were overlooked until it was too late, and from what I could tell I had every classic sign.

Waving away my concerns, the staff gave me blood pressure meds and a bed to rest in.  I was told, “You do not have pre-eclampsia.”  They wanted to send me home. 

Lucky for me I didn’t believe what I had been told. I pushed back. After a sleepless night of panicked worry, taking a picture with my son thinking this may be the only thing he will have of me, eventually I was transferred, reevaluated and diagnosed – it was postpartum pre-eclampsia. I was immediately treated, and a few days later I was back home with my son. 

But a switch had been flipped. I had successfully advocated for myself; now I needed to advocate for others. I had to make sure what happened to me – the lack of information provided to me about maternal complications before my discharge from the hospital the first time, the missteps and miscommunication that had put me unnecessarily at risk the second – wouldn’t happen to anyone else. 

My first move was to reach out to the Chief Safety Officer for Gynecology and Obstetrics for the two facilities where I received care. I called and emailed and requested in-person meetings to discuss how my case could have been handled better. I studied up and prepared talking points. I downloaded and printed out a handy list of warning signs and symptoms, developed by the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) that nurses in other states had already started sharing and sending home with patients. (A poster version is available from the AWHONN website in four languages.) 

I was not an experienced advocate – my day job is as a research scientist in a university lab – and I didn’t know how it would pan out, but I knew I had to try.  

And policy change did come. Now, at the hospital where I gave birth, the AWHONN “save your life” flyer is reviewed with new moms before discharge. Additionally, the hospital system's ER staff has been retrained in postpartum pre-eclampsia response, and every woman who comes back to the hospital within six weeks of giving birth must be seen by an OB within the hour.

I share this story because I hope to inspire others to do what they can to enact change in their local communities. I want to do my part to help guide others on how to use their voices and tell their stories to help raise awareness of maternal health – and galvanize support around solutions. The US maternal mortality rate is the highest in the world among high-income countries; about 700 women die every year from pregnancy- and childbirth-related complications, and as many as 60% of these deaths are preventable, according to the CDC.

This is my call to action for all mothers: You know best what can be done to better improve maternal health in your community, because you have experienced it.  While national efforts through initiatives such as the Alliance for Innovation on Maternal Health (AIM) and Review to Action are incredibly important in setting standards, you can work with your unique systems to make a difference in the lives of all the mothers who come after you.    

More champions, more advocates are needed. We all have a stake in this – not just women, or women who are pregnant, but anyone and everyone with a sister, daughter, friend or neighbor who might one day become pregnant. We can all do our part. We can print, post, tweet and forward the information and tools that are available. We can educate and empower ourselves, our partners and loved ones to know when to get help when help is needed, and while getting that help, to demand better care. Survival is the bare minimum. We want mothers to thrive and feel supported in those critical days, weeks and months post-delivery.  

As Mother's Day month ends, I encourage all who feel as passionate as I do about these issues to find ways to productively channel that passion. I shared my story and the local level changes that are saving lives in my community today demonstrate what can go right when we speak up in a way that gets others to listen, and then, more importantly, to act.

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Dr. Marie McCausland has a PhD in molecular virology and is a post-doctoral fellow in HIV research at the Alan Levine Laboratory, Case Western Reserve University. Marie's advocacy work is supported by Merck for Mothers, Merck’s $500 million global initiative to help create a world where no woman dies giving life. Merck for Mothers is known as MSD for Mothers outside of the United States and Canada.  

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Author Chat: Molly Millwood, To Have and to Hold

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Author Chat: Molly Millwood, To Have and to Hold

In her book, To Have and to Hold: Motherhood, Marriage and the Modern Dilemma, clinical psychologist Molly Millwood explores and illuminates the oft kept silent challenges and complexities women face as they transition into motherhood. Combining her personal experiences becoming a parent, clinical experience as a therapist and extensive research, Dr. Millwood provides a new lens for examining the impact of new motherhood on wellbeing, identity and marital relationships. We had the opportunity to chat with the Vermont-based Dr. Millwood about her new book.

Much of your book is about dispelling “myths of parenthood” – what do you think are the most important parenting myths to bust, and why are they so persistent?

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One reason the many myths of parenthood persist is that we need positive illusions in order to take the leap and have a baby. It is perhaps a strange thing to say, but to some degree the survival of our species depends on these illusions. If we all knew ahead of time exactly how challenging it would be, many more of us might opt out of the endeavor altogether. That is a biological, evolutionary explanation but I think it’s a really important one; it’s important to understand that at a primitive level we are wired to expect good things out of parenthood, and to discount or minimize any negative murmurings we hear.  

If we look at the myths of motherhood in particular, I think they persist because of strong socio-cultural forces that impede honest discourse. In a culture that often views mothering as the ultimate achievement of a woman, and that can value a mother’s skill at parenting over her well-being as a person, it is very difficult for women to talk openly about how much they fumble in their roles as mothers and how depleting and aggravating and confusing it really is.   

I think the myths that are most important to dispel are the ones that shame parents for experiencing negative emotion toward their children. So, for instance, if we buy into the myth of parenthood as the greatest source of joy, and then we find that actually what we feel in the presence of our children is a great deal of boredom or irritation, we then wonder what we’re doing wrong, or what’s fundamentally wrong with us as human beings that we don’t derive more joy from our children. We’d be so much better off if we knew to expect a full, messy array of emotion in relation to our children. 

You highlight the importance of recognizing and grieving the “fundamental sense of loss” a woman faces when she becomes a mother (e.g., loss of autonomy, personal freedom, sleep, predictability, and so on). How can we better prepare ourselves and our fellow mamas for this loss?

I wanted to emphasize the experience of loss in motherhood because there has always been so much emphasis on what is gained. The construct of motherhood is saturated with notions of growth and expansion – there is a growing belly, a “new addition,” a new identity – so that women are often blindsided by the loss, constriction, and stagnation that are just as integral to the experience of motherhood. We need to be able to recognize and name those losses in order to grieve them, but we don’t even have a mental framework for taking that critical first step of recognition.

The human brain has a real problem with dichotomous thinking; it’s either a gain or a loss but it’s not both. I think we need to create a new narrative of motherhood as metamorphosis. It is a change of monumental proportions that involves losses and gains, constrictions and expansions. If mamas-to-be could visualize themselves about to undergo a metamorphosis, they might be much more able to cultivate a stance of curiosity about – and acceptance of – all of the ways they feel themselves changing once their baby is born.   

Why do you think shame is such a prevalent feeling among new mothers, and how can women avoid the “shame hole” you describe in your book?

First of all, isolation breeds shame, and in our culture the conditions of new motherhood are inherently isolating. We are sent home from the hospital or birthing center – and all of the care and support that we had there – too soon. We take leave from work, so we are no longer in daily contact with other adults. Our partners likely take little or no time off work, so they’re not home with us. We are confined to the couch or the bed all day while breastfeeding. It’s tough to pack up and get out of the house with an infant, and so forth. This is a major piece of the shame puzzle; motherhood was not meant to be done alone, and yet for most of us there is a tremendous amount of aloneness in the early weeks and months.

Many new mothers are steeped in both shame and guilt, and I think it can be really helpful to distinguish between the two. Guilt is about doing – it comes from a negative judgment about what we’ve done or not done. So if I snap at my child, I might feel guilty about that. Shame, on the other hand, is about being – it comes from a negative judgment about who we are at our core. So if I snap at my child often enough, I might begin to think, “What kind of person am I to speak so sharply again and again to my innocent little boy?” That gives rise to a feeling of shame, and when we feel ashamed, we most certainly don’t want to broadcast the issue that stirred up our shame.

Shame makes us want to hide, and when we hide and isolate ourselves and keep our thoughts and feelings to ourselves, that isolation and secrecy breeds more shame. So it’s a vicious cycle, and breaking that cycle requires the brave choice of transparency. We have to give voice to whatever it is we’re scared to say out loud. Why is that so important? Because when we take that risk of sharing, we are sure to learn that we are not alone. Others will say, “Me too!” We break through the illusion that other mothers are navigating motherhood with grace and perfection, and we learn that we’re all just fumbling along quite imperfectly. When these messy truths of parenthood are shared without hesitation, we can let go of any shame about the mess existing in the first place.  Shame finds no home in the broad daylight. 

Your chapter on how “It takes a village to raise a mother” speaks to something we talk about often in the Mindr community: the importance of social interconnectedness and finding your tribe. What suggestions do you have for soon-to-be moms and/or those who have not yet found their tribe? Where and how did you find yours?

There are few things more important than this for coping with the strain of early parenthood. I now understand that one of the reasons my own transition to motherhood was so difficult is that I really lacked a tribe. As I wrote about in my book, my husband and I had moved to the opposite coast from both of our families, and all of the friends with whom we had longer histories had scattered. Although we had forged connections with other couples in our new Vermont life, we were the first among them to have a child. There were various other factors that made it difficult for me to connect with other, like-minded mothers, especially in a face-to-face way, and at the time I really did not appreciate what an essential thing that is. 

I think I was under the illusion that because I had a strong bond with my husband, that he and I would weather the storm together and I didn’t need more than that. More and more couples are raising children in this way, in insular environments with no family or good friends nearby, and that has some troubling repercussions. I address this issue in my book – the danger of relying on only your partner during such a trying time. If we have only one person to whom we can turn for relief from parenting and for emotional support, that person will inevitably let us down, and that becomes fertile ground for conflict and resentment.

It was not until our older child started kindergarten in the small town where we live that I began to feel I had a village. I think my life has been incredibly enriched by this feeling of interconnection with other parents who live just down the road, whose kids are friends with our kids, who lend a hand when we need help with transportation or childcare just as we do with them. It was a long time coming, and I feel a great sadness when I think back to myself as a new mother without a village. I want every new mother to know that it isn’t enough to have a partner and some long-distance family or friends. We thrive on face-to-face interaction with other women and without that we truly suffer. And I want new mothers to know that cultivating connection is an extremely worthy use of their limited resources; time and energy are in short supply, but using some of it to be in touch – literally, if possible – with other women will have big payoffs.

What impact do you hope your book will have on mothers, fathers and the larger ‘village’?

I have a lot of hopes for what impact my book may have, but I’ll zero in here on just one. Above all, I wrote this book in order to illuminate and normalize the emotional complexity of the typical transition to motherhood, because this is a transition that has the potential to rattle and rearrange a woman more than anything else she has experienced before. I want people to realize that in motherhood, we discover feelings, impulses, thoughts, and wishes within ourselves that we likely never would have encountered had we not become mothers. This “full catastrophe” of motherhood is the norm, rather than the exception, and it includes a great deal of negative emotion. 

Negative emotion tends to be resisted and pushed away, and in women especially, it is pathologized – it is construed as an indication of depression or emotional instability. In actuality, mental health involves being able to recognize, and allow ourselves to experience, the full array of emotion our human existence brings. I hope my book helps people in that crucial endeavor. I hope that when readers see themselves reflected in the stories I’ve shared, they will find language for naming their experiences and permission to claim those experiences as perfectly natural and understandable.

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