Happy December, Moms! This month we're spotlighting Megan Suardini, VP of Marketing and Communications at Visit Milwaukee, and amazing mom to a one year old! Read more about this incredible woman in our exclusive interview!
Name / Employer / Profession(s)
Megan Suardini, Vice President of Marketing & Communications at VISIT Milwaukee.
Please tell us about your child.
I have one kiddo… my son just turned 1. He is a ball of energy these days. Pretty much went from crawling, to cruising, to walking in one week, and now it’s like he is training for a marathon. Honestly, he could maybe start his own moving company; he is literally pushing furniture twice his size and weight around the house and climbing stairs like its Mount Everest (of course supervised!).
Tell us a little bit more about you and your family (immediate and/or extended).
I’m a true Midwest girl and really proud of it. I was born and raised in Noblesville, Indiana, went to college in Cincinnati, moved to Chicago for most of my 20s, and six years ago moved to Milwaukee for the job at VISIT Milwaukee. My husband and I have both fallen in love with the city. After spending four years living in the heart of downtown in Walkers Point, watching that neighborhood explode with amazing bars, restaurants, shops, we now find ourselves in our first house out in Wauwatosa. We love the community, have met so many great people, and still love the fact we can walk to coffee shops, music concerts, breweries and more. Shortly after getting pregnant, my husband and I sat down to crunch some numbers. He was still working in Chicago and his long commute wasn’t going to be sustainable once we had a kid. I’m beyond blessed that he’s a stay-at-home dad. His support at home has helped me be able to focus on my work responsibilities and navigate through figuring out my new working mom role. I have to admit though there have certainly been times I’ve been very jealous not to be the stay at home parent. This summer he was going on fun trips to the zoo, pool, library, or golfing with our son while I was stuck in a work meetings. In those moments, I remind myself how lucky we are to have this setup. And if that doesn’t work, and I’m still envious, I just tell myself that someday at age 3 there will be an absolute meltdown and I will be like “sorry I have to go to work” and softly close the door to a screaming kid sprawled out on the kitchen floor with my husband standing over him. Ha!
Tell us a little more about your job.
The simplest way to explain it is VISIT Milwaukee works to get people to come visit Milwaukee. My company is an accredited destination marketing organization who specializes in promoting the Greater Milwaukee area and in turn attracts people to come here for leisure vacations or host big conventions, meetings, or sports events in the city. We work with over 700 partner businesses, generate $5.2 billion dollars in economic impact annually, and tourism supports over 52,000 full-time jobs in our region. My role is to oversee a super-creative and talented marketing and communications team. On the marketing-side we are working on advertising campaigns, websites, producing visitor guides and maps, coordinating photos shoots, producing videos, overseeing our social media channels (@VISITMilwaukee and @DearMKE), pushing out email newsletters, creating sales kits and MKE-themed giveaway items, and more. On the PR-side that team is working in lockstep with media… pitching stories, doing press releases, being interviewed on podcasts about the city, standing up regularly on local TV talking about what’s happening in town, and hosting travel writers. You know the articles that come out from Chicago Tribune, New York Times, Vogue, Huffington Post about how cool Milwaukee is… well there is a very good chance that article was a result of my team pitching and working with the journalist.
Are there other moms with little kids at work? How has that been for you?
I’m so lucky to be a new, first-time mom at VISIT Milwaukee. Since my hire 6 years ago there have been 12 babies born! It’s crazy. On my team alone, we have 3 babies under the age of 1. Luckily none of our maternity leaves have overlapped as that would of been super hard on our small team. It’s important to also say there are a ton of moms and dads at the office with older kids, and coworkers with grandkids now. It has been such a gift and true support system. My whole pregnancy everyone in the office was checking on me and asking how I was feeling and doing. And now they sit patiently as I gush about what my little one is up to or what new photo/video I have to share. One mom in particular at the office literally has given me her extra breast pump, dozens of extra pumping supplies, and at this point maybe 500 clothes ranging from size new born to 24 months. It has been AMAZING. I’m so grateful for truly having a “work family”.
What's the hardest part of being a working mom?
The mental shifting from work-mode to mom-mode. I find it really hard to disconnect at night after a long, intense day at the office. The challenge to be present when playing with my son, after a day of bouncing for meetings, work emails, and conversations. It’s hard to break the habit of constantly checking the phone or running through a “to do list” in my head. I’m also still breastfeeding and working to find time to pump during the day; which honestly I’ve gotten into a good routine, but when I first came back to the office after maternity leave that was a big challenge. My schedule tends to be overbooked with meetings, and I’m not in a position to really control a set schedule of “I pump at 10 and 2” despite my trying. It took a long time to find my grove and we only have one private break room for staff, so often I would be all set to go pump and someone would be in the room. But everyone in the office has been good about it, and my team caught on quickly that I’d need some “wellness room breaks” between meetings when they are looking to schedule time to meet with me.
What has been the biggest surprise so far in motherhood?
I was surprised by my “up tightness”. I still have a lot of nervousness and probably had (or maybe still do) some postpartum anxiety and hormones going on over here. I keep my composure together for the most part, but boy oh boy the first year of having a baby is rough on marriage. My husband and I are an awesome couple (if I do say so myself), but even with all our love and good communication skills; we are for sure more snippy post-baby. And when I say “we” I really mean me (fully aware most the snarky is coming from me). I think it’s totally normal, and your friends with kids warn you that being a new parents is very stressful, but that has been a shocker for sure.
Do you have any words of advice for other working moms, especially those that are newer working moms and learning how to navigate this new world?
You do you. By that I mean, take all the advice you can get, welcome it, but at the end of the day you are going to be the mom you are going to be. I’ve surrounded myself with so many amazing moms, and really haven’t witnessed much “judging” at all, but I think it’s important especially for new moms to feel confident in whatever unfolds. If you want to make a birth plan for delivery, great do it. My birth plan was simple “give birth”. HA. If breastfeeding works out for you, great. If it doesn’t, that’s totally ok too. Is your kiddo getting feed; that’s what matters. Do you want to be a stay-at-home parent, great do it. Do you want to work, great do it. Whatever you do just be true to what is working for you, and your family. Try to take things in stride. And be kind to yourself. Being a new mom is hard, real hard, and you are doing great. Say it to yourself. Say it to another mom you see who probably needs to hear it too.
...take all the advice you can get, welcome it, but at the end of the day you are going to be the mom you are going to be.
What (in your opinion) is Milwaukee's biggest opportunity to improve the lives of working moms and better support them?
I think that Milwaukee is setup for raising a family and providing its workforce good work-life-balance. First, the city hasn’t experienced the “urban sprawl” of other cities. Locals say you can get anywhere in 20 minutes, and even some of the further out suburbs are a relatively short drive away. I can leave my office and be pulling into my driveway in 10-15 minutes later. That’s a huge perk for a working mom, spending more time with my family then stuck in traffic! We also are a “work-hard-play-hard” community. Maybe its the city’s German roots or history of being a manufacturing town, but there is a bit of a clock-in-clock-out mindset. Granted, I know this isn’t the case at all companies, and I for sure find myself with a handful of evening work commitments throughout the work week, but it is night-and-day from my time working in Chicago. I use to leave my cubicle at an ad agency down there at 7pm and would get looks like “where do you think your going?”. Here in Milwaukee rush hour seems to be at 5pm and is wrapping around 5:30pm. The ability to leave the office at a decent time and be with your family is a luxury for living in a big city like ours. Plus, all the amazing family amenities around town… amazing parks, beaches, museums, and more. Even activities that are deemed more “adult” are kid-friendly in our city like beer gardens, breweries, and nice restaurants. Switching gears a bit, I also think a big opportunity in the city, especially for working moms, is the rise of female leadership at our local companies. I can honestly say I feel like a better boss now that I’m a working mom. I hadn’t walked in those shoes prior, so I didn’t realize the challenges and emotions of being a new parent. I feel better positioned now to support coworkers and employees on the team who have children, and advocating for work policies that can support working parents.
What is your favorite thing about Milwaukee?
This is like asking a parent who is their favorite kid. My job is to market and promote Milwaukee. I love it all. Taking my work hat off though, and just thinking personally what I love to do in my free time… I love to ride my bike on the Oak Leaf Trail up to the Hubbard Park Beer Garden. I love to check out all the new craft breweries in town. I love showing family and friends who are in visiting cool places like Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge or Koz’s Mini Bowl. And as of late, my favorite things to do are baby swim lessons at the YMCA, watching my little guy explore Betty Brinn Children’s Museum, and going to Tosa Yoga for baby & toddler classes… which is mainly my time to see my new mom friends.
Do you celebrate any holidays in December? If so, what are your plans?
We will be with my side of the family on Thanksgiving, doing the usual big turkey dinner on Thursday followed by Shop Small Saturday shopping. Maybe some golfing, weather dependent. Still trying to figure out Christmas plans. Probably not decorating much this year since I can’t imagine the baby proofing involved in making a tree safe for a one year old. Maybe we’ll put it out on the deck and just stare at it through the windows. Ha! Ho. Ho. Ho.
What are you most looking forward to in 2020?
All my focus right now is on 2020! We have so many amazing things always happening in Milwaukee; Summerfest, Wisconsin State Fair, Irish Fest, Riverwest 24, Polar Bear Plunge, Santa Rampage…the list goes on with the annual events. And we are certainly use to having huge events come through town like the PGA, U.S. Open, Harley-Davidson 115th Anniversary. But next year, 2020 is going to be the biggest year yet. We will be on the world’s stage hosting the Democratic National Convention. And that is a focus of my team right now making sure we prepare to take advantage of all the exposure and media attention heading our way. But it’s not just DNC that makes 2020 so exciting, it’s also that we will host the Super Bowl of golf tournaments, the Ryder Cup up in Kohler, we have the USA Triathlon back on the lakefront, Gymnastics American Cup coming to the city for the first time, and so much more. All that on top of getting to see what is in store with a new toddler to keep me entertained!