By WMM Contributor: Elizabeth Braatz
Shortly after graduating with my undergraduate degree, I started working full-time and did so until starting graduate school a few years later. While in school, I worked for the university, teaching undergrads so my resume was fairly stacked when I embarked on interviews a few months before graduation. Before I knew it, I had a job lined up, and started my first day right after graduation. I had been with that company for two years when I got pregnant with twins.
I was able to work my entire pregnancy without feeling the ramifications of the multiple pregnancy but went home one night from work, my water broke in the evening at 31 weeks and the babies were born very early.
I spent my first six weeks of FMLA leave in the NICU with the babies – pumping and watching their progress/declines, repeat. I thankfully spent the second six weeks of my FMLA leave home from the hospital with two premature babies. I was back at work for a few months when the gravity of their prematurity became more evident after assessments from the hospital. The babies were not catching up to their full-term peers, thus medical intervention was deemed necessary. This job was going to be far larger than we could rely on a caregiver to provide. So, I stopped working and spent the next several years home caring for the kids. Also in this time, I had a third child two years after the twins were born.
In that time, I did contract journalism and got certified to teach group fitness and cycling so I’d have an outlet out of the home for smaller amounts of time throughout the day. Despite this, I had created a resume gap that I’d never had before.
As I was trying to get my foot back into the working world with more permanence, I went on several interviews and, will never forget an interview that I had with a woman about my age on Christmas Eve (the only day that worked for her):
I met with a woman who was running the department for a very large, national organization. If I had been offered the job, she would have been my boss. I had connections to the organization and the interview was going well, until she delved into my resume gap. She said something like this:
“I’m always hesitant of moms with kids. I know that a lot of moms decide that they want to go back to work, but they just don’t know how to after staying at home with their kids. Can you explain to me how you can do it so I can be confident that you’re a good hire? I’m just so weary.”
I remember sitting there for what felt like eons, almost as if I could hear the clock ticking second by second. I wanted to stand up and say, “You have my resume in front of you. You know what I’m capable of and I’m telling you what I’m capable of. How dare you question my abilities when I’ve not even shared with you why I have a lapse in employment beyond that I stayed home with twins?”
If you want to know how I responded, I honestly cannot remember. I think I blacked out honestly. I probably gave her a fluff answer about being motivated and wanting to contribute to a great organization, but at that point, I just wanted to leave her office.
I remember her noting that she did not have kids, but I don’t think that you need to be a parent to know that capable workers can also be parents. I also know that if I were a dad, this question would certainly not be asked of me!
I do recall that I did not explain in detail (like I did above) why I stepped away from the workforce because I didn’t feel the need to justify my choices. After all, my children were born not breathing and spent weeks in the hospital and I still showed up to work after my maternity leave. And I’d cry in my car on the way each and every day because I knew what I’d been through and what was still ahead. And yet I still left the house and showed up to work.
I share this memory with all of you because I think it’s important to have a frank conversation about the way society sees working mothers, especially those with a resume gap to care for and raise their children. Being able to stay home with your child(ren) is a wonderful gift – both for the child and the parent – and no one should shame parents for taking advantage of that gift. Further, in situations like mine, when my kids were doing physical, occupational and speech therapy multiple days a week, I was pumping six times a day for 14 months and they were physically delayed, the only answer is to trim the family spending and stay at home. And it’s no one's damn business.
In honor of #workingmomsday, celebrate working moms for what they’ve done, what they currently do and what they WILL do when it’s the right time for them. Stop assuming that the resume gap was a time when we were unemployable; maybe they/we were doing the most important job of our lives in that moment.