Sha Sha Chu, Software Engineer at Pinterest

Menlo Park, Calif.

Surviving my child’s health crisis with my career, sanity, and marriage intact

9:15am – 4:45pm in the office, then if I need it, a couple hours from home after 8pm

Simon, 17 mos.

In-N-Out Burger

Does The Martian by Andy Weir count? Science!

I’m lucky in that my lovely wife does most of the cooking. We’ve been trying a lot of slow cooker recipes recently, and order Munchery or Door Dash around once a week when she needs a break.

Wired and Entertainment Weekly

Recently I’ve been into Orphan Black and The Great British Bake Off. And Buffy will always have a special place in my heart.

Reddit, and my Kindle

If you can afford it, hire house cleaners.

This is a boring answer, but I love taking him along with me to run errands. Target is basically his Disneyland.

Knowing that I have strict limits on the amount of time I can spend in the office helps keeps me focused.

1. Tell us about your working mom journey. What are you doing now, and how did you get here?

I got into Computer Science because I was interested in video games and computer graphics. I got a job out of college at Electronic Arts, where I worked for seven years, then I spent a year doing mobile game development. After that I worked for a few years at a startup called OnLive, which developed a streaming games platform. When they went belly-up, a friend of mine who has been at Pinterest for a few years contacted me, so I applied and started a few months ago.

As for becoming a mom, as a two-mom family, we have the unique luxury of having two choices for who should carry the baby. Due to my wife’s work schedule (she was in Residency to become an OB at the time,) we decided it made more sense for me to carry. We obviously knew we’d have to use a sperm donor, but what we didn’t anticipate was me having difficulty conceiving. I ended up having to do IVF which was both tedious and expensive, but I was lucky enough to have the first embryo transfer work, and that gave us Simon!

2. As a new mom, you went through a very difficult health situation with your baby. Can you tell us about what happened and how he is doing now?

When I was 30 weeks pregnant, during a routine ultrasound, the doctors discovered a cyst growing in Simon’s brain. He had two surgeries, one at six weeks and the second at five months, to drain and remove the cyst since it was causing pressure in his skull.

The surgeries went well, but about a month after his second surgery, he suddenly got very ill, and we found out he had contracted bacterial meningitis, which has a mortality rate of somewhere around 10% in infants. This resulted in a very scary three-week stay in the PICU, where he had an external drain in his brain and received a central line to deliver heavy antibiotics.

At the end of his stay, his surgeons implanted a device called a cerebral shunt in his brain to help drain off the excess cerebrospinal fluid from his brain into his belly. He was discharged shortly after New Year’s, but he had a cascading series of complications, and he spent most of the next two months in the PICU, sometimes having surgeries every 5-6 days. He had his 17th and hopefully final surgery just before his first birthday, so we recently celebrated five months out of the hospital, which is a record!

He is doing great now, thankfully. He has quite a bit of catching up to do developmentally, but despite everything he’s gone through, he’s a very happy kid.

3. We’re so glad he is doing well! I imagine this was a very clarifying experience for you. How has it changed the way you approach work and life?

It was hands down the most life-changing experience I’ve ever had, and to be honest, I think I’m still working through what it all means. It’s fair to say that neither my wife nor I will ever be the same. Certainly it has made me exceptionally grateful for everything that we have.

Although what we went through was horrible, it was nothing compared to what we saw so many other families go through during our long PICU stays. We both had employers that allowed us to take time off to be with Simon, we had financial resources, and we had friends and family bringing us food and visiting nearly every day. Contrast that with the baby with the heart defect who only saw her working mom once a week, the toddler who sustained a traumatic brain injury in the car accident that also killed his mother, or the parents agonizing about what to do after being told their teenager would probably never wake up.

I’ve always been a happy and optimistic person, but having gone through what we did has helped me view each day I have with my family, my health, and my career, as a gift.

I’m also particularly grateful to Pinterest at this point in my life and career. It was an opportunity to be part of a fast growing and fast moving company that is still extremely supportive of their employees who have families. I feel like I can come in and do great work, but still be able to go home and spend time with my family.

Pinterest's Sha Sha Chu, Woman in Tech,4. What have you learned in the last 18 months?

I’ve learned that parents are capable of incredible things. If you had told me in advance what our first year with Simon would be like, I would have never thought we’d be able to survive it, but here we are. Related to that, I’ve learned that people are capable of extraordinary generosity, and that you should accept it when it’s offered.

I’m part of a small mom’s group on Facebook made up of women all over the world, most of whom I’ve never met in person. When the founder of the group realized we’d be spending Christmas in the PICU, she rallied the group together to send us gifts to help bring Christmas to us. Being able to open a Christmas card or box of homemade snacks didn’t change the fact that we were spending Simon’s first Christmas in the hospital, but it made it so much easier to bear.

5. Given all of this, what is your best advice to other professional women?

Don’t sweat the small stuff. And when your child is having brain surgery, everything is small stuff.

With the amount of information available to us every day, it’s easy to feel like every decision is do or die — breast or bottle? Daycare or nanny? Can my child really survive solely on bananas and string cheese? We put immense pressure on ourselves to be perfect, especially when the amount of time we’re able to spend with our children is limited by work.

But really, the only question you need to ask yourself is, “Is my child happy today?” And if the answer to that question is yes, you must be doing something right.

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Photo credits to Sherman Chu.