It feels a bit poetic that I write this blog entry from the friendly skies high above the world below, on my first overnight trip away from my little girl.
Once the 20-something career road warrior, deftly navigating numerous airports in a week, to now, the 30-something new mom who is discovering the freedom of air travel without baby and a monumental entourage of stuff.
It is one of the first few moments of quiet and non-touching that I have experienced in a long time, and in these quiet moments I once again feel a bit of freedom mixed with a side of guilt that I am actually enjoying this moment being me — not mom — but me.
It took me a while for me to get here – to this place where I allow myself to admit that I have changed, and to allow myself to miss the me before the mom.
Two years ago, I started my new role at my dream organization. I was excited for my new adventure to join the all female executive recruiting firm focused on working with nonprofits doing great in the world. I took two weeks off between roles and detoxed from my previous employer and enjoyed much needed time off. I started my new role, wide-eyed and ready to tackle this new chapter in my life.
Little did I know that I was not starting my new role alone; I was growing a new little life and a new identity for myself as well. Two weeks in, while positive that I had the illness of the current client search I was working on, I was shocked to see the little pink line appear on the pregnancy test.
Some of my thoughts after the initial, “Oh wow, this is happening,” were, “What about my career? My job? My airline status (funny but kind of true!)?”
Ten months later, I welcomed into the world a new reality that came in the form of a rosy-cheeked beautiful baby girl. What I didn’t realize was that with the new arrival marked the departure of another life and identity that I needed to acknowledge and grieve.
As the days of maternity leave ticked away, I grew anxious to return to my job. Internally there was a battle brewing over wanting to continue to be the full time mother versus the woman who missed working with nonprofits to find their leaders and enjoyed having an organized calendar of events that were far more predictable than a three-month old’s daily needs.
When I returned to work, I threw myself into the work trying to prove to my company, and more to myself, that I was not only the same kick-butt worker as before but even better now because I had birthed a baby. After a month of this grind, I was exhausted, depleted, and feeling as if I was failing on all fronts — wife, mother, and employee.
And then I was gifted with a conversation with the founder of my company that shifted everything for me. Katie called me into her office and asked me how things were going and I gave my well-practiced answer that everything was overall good and that I was working really hard and trying to find the balance.
Katie, a seasoned mother of two, saw straight through my answer. She leaned in close and shared the following words that I will remember forever:
“One of the hardest things that I have ever been through is when my mother died, but the second hardest loss that I experienced was the loss of the woman that I was before I had children. It is okay to say it is hard, and it is okay to grieve the woman that you were. You are not selfish, you are not less than, you do not have to prove yourself to us, you just need to be.”
And with those words, the floodgate of emotions erupted, and I felt allowed to grieve. I went through all five stages of grieving:
DENIAL — unable to accept that I was any different or couldn’t attack my work as before my daughter was born,
ANGER — angry that I felt expected to be everything to everyone, angry that there were not enough private pumping rooms, angry that I was touched out and guilty for not always finding the beauty of new motherhood
BARGAINING — stretching myself to the point of exhaustion to keep all the plates spinning at the detriment to self
DEPRESSION – feeling like I was failing everyone
ACCEPTANCE – (finally!) which came with embracing the good, bad, and the ugly of the new stage of my life and to love myself with the sweet admiration and grace that I feel with every snuggle of my daughter.
The freedom to grieve the woman that I was and embrace the woman that I am is a daily exercise in patience and love. As I packed for my first overnight trip away, I cried and thought of all the what if’s to going away but as I quickly passed through security with only one bag and then leisurely sauntered through the airport with hot coffee in hand, I remembered that I’m still the road warrior but now I just have new tricks up my sleeve.
Jackie Hanselmann Sergi is an executive recruiter with KOYA Leadership Partners in Portland, Oregon, loving wife, and a proud mom of one sweet little girl.