I Planned On Being A SAHM After My Baby's Birth – Now I'm The Breadwinner Instead

by Christine Malek
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I’m not one to label myself with a trendy acronym like “mompreneur” or “mom boss” … I’m simply a mom who works, a lot.

Until I became a mother six short months ago, I never truly understood, or had an appreciation for, parents who continued working after the birth of their children. And yet here I am, a working mother with a six-month-old son attached at my hip daily as I plug along inputting information into spreadsheets and answering emails for two companies.

To back up a bit, I started working at two companies by accident. I was five months pregnant when the pandemic hit the U.S. in March. Before we knew of the coronavirus, my husband and I sat down to discuss what our plan looked like after the baby was born. Would I continue working? Would I become a stay-at-home mom? I was fortunate to have options. Together, we chose to meet in the middle. I would take one year off to eliminate daycare costs and acclimate to motherhood. And who wouldn’t want to stare at a chubby little face every day for a year?

Then the pandemic hit and our plan turned upside down. I knew in April, with the unemployment rates jumping through the roof, that I was thankful to have a job, and a career as a Senior Manager of Marketing and Communications for a tech company in the Bay. I couldn’t leave that behind and risk putting my family in financial ruin. So I chose to stay with my current company as the virus unfolded in our area.

My husband is a commercial airline pilot. His industry was hit hard and the government had to approve a bailout package to ensure the public could still travel in the future and people like my husband still had a job at the end of this. So, he took an unpaid leave to avoid getting furloughed. That meant I was the breadwinner — and a soon to be new mom.

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During my maternity leave, my former manager had extended an offer to me to lead communications for her team at her new company. I was thrilled to be offered an opportunity that would diversify my portfolio during a time when jobs were scarce. I said yes and contracted with the company. I was, and am, still employed by my existing company as well.

Because of my husband taking an unpaid leave to avoid furlough, I have been scared to leave my existing company where I am a salaried employee and jump to being a full-time contractor where the hours are inconsistent. Being able to make my own hours is a perk of being a contractor, to be sure, but I need consistency to make sure we have food on our table. I decided to keep both career-building opportunities, while raising an energetic little baby for the time-being. AKA, until my husband is able to return to flying, I will be working my tail off and hoping no more gray hair pops through.

Day to day is tough. Because we were living in our bubble and social distancing from family and friends, we are opposed to hiring someone to come help take on household tasks or entertain the baby during the day. My husband has now assumed the role of stay-at-home dad for the next nine months of his leave — something he didn’t expect but, we are so lucky to have two parents at home during the day for the first year of our son’s development.

There’s another twist, though. My husband suffers from chronic pain. His pain can be manageable one moment, and another it’s so bad he can’t get out of bed. It’s unpredictable, and it’s hard to know when it’s a bad moment and when he is doing “okay.” Because of his situation, I need to step in 50% of the day to ensure our son has structure and stability during the day. So here we are, in the center of a pandemic, and my day-to-day consists of balancing a budding career, a baby, a husband in pain, and the household. Thank goodness the cat is independent.

When you zoom out, everything looks like a well-oiled machine. Dishes are washed, laundry is folded, the living room is organized … for the most part. When I talk to my teams, they assume I have external help during the day, and I don’t say anything to change their minds. Even though I work for a company with a strong D&I backdrop, I still feel embarrassed to tell my team that it’s just me and my husband chaotically taking care of the baby daily. With women’s pay equity still a factor, mothers who work suffer even more pay inequity; it gives me pause to say out loud that I need to rush from a meeting to feed my child while my husband takes a few moments to sort out his pain away from the family. But I am reliable, I always think to myself!

When you zoom into my daily life, I am in a virtual meeting while feeding a baby under the camera so no one can see him, then changing him when the meeting concludes. I will hear him getting fussy and my husband will need a break, so I will be bouncing my son on my lap as I complete our annual strategy or work on updating metrics, all while trying to turn to the side to avoid screen time for a six-month-old. After I finish working my “day shift,” as I call it, I head to the baby to entertain him 1:1 for a while before feeding him, making dinner for the adults, and then getting him ready for bed. Once he’s down, I jump back online to finish up everything that I couldn’t get done during the day because of the back-and-forth between motherhood and my career.

It is so exhausting and yet so rewarding to be a parent. So, to all the moms out there, single, coupled up, or married, know that you are not alone. There are some days where I don’t even know how I survived, and some days feel lighter. Even when my child is screaming in the background while my husband yells “Where is the burp bib? He spit up again,” not fully realizing I’m in a virtual meeting — and my SVP is then asking me to mute because he can’t hear himself talk over the chaos in my house — I still wouldn’t give it up for anything.

If you are wondering how to do it all, my advice is to just breathe. There isn’t a way to “do it all.” Getting up and keeping everyone going is enough, and you are doing the best you can with the cards dealt right now.