I was on the SkyLine level of the Space Needle, making pleasant enough small talk with a pleasant enough woman, when I asked her something that had nothing to do with the event I was there to cover. It had everything to do with me.
My husband and I are thinking of having kids soon, I said. But how do we know that — you know — we’re ready?
She laughed, I remember. A heavy, “here we go” kind of laugh. Then, with a severity that would make hers the most memorable answer to a question I was asking every mom I met, she told me the last thing I wanted to hear.
“You are never ready.”
So. How do you prepare for the insane life change of having kids?
I’m writing this — you should know — from a Starbucks in Seattle’s Green Lake neighborhood, one hand tapping my laptop keyboard, the other cradling my newborn daughter’s head. Behind the fitted drape some clever marketer dubbed a Hooter Hider, she’s nursing.
“Congratulations!” a woman says while I burp her on my shoulder. “Thanks,” I say, and swing her doll-sized body to the other side.
My daughter is three weeks old, and I feel like a pro. No freaking out when she cries in public. No crumbling over lost sleep. No guilt when I put down work to pick up the baby, or when I put down the baby to do some work.
“You seem so comfortable,” a friend told me at home later as I changed a particularly challenging diaper.
I chuckled. There’s a reason little Lina hasn’t blown up my life. Her older brother beat her to it.
I was one year into my GeekWire column and a couple months into my Sunday Seattle Times column when Julian was born in summer 2012. And just as I’d done when I started those regular dispatches to brand new audiences, I made urgent decisions about how I’d manage this new relationship before I even met who I’d be dealing with. Decisions I’d end up rethinking. Decisions that were never that urgent in the first place.
It’s a bummer, but if you want kids, you don’t want to adopt, and you’re a woman, you probably have to get pregnant.
Some women’s pregnancies are delightful. *Forces smile.* Mine were multiphase, full-body rebellions.
I had to meet deadlines when my stomach churned. (Ginger ale!) When my energy tanked. (Caffeine!) When swollen wrists kept me from typing. (Dragon Dictation!) When my pelvic floor crumbled and I waddle-limped like a hurt penguin from interview to interview. (Chairs!)
My body was not the only thing disappointing me.
One day an email arrived in my inbox from a contact who forgot to take my email off the “to” field. He was recommending me to a potential client, with a caveat: Mónica Guzmán was pregnant and “might be slowing down work load,” he wrote.
I was stunned. I should have replied right then and there and told him how wrong it is for anyone to assume anything about how I decide to mix work and motherhood. But I never did.
You can’t control how your body will handle pregnancy. It’s better not to try.
But as for how you want to mix work and motherhood — that’s your turf, and no one else’s.
DOING IT ALL
After two nannies, several babysitters, one drop-in day care and lots of false starts, here’s how I’ve decided to — ha! — “do it all.”
I schedule all my daytime appointments and interviews for just two days a week. At first it was Tuesdays and Thursdays. When Julian started going to toddler preschool, it moved to Mondays and Wednesdays. The other two days I hang out with the little guy, taking trips to the park or the zoo and catching up on email while he naps.
I have never done more work in less time than when he naps. I went full freelance a year before Julian was born, after a tech CEO in town helped me accept that even though it terrified me, it was the best way to advance my mutt of a journo-tech career.
The flexibility to work whenever and wherever I want came in handy when I considered how I wanted to parent: It gave me options.
But the most important lesson in striking my own balance came from Julian himself. From feedings to naps to playtimes, his dad and I marveled at how he followed his own rhythms.
After a while, I learned how to find and honor my own.
Mornings, I’ve finally realized, are when I do my best, most clear-headed writing. On Wednesdays I get up as early as 5 a.m. to finish my GeekWire column. On Fridays I get up as early as 5 a.m. to finish my Seattle Times piece.
When Julian was still in a crib, I’d listen for his wake-up babbles while I typed in the pre-dawn quiet. When I’d hear them, around 7:30 a.m. or so, I’d dash upstairs, open his door and see the biggest, cutest smile I’d see all day.
Whatever I was stuck on with my column tended to unstick after that.
“Mom” is by far the heaviest identity I’ve ever put on. There’s a lot more than a baby to not be ready for.
The exhaustion at the end of the day. The high-school temptation to compare your kid to everybody else’s. That time your friends decided to go to a bar after the movie and you had to relieve the babysitter.
Or when that friendly guy in the tech scene bounded over to me at an event, took one look at the Hooter Hider, and bounded away again.
I freaked, but I should have laughed. If there’s something I wish I’d known before becoming a mother — not just understood but actually believed — it’s that a) I’m the only one who gets to design the role, and b) no one has it all figured out on day one.
My first rate negotiation as a freelance contractor was a disaster. As was my first trip with my newborn son to a restaurant. I was a nervous, shaking, stressed-out mess.
Back at the Starbucks, I bring Lina back to our table with a fresh diaper and set her in her carrier. The woman I’d asked to watch my things while we were in the bathroom tells me she has a 1-year-old, and asks how the second kid is different.
But it’s not the kid who’s different, I realize. It’s me.
You’re never ready to be a parent. But it doesn’t matter. After a while, you figure it out.
Mónica Guzmán is a freelance journalist covering tech for GeekWire and The Seattle Times. She previously worked for the Seattle Post- Intelligencer and was a 2005-2007 Hearst Fellow. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @moniguzman