Nonfiction Societal The Word 5 minute read

Women in the Workplace: Va Jay Jays On Mute, Talent On Speaker

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March 3rd, 2003       When my husband walked into our home to take me to the hospital, I was naked on all fours, in the middle of our bathroom floor with the cell phone at the edge of the bathroom tub on mute, but with the speaker phone on so that I could hear when I need to participate.  Intermittently, I would balance on 3 limbs (2 knees and an arm) to blow dry my hair.  I was determined to get two things done before I had our second child: close a deal with Comcast and ensure that my hair would not look like Buckwheat’s from the Little Rascal’s like it did the first time I had a baby.

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Every now and then, I’d crumple into a modified downward dog (the full downward dog is tough when you have a 9-pound baby in the way), squeeze my eyes shut, and grunt through a contraction—startling my husband into commanding me off of the phone.  “Let’s go,” he’d plead. “Get off the phone.  Put on some clothes. Geez, this is ridiculous.”

The call ended.  The deal and hair got done—successfully.  And the baby was born—thankfully at the hospital and not on my bathroom floor.  No one on that conference call ever knew that I was in hard labor the entire time that I was on that call.  I swear, my husband and the anesthesiologist probably would have had to rip that cell phone out of my sweaty hands if the call had not ended in time and positively.  There was no way that I felt that my message of “my business is more than capable of handling this contract and meeting all of your business needs” could be coordinated with “but excuse me while I go have this baby.”

The first time I had to go to Philadelphia to see my client in person, post baby, my baby boy was 3 months.   I stuffed myself into an old suit, left the zipper half-zipped, the button unbuttoned and doubled up on my lactation pads while I stuffed my doubled-sized boobs into a sports bra.  By the time, I got on the Acela Express train back to DC, I had unzipped the pants all the way to let-it all hang-out under my long suit jacket — and debated whether to ask the woman in the seat ahead of me that maybe a few gulps of breast milk would help calm her three year-old hyper-active child down.  If nothing else—it would help me out (my breasts had turned to 2 volcanic rocks since I hadn’t nursed all day).

But, it was the Dot.com era. Things moved fast and they weren’t pausing because I decided to procreate. Everybody wanted things done yesterday; A.S.A.P was too slow; Whatever you couldn’t do, somebody else could. I was hungry, ambitious, and trying to excel in the IT world where women were scarce.  I tried to become gender neutral—never mentioning any topic that would bring attention to the fact that I had a vagina – quite frankly because I knew that children in that world and at that time were viewed as an inconvenience—something that would slow me down and slow progress down.  So I — wrongly or rightly — hid every pregnancy and child as long as I could and as much as possible.

Are you judging me?  You aren’t if you are honest and a working mom.  You show me a working mom and I will show you kids who know the difference between a work call and a social call simply from the look their mom gives them.  I’ve seen 2.5 year olds who don’t know blue from green but know to stop singing “wheels on the bus” by a look, and a finger to the mouth from her mom.

I know plenty of moms who have had to ask virtual strangers for favors (to and from activities) because of work responsibilities.  Or who have had to have kids Uber home (guilty), have their kids wait for them for hours, or skip an activity because at bottom it is tough for a woman to tell her boss that she is unable to do something because of her parenting obligation that her male colleagues are only too eager to do.

So, I can’t believe that people are so surprised that Hilary Clinton hid her illness. Clinton did as women do daily–we hide anything that makes us appear weaker, less capable than a man. I’m not writing this from the perspective of a Hilary supporter, but from that of a professional woman. I’ve watched Clinton struggle on the tightrope that many of us professional women have walked.  If she shows emotion then she is unstable, easily moved and too sensitive.  If she doesn’t, then she is cold.  If she had announced that she was sick: she undoubtedly would have been declared weak, frail and unhealthy. So she did what many of us women do, all of the time, we just keep on pushing until we simply can’t.

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