Before I got pregnant, I only heard negative stories about motherhood affecting careers – inflexible working hours, unreliable nannies, and childless bosses who secretly resented mothers. My biggest fear was the unknown effect my pregnancy would have on my life.
And then I got pregnant!
As my bump grew, my fears ballooned. I set my out of office response to refer to my “secondment to baby-land”. I was relieved my parental cover was contracted for only six months because I was afraid he would usurp my position.
On my last working day, my mentor warned me, “Everyone says that taking more than six months off won’t affect your career but it really will.” I was struck by his honesty yet appreciated his candour. It certainly was not what I wanted to hear before waddling off on parental leave.
Before my baby arrived, I was focused on all the things I had to do, rather than the moments I could be in. I changed my list of ‘to dos’ to ‘I’ve done its.’ I only put on my wrist-watch four months after the birth because I wanted to be present for everything I did with my baby.
Whilst I was on parental leave, I applied for a junior role at my firm. Although it was a demotion, I felt the new area would offer greater professional development. I had applied for that position the year before and been rejected at the last round. Swallowing my pride, I re-applied this year but was rejected again.
This time, I didn’t feel that I wasn’t good enough. I felt that I didn’t get the role because they were looking for something else.
And perhaps by the law of attraction, that week, I got calls from two recruitment agents. I received an offer from a bank whilst interviewing with another.
The offer gave me a confidence boost, but I was already on a high. I had actually created and birthed a human being! I feel immensely proud that I am my daughter’s favourite person in the world.
Buoyed by the offer, I decided to negotiate my starting salary. I read that men are eight times more likely to negotiate their starting salary and 20% of women do not even consider negotiating. I felt I had nothing to lose but everything to gain. I had the security of returning to my old role which was comfortable and convenient. But I was really seeking a role that would be worth the opportunity cost of leaving my baby.
During the negotiations, the recruitment agent pressured me to accept the advertised salary. I felt that if I didn’t value myself, neither would the agent or the bank. I told the agent that if the bank agreed to come up to my rate, it would demonstrate how much it valued me. Hallelujah, the bank agreed.
I stood my ground because I had recently heard Sheryl Sandberg speak in person about the importance of “leaning in”, of not taking the foot off the brake till I really had to. She said that some women didn’t apply for more demanding roles because they planned to get pregnant.
Knowing I wanted to get pregnant has added fuel to my ambitions. I vowed (and still vow) to push myself outside my comfort zone. To be honest, even writing this article has been intimidating. My husband and I never visit the same country twice. We trekked to Tengboche, half the height of Everest because we wouldn’t be able to carry a baby up the mountain when we could barely carry ourselves. I tried skydiving despite my fear of heights. Without knowing how to swim, I tried white water rafting, fell off the boat and survived a near-death-life experience. Most importantly, I sought a secondment at a law firm by approaching a Partner listed as the most senior female regulatory lawyer at her firm globally and a mum to three boys. A director at my firm who kindly opened the doors for me by forwarding my CV was a childless woman who demonstrated that she truly nurtured her staff. That work experience was crucial in securing this new role.
I am writing this to share my story because I wish I had a friend or sister who shared their positive experiences. I am writing to encourage you to attempt and achieve every dream and idea because you have the opportunity to selfishly devote time and energy to yourselves before getting pregnant. And you may find that these stretching experiences can enhance your self-esteem.
When Marrisa Meyer was head-hunted to Yahoo at six months pregnant, a (female!) commentator said it only worked because she was “super human, rich and in charge.” Ladies, lets lean in and inspire each other instead of putting ourselves down. Ultimately my higher sense of self-worth helped me secure my new job, negotiate almost doubling of salary, and gain progression in my career. If I hadn’t gotten pregnant, I wouldn’t be the woman I am today relishing my two roles at work and at home.
Metok Lee is a Banking Professional and working mum. This article was first published in the Huffington Post