I sat among my fellow MBA graduates in Madison Square Garden as the Dean told us to go out into the world, become CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, and soar professionally. Instead of listening to these inspirational words, I watched as my gown grew tighter across the bust as I swelled from underneath. I was engorged.
Following the ceremony, I jumped into a cab, raced into my apartment, stripped off my cap and gown, and unhooked my bra to pump after not being able to nurse my 2-month-old son for the past six hours.
Excited to start a family, but realizing my schedule constraints, I planned the birth of my firstborn to coincide with my last class. Woody Allen famously said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.” In this case, we were in cahoots.
Business school revs you up to go into the workforce with confidence. I was ready to set the world on fire, but when I first held my newborn, the flames started to die down. I couldn’t imagine leaving my baby while I went back to work. So I decided that following my graduation I would take some time off before looking for a new position.
Although I might not currently be applying all of the technical skills I gained from Finance, Statistics, and Economics courses, the degree helped prepare me for motherhood in four major ways:
1. It takes a village: The last semester of business school, I was also pregnant. I got used to being passed over for group projects. Who wanted to work with Mrs. Preggers? By just taking one glimpse at my burgeoning belly, the other students knew right away that I wasn’t going to be pulling all-nighters. And what if I gave birth early? Who would pick up the slack? So I relied on the friends that I made earlier in my program who knew me well and understood that I would work hard but who were also willing to help me through the finish line.
Similarly, life with a newborn requires supernatural energy. I depended on my husband, parents, in-laws, and anyone who was willing to lend a hand. I knew that no one could replace me as my son’s mom, and sharing responsibilities enabled me to feel like everything was under control.
2. Ability to Juggle: Even in my last trimester of pregnancy and last semester of graduate school, I carved out time to work two days a week. I had a full plate and it wasn’t easy also making time for a social life, my marriage, and sleep. I didn’t always do everything I wanted or needed to do, but ultimately, I fell into a rhythm that felt satisfying.
Now that my baby is 3 months old, I’m starting to fall into a different rhythm. My days are consumed with diapers and breastfeeding. But I try to take advantage of every second my son is napping and knock out whatever feels most pressing at the time. Frequently, it feels luxurious to take a shower that lasts more than five minutes. Other times, I reach out to friends and old colleagues, write, or read a good book. It’s important to remind myself that I am more than my milk.
3. There’s no reason to be competitive: When you group type-A students into a class where the grading is based on a curve, there’s going to be fierce competition. By the second year, we finally realized that very few employers want to see your graduate school GPA. This attitude helped myself and my peers enjoy the learning process without stressing over a few points on an exam. Looking back at my MBA experience, I remember the camaraderie I shared with my friends and not every principle from Operations.
Mothers want to feel like they are doing a good job and crave validation. However, this inclination tends to turn motherhood into an Olympic sport. I’m trying to take a different approach: The more supportive I am of other moms, the more support I receive in return. Whether your baby is sleeping three hours or 12 hours a night, I guarantee that we are all exhausted. Don’t compare the number of minutes your infant does tummy time on the floor. Don’t roll your eyes, even if you think another parent is ridiculous. Feeling understood is the greatest gift I can give and receive.
4. Laughter is the best survival method: I have my strengths and weaknesses like everyone else, and Accounting definitely fell into the latter. There were some rough moments when I was bored, frustrated, and in over my head. I would come home and feel the urge to both laugh and cry. At these times, I tried my best to laugh. I chose to commiserate with classmates, make fun of myself, and find the humor in the situation. I ended up helping out a friend with his Management project in exchange for Accounting tutoring. This arrangement allowed us to chuckle at our shortcomings and enjoy teaching each other what we knew well.
With an infant, there are many moments when I can just as easily burst out into tears or a howl of laughter. There was a dinner party where I disappeared to nurse and came back to the table with two large milk stains on my silk blouse. There was a middle of the night feeding when a projectile spit-up found its way into every crevice of my body. Laugh, I tell myself over and over. Laugh.
When I go back to work, I hope to use my newfound MBA expertise to grow professionally and become a future business leader. For now, I’m comforted to know that the past two years of time and tuition can still be applied to raising my son.