How to take maternity leave when you’re the startup’s CEO

My daughter turned two months old yesterday, and even though we are still squarely in the “fourth trimester” stage, this is when most moms in the US prepare to go back to work. Assuming, that is, they had the privilege of taking any time off at all.

How do women CEOs take maternity leave? If you go by what you read, they don’t – they’re right back at it immediately. But any mom will tell you that the only way to achieve that is with a hell of a lot of help.

Facing a lack of realistic role models and with no guidance to be found, I went into labor without making any plans for how long I would take off and how I would ramp back up. I prepared my team to work without me, and told myself I would play it by ear.

The result? Guilt. I feel guilty that I didn’t take a real maternity leave like good mothers do. And I feel guilty that I didn’t go back to work full force after one week like good CEOs do. And that’s the honest truth.

Baby’s first podcast, with KUOW’s Jeannie Yandel and Eula Scott Bynoe

I want FFA to succeed in our mission, and I’m willing to put in a huge amount of self-sacrifice to make it happen – so much so that I’m constantly at risk of burnout and try to stay vigilant about practicing self-care. I also love what I do and the people I’m surrounded by. It should surprise no one who knows me to learn that I chatted on slack all the way through labor and took a call from one of my advisors just an hour before pushing the baby out.

There’s also the question of what kind of example I am setting for my team and what kind of culture I want to create.

Crashing the FFA leads meeting

I fundamentally believe that every parent should have equal parental leave when their child joins the family (fun fact – I argued for paid paternity leave in my undergraduate thesis at the London School of Economics nearly 20 years ago).

I want my employees to be able to take time off without stressing out about work, because having a child is stressful enough. But I am very conscious that, by working through my own “leave,” my deeds don’t match my words. Do as I say, not as I do. It’s one of the many challenges and contradictions that I don’t have the headspace to solve right now.

My first investor lunch, with FFA investor Harini Gokul

On the flip side, I am really, really tired, my body still needs to heal, and even though I’ve had help, my baby needs me. My family needs me. And I need them, too. So I’ve spent most of the past two months with a baby in my arms, working when I can and where I can, usually one-handed. Sometimes it’s not much. Sometimes it’s too much.

For better or for worse, this is really me. Me with my messy schedule changing poopy diapers on my coworking desk. Me on a conference call while pumping. Sleep deprived me who can’t find the right words. Imperfect me doing the best that I can. And the only thing that makes this possible is my love for FFA, my love for my family, and the rare privilege I have to combine the two in ways that feel right for us and us alone.

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