This is a post about being a woman in business.
It is a post about how far we have come and how far we have not. Full disclosure, if you do not like boobs or feel weird when woman breastfeed in public, you should probably stop reading…but I guess that’s the point of this blog entirely.
It is hard to be a woman in business.
I do not mean the sort of hard where you have to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and grow a thick skin, because I have done that. As an entrepreneur, my job is essentially having uncomfortable conversations in uncomfortable places and writing checks that are gulp worthy. The kind of hard I mean is the kind where the playing field is uneven and you were not given boots, let alone bootstraps to pull yourself by.
My husband is a wonderful man and a terrible picture taker. Our phones are full of shots where I have one eye open, but every year he takes at least one shot where I feel he captured the moment unbelievably well. This blog contains the two pictures that I feel like best sum up the last 3 years of my life.
I had a daughter in 2018. I knew parenting would be hard…I did not know how deeply I would feel the total loss of myself and by extension, my business. I spent most of my maternity leave multitasking to a level I did not know was possible. I was often working from home while pumping and holding a crying baby. I was protected in some ways financially through NYS Paid family leave (and if you are a self-employed person who would like to carry an insurance policy that will help you take a leave for bonding you can- most do not know this) but I was NOT protected emotionally.
When things got hard, I had a choice, take care of my daughter or take care of the business. I felt deeply the loss of control and freedom, there were weeks on end where I did not leave the house because, if the baby slept, then I had piles of work to do. People kept telling me, sleep when the baby sleeps…and I kept thinking how? My business would fail if I did. And no matter how much my husband ‘helped’, it was still helping. He was not shouldering the same burden I was…he was not on a 3-hour tether dependent on milk supply…and he did not have to ask if it was ok to leave the house. I did. Somehow it was all on me. I deeply resented that nothing had really changed for him, he had not had to give anything up to have a family. He was tired but happy.
I was not prepared, and 8 weeks of poorly paid maternity leave without child care is not nearly a good enough safety net. The only real thing I could do was take a pay cut by working less and not move forward as an owner. I was left wondering, is postpartum depression really a thing? Or do we just not adequately care for our mothers. It was simply put, a depressing and stressful time, but it had nothing to do with the act of giving birth. I felt like I missed out a lot of bonding with my daughter because of it.
This year I had a baby at the height of the pandemic. At 9 months pregnant, I was sleeping 4 hours a night and having rolling panic attacks. Hospitals in NYC announced that women would give birth unattended, leaving no one to make medical decisions for me or my child if there was a problem. I felt marginalized and it was very stressful. Afraid they would cut NYC off from the rest of the country, we left home for my in-laws in NJ.
I had also failed to secure funding in the first round of government loans called the PPP (Paycheck Protection Program), meant to help save small businesses. While helpful in theory, the loans were organized as first come first serve, and frequently the servers would crash while I was applying due to the crush of applications. The battle for financial survival was real. I stayed up at all hours frantically applying for grants. I applied everywhere, for everything, and cried. I cried a lot. After multiple applications and failed attempts, I tweeted a reporter who helped me secure a loan.
Here is where things get interesting though…I received this loan the week before I gave birth. This loan was meant to be used in 8 weeks immediately post-funding (a funding that you were often not aware was coming–it just showed up) and it also required complicated payroll and legal administration for my twelve employees. I have no HR department or a full-time lawyer. Getting an accountant on the phone took a week…How was I supposed to administer these funds while in the hospital, or with a days-old newborn? The Cares Act, which is the bit of legislation that the PPP (the loan) was part of, made no accommodations for women who might be pregnant, or on maternity leave at the time of their funding. So if I was unable to use the money because I was otherwise occupied creating a human, I would miss out?? It is not a huge accommodation for them to make a single line of text granting exceptions for a business owner on medical leave, but no one even thought about the women owners out there. We are frequently unsupported and overlooked. I spent the week before birth, emailing and calling congress-people trying to get the PPP loan changed so I could use it outside of 8 weeks when I was recovered. I went back to work trying to save my business days after giving birth.
Having children ghosted me in some ways. I became invisible because I could not force my way in by brute alone. Instead, I have to run home and stay home in order to function. As much promise as NY offers; it is also a prison. With my child, I cannot leave my neighborhood if I am not strong enough to carry my child up and down the steps of the subway in a stroller. Certainly now with two, I cannot really go anywhere. The world is not built for us here. As a woman, I have to run home every 3 hours because there is nowhere to pump breast milk safely if you are out and about. So I have to choose…what is more important, my infant’s health or my right to be out? Women are frequently overlooked in legislation and in medicine. No doubt when the dosage for the vaccine comes out, that will be based on men as well.
The hard part is we have come so far. I remember celebrating when the paid family leave (my maternity leave) rolled out in NY…because finally we had some validation that we deserved some leave by law, but it is not enough. It makes no difference if I have leave, if when the leave is done I do not have child care. It makes no difference if I have leave if I do not have legislation that always considers women might be owners and mothers as well. Why do we have to fight so hard for such basic things? We are half of the world. I pay my share just as much as anyone. Why have we come so far and it is not much at all??
ps. The PPP loan was turned into a 24-month program. I am still struggling at home with work-life balance, trying to save a company while having a newborn.