What’s This All About, Then?

Long after I’d had my baby and returned to work, I got asked if I could share my reflections on why I chose to be a working mom over a stay at home mom. Let me be clear: that ain’t what Laid Off & Knocked Up was about.

I have curated a select few of my posts about being pregnant and unemployed and moved them here because my hope for 2012 was to resurrect and keep up more with my original blog, Funky-Ass Monkey, and I didn’t want to maintain two separate blogs. (Maintain is really the wrong word, though, because Laid Off & Knocked Up was designed to be short-lived – it was simply a way for me document my own very personal journey through looking for work during pregnancy). Because I’ve saved only a sampling here, I tried to select posts that showed the range of emotions I was experiencing – the highs in looking forward to welcoming my first child and in finding a job at 7 months pregnant – and some lows in worrying that I would never find that job. It’s simply meant to entertain, and not offer any findings on the working mom vs. the stay at home mom debate.

For me, this wasn’t a question of whether I should or wanted to be a stay at home mom or a working mom. I wouldn’t even get the luxury of entertaining that debate. It boiled down to the reality of my circumstances. There was no question that my bank account, which was already on the fritz (thanks to dedicating 10 years to low paying museum work) couldn’t survive without a steady full-time paycheck, even without motherhood lurking around the bend.

How soon to return to work, whether to return to work full-time or cut back to part-time, or whether to be a stay-at-home mom are questions that untold numbers of moms have grappled with, and their various decisions are fraught with all manner of guilt, obligations, expectations, and a wide spectrum of experiences, all of which you can read about in advice columns and bookstores. But I’ve yet to stumble on an advice book of how best to handle being a stay-at-home mom when the baby’s not even through the first trimester. When it’s too soon to join mommy support groups, and too late to start drinking. That’s what these posts are about.

The question of whether a mom should work or stay home often gets framed in terms of independence, family preference, and personal fulfillment – and I believe that you have the right to choose what you feel is best for you and your family and that you shouldn’t have to defend your decision to anyone. These blog posts aren’t commentary on that debate. I have a lot of (deeply personal) opinions about the SAHM vs. working mom debate and how heavily that debate weighs on any new mom (or at least how hard it was for me), but I don’t share my thoughts on that in any of these posts. If you’re looking for that whole debate, you better keep googling.

What To Expect from a Job Interview When You’re Expecting

I finally managed to land a job interview. For a real job I would actually love to have! I’m beyond excited, but the interview is TOMORROW. Btw, seriously, people? You call up a job candidate to ask “What are you doing tomorrow between 11-12:30?” because that’s your only available window for an interview? Hmmm. I’m guessing I was on the alternates list.

I can’t afford any interview clothes but lucky for me, my pre-pregnancy wardrobe still fits okay (mostly). I can barely zip the skirt, but with my cheap imitation Bella band, it should be fine. So, if you find yourself in this situation, here is my advice:

  • Wear prints on top. It’s distracting and no one can tell that there’s a growing bump.
  • Wear a jacket or sweater, or even just a long scarf over the printed top. (Maybe she’s just locally fat?)
  • You could do crazy make-up. Then they’ll be puzzling over your face and too distracted to look south at your belly.
  • Don’t accept the bottled water they’ll offer you. You have to pee every 3 seconds anyway, so don’t press your luck.

And when they hand you a document to sign that says:

“[Employer] takes pride in the quality of employees to whom we have extended employment opportunities. In an effort to ensure that you are taking every advantage of your new employee training period, we highly suggest that you maintain 100% attendance during the training phase. Tardiness and/or absenteeism may result in disciplinary action. To ensure your employment success, we ask employees to keep their schedules free of extended appointments and vacations during the first 6 months of employment. Please provide us with the information below if you are not able to currently modify any future appointments. Requests for time off are not guaranteed and may not be paid during your first 90 days of employment. Leaving this section blank indicates your schedule is free of appointments…”

Lie. Lie, lie, lie.

Here’s the thing: if I were obviously pregnant, I probably would have been honest on the form because my interviewers would just march back to HR and say, “Either she’s pregnant or she swallowed a bowling ball.” But I’m not obviously pregnant. Even though I’m due in 3 1/2  months, I’m not really showing. I was able to wear my regular non-maternity clothes to the interview, and by wearing busy prints on top, I can further distract from what’s going on.

More importantly, I’m not sure how I was supposed to handle this.

After I’d been laid off, I got in touch with my HR representative at the museum where I’d worked to ask how to handle the pregnancy disclosure at job interviews and negotiations, and she said in no uncertain terms that I should not say anything until I recieve an offer. (An aside: My friends have been incredibly naive about this, btw. They’re all up on a soapbox screaming “You can’t do that! Employers can’t not hire you just because you’re pregnant! That’s discrimination!” News flash: Sure, employers can’t discriminate against you because you’re pregnant, but they can find *other* reasons not to hire you, including the all-purpose “It just isn’t the right fit right now.”)

So by saying on the form, uh, I’m going to need time off during the training phase to keep up with my bi-weekly, soon to be weekly, doctor’s appointments, that could be a major red flag and they could just say, well, maybe the timing isn’t right right now since you can’t commit to our training attendance policy. And by saying, uh, I’m going to need at least 6 weeks off this summer, they could not hire me because I’m asking for extensive time off during my probationary phase. So I left it blank and signed it. We’ll have to wait to see what unfolds

Overheard: Neighborhood Kids

One thing that brings me such joy and entertainment are the neighborhood kids. There’s this whole posse of them that all live around me and hang out together, getting into all sorts of antics. And especially during my unemployment, I’m home during the day in the middle of the week, and with the windows open, I get to eavesdrop on their conversations. Today, I heard the following:

Kid #1 to Kid #2: “My mom says we can’t play with you anymore because of, well, yesterday’s, uh, incident.”

Rollercoaster

I thought I’d take you along on the rollercoaster ride that I’ve been on lately. Between being laid off (booo!) and knocked up (woohoo!), it’s been a hell of a ride.

Would you rather get the highs or the lows first? Actually, as I type that out, I realize that part of the problem is that they’re pretty intertwined so they’re inseparable. Sound crazy? Well, it is…

  • A high: Why, yes, I am currently working part-time, but (here’s the low): only for 6 more weeks, then it’s back to unemployment (and by then I’ll be almost 7 months pregnant and who will hire me then?!).
  • A high: My part-time job affords me the opportunity to have a time set aside each and every week to look for and apply for work. A low: I haven’t found anything. At all.
  • A high: I did go on two interviews in the past couple of weeks. The jobs weren’t all that suitable given my skill set, but I was still happy to have a chance to practice my interview skills, if nothing else. A low: I got the “not the right fit” spiel for one of them, a “thank you for your interest, we wish you luck” form letter for the other.
    • It’s hard enough to find a job when you’re not pregnant. Nevermind a job that’s a good fit, especially in this craptastic economy. But when you’re pregnant, employers may not be able to discriminate against you because you’re pregnant, but they can find tons of *other* reasons why you’re “just not a good fit right now.” It’s like a time bomb – the sooner I find work the better – before I’m really showing, ideally.
    • The fact that I’m switching careers doesn’t help. Any little thing (up to and including the very little baby I’m carrying) can be used against me when I’m competing against folks who already have more directly applicable experience in [fill-in-the-blank].
  • The highest of highs: I am so excited to be having my first baby! Also thanks to my part-time job, I get paid to surf the web shopping for cribs, nursery décor, and strollers. The downside to that: I can’t afford any of it right now.

See what I mean? Is it the hormones, or the unemployment? Since I’m experiencing both, I don’t think I’ll ever know…

What’s Not to Like?

I’m sitting at my new job – this is my second week. And honestly? It’s pretty great! Not just because I’m employed (although that, in itself, is a relief) but the work, the work environment? I’m not sure I have been more content with work in a long, long time.

What’s the deal? Well for starters, this is just the confidence boost I needed. For years now I’ve been bouncing around from job to job, and, as a result, my museum career felt very wobbly or uneven since my employment has been so inconsistent. After years of that, and especially with my layoff last fall, I suffered from a crisis of confidence in my own abilities. A more competent person would still be working at one of the many museum jobs I’ve had. I must not be talented at my chosen field because otherwise, my employers would have found some way to keep me on longer than they did. Why did I get laid off when others didn’t? What did I do wrong? Why am I not good enough? It sucks when you work for employers who may not understand or make full use of your talents and abilities…but when you start to take THEIR opinions about yourself to heart? That’s just sad. I started to believed that the problem was not my employers, but me. When they didn’t see value enough in my work to keep me on board, I began to question my own work products, too.

For years I’ve been ignoring that my confidence in my abilities has been slipping away. I came out of grad school a confident gal. I knew I was smart, capable of doing so many different things, and ready to take on whatever task or project I was given. After the last 10 years, though, I don’t even recognize myself. I don’t have faith anymore that my talents and skills will see me through adversity, and I lack the tenacity to even try. I’ve been trying for so long now to make a go of a museum career and it hasn’t worked out – I’m unemployed despite years of trying to prove myself and my worth as an employee. And the problem became even worse – getting laid off has shown me that I came to equate my self worth with my value as an employee, believing that my employers’ assessment of me (as demonstrated by my sputtering around from one short-term grant-funded project to another instead of getting to work as a permanent employee) must be right.

But this work? Answering phones, greeting clients, and taking charge of general office tasks? That I know I can do. I have no doubts about it. This is the first time in years that I have not found myself second-guessing my abilities and glancing over my shoulder at every second of the workday, leaving exhausted and anxious at the end of every day and dreading the next. Instead, I find myself walking out of here with my head held high – knowing that I did a great job today – and not even giving a second thought to what challenges await me tomorrow. And I know that my employer fully recognizes that I’m doing a great job, too, but that’s not even at the front of my mind, and that’s the biggest change. I fully know that I’m doing a great job so I don’t find myself worrying at every turn what my employer thinks and if they are aware of my worth and contributions. A real shift from the mindset I’ve been in for years, where I’ve been seeing myself as my museum employers have seen me (Apparently expendable).

There’s another thing that’s totally fabulous about this gig, though. Freeing up all that head space that was occupied by constant worry and anxiety about job performance? All that space is now freed up so I can focus on other, MUCH MORE IMPORTANT things. Things like: I AM HAVING A BABY!!

I cannot express how excited I am getting about Baby. Until now, yes, I was excited. But there was a huge wet blanket over that, which was my ever present companion of “I’m never going to find a job. What am I going to do?” I may not have found a long-term solution to that, and I still can’t answer what I want to be when I grow up, but I’m starting to let my anxiety about that slip a bit. I’m just BARELY starting to show…and what this humble job is showing me is that maybe I’ve been going about about this job search all wrong. What if I let go of a possibly unrealistic pursuit of work that I find satisfying and instead focus on finding work that lets me rebuild my workplace mojo? That just might free up the space that I need right now to be able to fully experience the undeniable gratitude I feel for the blessings in my personal life as we prepare to welcome Baby.

A Small Break

I have some good news: I found a job! I’m working on weekends at a tax preparer’s office around the corner answering phones, filing, etc.

Okay, so it doesn’t exactly make use of all my skills and abilities…and it doesn’t pay all that well…and it’s only through the tax season…but still: a job. I really had to do some fancy footwork to convince the tax preparer that I would stick around through April 15 once she saw my resume. She was skeptical…and I get it. This kind of work isn’t exactly what I would have envisioned given my resume, either. But I was just honest: Look, I need work. And I saw your ad on Craigslist – your office is right around the corner from my house. And I’m not looking to do this long-term. I’m reliable, I can do the work, and I need a job. So maybe it was a pity hire, but it was just the break I needed. If nothing else, it makes me feel better that someone is willing to take a chance on me because so far, the jobs that do align with my abilities haven’t been calling me. At all.

And there are good things about it too: the tax preparer said (and I quote): “I don’t care what you do while you’re here – surf the web, read, work on other stuff – as long as you get the phones answered and the tax returns filed.” So I have 28 hours a week (Thursdays through Saturdays) when I get paid to surf the web looking for work and work on cover letters and resumes. And I don’t have to use gas money (that I don’t have) to get to work. The way I see it, the worst that could happen is I use the time to try to line up another part-time job for the workweek.

By the Numbers

I haven’t had much to blog about lately. Last time I checked in here, I was excited about a couple leads I had. Which led nowhere. No responses, no phone calls, no emails…nothing. And both positions have been filled (or at least have disappeared off the series of tubes). In the meantime, I’ve been trolling the web looking for work, and fired off a few applications but nothing exciting on the horizon. Here’s a look at the jobs hunt thus far, by the numbers:

  • Number of months I have been looking for work: 8
    • I started looking May 1, 2010 – a full 3 ½ months before I would be officially notified I was getting laid off (and 6 months before I was laid off). Luckily, I had started looking because I had already seen the writing on the wall – that I was next in line for a layoff at the museum I worked for  – but I’d also already decided it was time for a change for myself – to work in something other than museums.

In those 8 months…

  • Number of local museum job openings: 2
    • Number applied for: 2
    • Number of interviews: 2 (1 for each opening)
    • Number of offers: 0
    • Both were entry-level, and so I was “not the right fit” for either. One even told me she would kill to have me but that “you would be bored to death.”
  • Number of exhibit writing job openings anywhere: 1
    • Number of interviews: 0
    • Though it was out of state, I figured why not apply since at least it’s in my wheelhouse. Would have crossed any out-of-state bridge in the unlikely event it had come to it
  • Number of copyediting and/or proofreading jobs applied for: 4
    • Number of interviews: 0
  • Number of random other jobs that correlate directly to my experience: 1
    • Number of interviews: 0

That’s pretty much the long and the short of jobs that are remotely parallel to my experience, skills, and abilities, and/or align even a little bit with my qualifications. I’ve switched up my strategy – I’m going to apply for any and all jobs – retail, restaurants, whatever. I’ll just keep at it til I find a paycheck.

Paper Dolls

It can be easy to get discouraged by the job market and sometimes I’m not very enthusiastic about the jobs I apply for. I wish that I had been given the luxury of thoughtfully planning a career transition while I still collected a paycheck, but unfortunately that’s not the case. I tried like hell for months to find other work before my unemployment happened, even before I knew for sure that I was getting laid off. While I was still working, I was applying only for things that were directly relevant to my background, but now that we’re without any paychecks at all…and I’m now 3 months pregnant, I’ve been applying for anything and everything that remotely relates to my qualifications, but just haven’t found anything very interesting.

Then there are the times like this when I stumbled on and apply for jobs I think I could be really interested in, jobs that really connect with my experience and skills and interests, and that I would have applied for even when things were not starting to get desperate. Two case studies.

I applied for an editing job at a publisher that specializes in western American history. They are looking for an acquisitions editor – someone to read, evaluate, and make recommendations on manuscript submissions. I meet all the qualifications (someone with a background in western American history) and I couldn’t envision a more appropriate fit for my work experience, degrees, skill set, and most importantly, interests. I’ve been thinking for a long time – long before my layoff, actually – that publishing would be a great fit for me. I’ve done a ton of research and writing, editing, proofing, and layout, and at a full-service traditional publisher like the one that’s hiring, I could really see myself staying long-term as my role would likely evolve over time. Part of what has been so frustrating about museum work for me is that I’ve had to go from short-term to short-term gig, never settling for more than 18 months or so, as most (actually, all but one) of the jobs I’ve landed has been grant-funded project-specific work (e.g., catalog this collection, research and write this exhibit, develop these educational materials, etc.). In other words, you come on board to get the job done and when it’s done, the museum may not necessarily have money to keep you on full time. Or at all. (And where “may not necessarily” should be read as: does not.) I’d like a shot at a career that uses my existing skill set but working in a place that fosters my development and growth over time (instead of leaving it all up to me, as it has been for more than 10 years). I could totally see myself in this role in particular as something that’s key for me is never standing still – there would always be something new to read, some new author to meet, some new project to take on. In other words: I could totally get excited about this job.

Another job I came across is the baking recipes editor for a website. Qualifications: that you know something about baking but you don’t have to be a professional baker (check!), that you are detail-oriented and know grammar (check!), that you feel comfortable writing in a conversational blog style (check!), and that you know a little bit about photo editing and website coding (check!). Seriously – what could be more perfect?! And the description of the company sounds amazing. It’s a casual work environment, flexible hours, you can telecommute part of the time, they provide drinks & meals, and they have a…are you ready? On-site daycare. Hello! Even though I know a ton about baking and crafted a very clever cover letter and meet all the qualifications, I doubt I’ll make it past the gatekeeper, but I could totally see myself rolling to work against the morning commute, wearing jeans, and with my baby in tow to play with his/her little baby friends at daycare, where I would grab a free latte on my way down the hall to check in on baby. Benefits – fringe or real – have been largely absent in my museum work. I’ve worked in only one job that provided health insurance and/or retirement. Are you kidding me?! Why I was ever naive enough to be okay with that, I don’t know, but the older I get…and with a hospital delivery on its way…benefits like health insurance are nothing to scoff at. This one would combine my skills in writing with my creative outlet of baking with a dash of design and a pinch of coding thrown in for good measure.

It’s not just that these seem like great jobs – it’s that they could be just the spark to ignite a whole new career path, avoiding having to take the first job that comes along while I still float about the job market looking for a better long-term fit. When I find jobs like these two, I start envisioning the version of my self and my life if I got the job. Hopefully I’ll get to entertain those versions of my self in a little more detail if I can just get interviews…

Being a Stay-At-Home-Mom-to-be

Not having an income sucks. But I gotta say not having a job is kinda great. Sure, a lot of my time is spent looking for work, writing cover letters, and tweaking my resume. An awful lot of my time, actually.

But I also have plenty of time to think.

Sometimes I think about what I want to do with my life vis a vis work. But mostly I find that pointless because I don’t feel like I have much of a choice. I just need a paycheck…any paycheck. It doesn’t really matter what I want to do, so much as it matters who’s hiring right now and for what.

Mostly I think about what it will be like to be a mom. Everything that I do as I go about my day, I think about what that will be like once I have a baby. During my long aimless walks in the middle of the day, I think about the routes I could take for our long stroller walks – taking baby to the park, going past the elementary school playground where s/he will be someday, and coming home via the canal so s/he can watch the duckies. When I go to the library, I pretend to scan the shelves or mindlessly flip through books while I secretly eavesdrop on the moms, wondering if that will be me someday holding a book about how to keep my kid from biting. And when I lie in the hammock in the middle of a weekday (like today), I imagine how nice it will be to be swaying back and forth snuggled with a baby in the crook of my arm watching the clouds overhead.

Yep. This is way better than any job.

Just as Hard as it Sounds

So when I took my job writing exhibits, I knew it was a short-term 18-month gig. But I figured 18 months as a “real” writer was worth it, and by the end of the 18 months, I’d surely be able to land find another writing gig. Boy, am I naive! Today was my last day at the job, and I’m now laid off. I’m sad to leave my friends behind, as I had many awesome coworkers. But I’m glad to be out of that wickety wak environment, and beyond ready to leave the museum world in my rear view. But how to transform myself into a writer, even with all this free time on my hands now, is just as hard as it sounds like it might be. It might shock you to hear, but writing here doesn’t pay, and I’m not sure how to find writing gigs that do. And to be honest, I like writing, so I’m not sure I want to mess up that relationship by getting in bed with it and making it my livelihood.