Always On Call: Moms in Tech
When I found out I was pregnant, one of the first feelings I had was “How am I going to tell my boss?” Of course, I was excited about having a baby, but it was somewhat disconcerting that I simultaneously thought “how is this huge change going to affect my career?” As a result, I kept the secret for 4 months, until I knew I couldn’t keep this big news hidden any longer. Oh, there were so many doctor appointments! I didn’t want them to think my frequent requests to leave early were a sign that I was slacking off.
Needless to say, I had to work up the courage and share the news. I started with my boss, and it was under the condition that he would keep my secret. I didn’t want to be viewed as inferior or treated any differently by anyone on the team. I was always fighting the stereotype that a woman can’t do certain things. My male-dominated team would make comments like “oh, no. Those boxes are too heavy,” or “you have to physically install the server. You know, the rack is very dirty.” Now that I was pregnant, I was not looking forward to receiving even more of this treatment.
Once I couldn’t hide it anymore, I shared the big news with my team, who were really supportive and excited for me. However, I still had the feeling that I had to act like nothing was happening. It wasn’t an easy thing to do. I was so tired. I didn’t want to come to work. I had terrible back pain, headaches, dizziness, and non-stop heartburn, but managed to be in the office on time every day. (I have a great deal of respect for all of the moms out there who were sick and still had to go to work!) I kept working until three days before I had my baby. I didn’t want anyone to think that I should receive special treatment.
Then I had my baby. My daughter’s arrival was the most challenging experience in my life: I was in labor for about 4 days. Thankfully, she came to this world super healthy and with a big smile on her face. During those first days, weeks, and months, my only focus was my baby girl. The thought or realization of just how tired I actually was never crossed my mind. I thought I was completely immersed in my new life and my new baby, but soon enough thoughts about returning to work crept into my mind. I kept telling myself that I didn’t want to go back, because I didn’t want to leave my baby!
Luckily I had support from my family so I was able to go back to work as originally planned. My manager at the time was really supportive, too, allowing me to work from home, so this transition wasn’t as difficult. I chose to breastfeed my baby so I’ve been pumping since I got back to work, and luckily, my company has a mother’s room.
Although I have been back to work for several months now, I still need to explain why I am doing certain things to people and put aside my needs since the system does not inherently accommodate for moms. This is a disappointing truth.
The first thing I have deal with is that yes, I pump. I need to do this at least twice per day. Two weeks ago I had to install a new storage system in a data center, and I needed to pump milk for my daughter. Unfortunately, the facility did not have a mother’s room or other place where I could take care of this, so I was forced to pump in the bathroom. On another occasion, I was working at a remote site and could not pump at all. I had to power through the afternoon while attempting to block out the pain I felt in my breasts. I was not able to seek relief until well after 5pm. This is disgraceful.
Last year, I was offered the opportunity to go to the re:Invent conference. The first thought that came into my head was: “What do I do with my daughter?” Luckily, I was able to bring my mom on this trip so that she could help me. But how many moms out there can’t do this? And how many of us need to sacrifice work opportunities because we have to be in charge of raising our kids? I have had too many awkward moments like “Oh, I can’t spend hours trying to resolve your IT issues, because my daughter needs to eat, and I have to be at home soon.”
It is discouraging to feel like I do not get the recognition or appreciation I deserve for continuing to work really hard in my career, while supporting my family. My area of IT expertise– Infrastructure – is full of stereotypes: I have to tell people “Yes, I am in charge our storage, backups and virtual environments; I can do that type of work.” My skills and abilities conflict with the fact that even though I love my daughter and am a proud mother, I sometimes do not want to call much attention to it, because I do not want people to people to think that I will bring distractions to work.
Unfortunately, as moms we usually have more major responsibilities than dads. Dads often say, “Here, darling, you take care of our daughter, so I can head off to work,” or they put in longer hours than moms. Moms are always afraid that we could be judged because we need more time to take care of our family. There must be ways in which we can support our fellow moms in tech and promote ideas that help moms strike the balance between career and home life. I don’t have all of the answers on how to solve the problems of being a working mom in tech, but I hope to further the conversation. Together we can effect change.
Mariana F. Falzone was born in La Paz, Bolivia and moved to the U.S. in 2007. After fighting the heat, mosquitoes, and traffic in Houston, she decided to move to Portland. Mariana is a systems engineer with a masters in information technology. Of the more than 10 years in IT, she has dedicated 7 to infrastructure. She is a proud mother of a 13 month old daughter and loves nature, especially the mountains and trees. Find Mariana on LinkedIn.