What my third daughter taught me

Third time around, easy peasy right ? Well, throw in the effects of a pandemic and the inevitable magic that accompanies the birth of a new child and you get a fruitful ground for learning.

In April, I gave birth to our 3rd child : Pebble. It took me some time to write about this on this blog because somehow, in the midst of the Covid crisis, it did not seem appropriate. And also because readers of this blog come here more for the professional content than the baby stuff. However, today, I looked at her trying to grab her feet and writing about her suddenly seem right : she has put her print on my life, and this will extend far beyond our intimate life as a family. Being her mother, I am learning so many things. They are not the practical/technical things though : having had 2 other daughters in the past 4 years, I am a pro on nappy, breastfeeding and weaning. Rather, what I am learning thanks to Pebble is more diffuse and emotional. I wanted to write today about a collection of these learnings.

Pebble was born at the peak of the UK Covid crisis, in mid-April. The maternity unit I was supposed to give birth in closed to welcome Covid patients. I had to make a choice between giving birth in the hospital (with the risk of Covid infection that goes along + a possibility that Lion could not attend the birth) or give birth at home (with the risk that ambulance services could be slower to take me to the hospital, should I or Pebble need it). I eventually chose the hospital and all went well, but that is not the lesson here. The lesson is : nothing is ever risk-free and I had to accept that. The corollary lesson was : being optimistic about the outcome was the only way to feel ok with whatever decision. In life and work, I tend to favour risk-light options and to be pessimistic about outcomes. In this situation, I was forced to operate differentily and I was ok with it.

When we brought Pebble home, there was no one to help and support us. Lion and I were on our own with our 3 kids : no grandma, no bb-sitter, no cleaner, no visits, very few birth gifts. Needless to say that this would have scared me to death in normal circumstances and that Lion and I would have had a few marital rows. But to my amazement, not only did we cope, we thrived. Family was fed, house was clean enough, laughter was present and atmosphere was serene. What helped me stay positive is the recognition that I did not have to be perfect (in fact, no one is). This sounds awfully cliche, but what it meant for me was that my self-acceptance went up a notch. I cannot do everything perfectly, I can focus on one thing, do it well, and then tackle the next. At the end of the day, all that has to be done will be. I really hope to carry this into my professional life, where I have often felt crippled by fear of failure and perfectionnism. I hope I can learn to further silence all the voices in my head listing all the reasons why something I am about to do will turn out bad and just do it instead. Some things WILL turn out bad but if I am more productive and do more things, more will also turn out good. Perfection is rarely a good bet.

Pebble is my third (and last) child. She is also a girl. I am now therefore officially a “mother of girls”. Whilst I was always a feminist, it now has taken on a new meaning and legitimacy. I now want to change things for my daughters. I desperately want them to have the same chance than boys. Lion feels very much the same too so we are brainstorming together how we can further this cause, not just for our daughters but for all girls and women.

With Pebble, I am also taking the longest maternity leave of my 3 children. She is now 4 months and I will start working part time in September and not back to full-time until she is close to 6 months. When Peanut (my middle child) was born, I rushed back to work before she was 3 months, even though there was no compelling financial reason for me to do so. I did it out of fear. Fear of being replaced, of being seen as un-motivated and unrreliable. And despite my going back as soon as I could, all of this still happened ! I was replaced and demoted from the team before she was even 6 months. I got no reward from coming back early. I took many lessons from this, but having a longer leave with Pebble added another lesson to this episode of my life : my actions are NOT the only thing affecting my outcomes. I cannot control everything. I can do everything right and still fail. By contrast, I can do some things badly, or not perfect, and still succeed. Circumstances, people around me, luck, are elements that matter as much as my own actions. I don’t plan to use this newfound “wisdom” as an excuse to slack, but rather as a liberating thought : I can only do what is right to maximize probability of a good outcome, but my actions cannot guarantee a good outcome.

Finally, Pebble is my “last baby”. I am trying to absorb every ounce of babyhood that I can, I am savouring it. As unfeminist as this may seem, I have realized that my family is the most important. I have heard people of so many walks of like regret not spending more time with their young kids and I don’t think there is ever an amount of time that guarantees you will not feel this regret as a parent. However, I have learnt that if work is ever to take a lot of my time (it will !), I will not let it take so much of my energy, courage and joy that I don’t have plenty left for my loved ones. In this world of purpose work, of start-ups supposedly feeling like families, of entrepreneurs talking of their “life’s mission”, I will endeavour to leave sentimentality out of the office.

These learnings still feel very new and ungrounded so I hope they stick. One thing that will stick however is how much wealth there is in our relationships with each of our children. Even when it’s the third time around 😉

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