February 2018 was not my best month. At 32 weeks pregnant, I tripped on a curb while crossing a busy intersection in Manhattan and instinctively put my arms out to break my fall and protect my growing belly. As soon as my right wrist hit the light post I heard the snap. I’d dropped my 2-year-old son off at daycare that morning looking my client-presentation best and arrived later that day at pickup tear-streaked with my arm in a cast above the elbow, both bones broken at the wrist. The baby was fine, but I was not.
We returned home to face the reality of what lay ahead. We were moving in a few weeks because our apartment had a rat problem (a multiple rats problem), and now I was in a cast. Recalling the amount of mental load that weighed me down that night is enough to make my stomach turn even now, three years later.
One week later my mentor reached out to ask if I’d be interested in applying to a role on her team at Facebook, and to my own surprise, my first thought was a resounding, why not? We all only have 100% of anything, and I was completely maxed out. I could not care about a single additional thing—I needed to heal, move, and deliver this baby—in that order.
And so I did something I have never done before in my professional life: I said yes knowing that I was perfectly happy getting the job or not.
I could go through the motions of a job interview, but I could not internalize it. I could not turn the interview questions over in my mind, second guessing every answer and tightly linking all my personal self worth to the opinions of four random interviewers.
What I didn’t know at the time, the thing I could have never predicted, was that in disconnecting my self worth from the interview process I freed myself up to ask for exactly what I needed. I know that the ability to do this comes with a tremendous amount of privilege. I was able to adopt that attitude in the first place because I had a job and I didn’t need a new one, but the act of separating my self worth from my professional worth is something that has changed my life.
The realization that I am good, I am worthy, and my life will continue with or without the validation of an interview panel is perhaps the greatest gift I’ve ever given myself.
I knew there was no hiding my pregnancy, so I was open with the recruiter from our first call. I could hear the smile spreading across her face as she said “I was hired at 36 weeks pregnant! Don’t worry, we’ll do our best to get you through the process before you have the baby. We’ll make this work.” I told her I needed a paid maternity leave—my family could not afford to lose income and I was not willing to take paid leave from my current job, only to quit before returning. At the time, I worked for a small agency owned by a man who treated us all like family. I was not willing to take his money knowing I wouldn’t return. I kept thinking about the other women—women I’d worked alongside, women I’d mentored, women who had confided in me— who all believed they’d have to find a new job if they wanted to have a child.
Becoming a mother is terrifying for many reasons, and in this country the sad reality is that it can put a woman’s career in jeopardy. I was supposed to be proof that this company could support a working mother. If I took the money and quit, I’d put the company’s willingness to provide paid maternity leave in jeopardy. If Facebook wanted me, I thought, they could afford to pay me. I was assured this wouldn’t be a problem. If I accepted an offer before the baby came, I was technically an employee, and there was no waiting period for parental leave—as long as I’d signed on the dotted line while pregnant, my maternity leave would be secured.
I just needed to heal, interview for a job, move, get that job, and deliver this baby—in that order, in the next four weeks. The voice I heard in my head can only be described as terrified, maniacal laughter.
I had nothing to wear to the interview, and while out shopping for what I’d dubbed my “interview caftan” my husband convinced me to get a tight, fitted outfit instead. “They know you’re pregnant,” he reminded me. “You should own it—don’t hide it. Interviewing at 38 weeks pregnant is awesome, you need to lean into it.”
So I did. I wore a tight dress (with sneakers; my cast had come off a few days earlier and I wasn’t about to risk falling again) and I owned it. By the fifth hour of my interview the maniacal laughter was back and I don’t remember what my answers were or where the energy came from to form a sentence, but I did it. I went home and slept very well that night, knowing the worst case scenario was that I’d have a funny story to tell this baby one day.
The recruiter reached out a few days later to report that the interview panel couldn’t come to a consensus. I wasn’t surprised. I could barely form sentences by the end and had no idea what kind of answers I’d been giving. I would need to have one final interview, a phone call this time. I nearly retracted my candidacy; if I wasn’t going to get the job anyway, I couldn’t invest any more time or energy in the process. “You’ve made it this far,” my husband reminded me, “what’s one more phone call?”
My contractions started during that final call. I thought they were Braxton-Hicks and continued the conversation without giving any indication to what I was feeling. My daughter was born less than six hours later. I FaceTimed my mentor from the hospital bed—and wasn’t she surprised when the camera showed a tiny baby in my arms.
I hadn’t signed on the dotted line before the baby was born. I hadn’t executed my perfect plan in its perfect order. And for the first time (ever?) I genuinely didn’t care. I knew exactly what I needed, what my family needed, and Facebook could give it to me or not. I had my health and the health of my beautiful new baby, and nothing could change that.
In my postpartum fog, I negotiated harder than I ever had in my life. I knew only two things to be true: I could not afford unpaid maternity leave, and I would not take paid leave from my current employer if I knew I was quitting. It was that simple.
In the end they could not give me the “official” maternity leave I’d hoped for because the baby was born before I became an employee, a designation I resented but knew it was a battle I couldn’t win. Instead I considered exactly what I needed: to cover the monetary value of the maternity leave I’d be walking away from. When I told the recruiter exactly what I needed, in no uncertain terms, I didn’t recognize my own voice. Who is this confident woman demanding what she needs—what she deserves—without a lick of fear in her voice?
After much back and forth Facebook offered a signing bonus in the amount I’d requested, and a delayed start date of 5 months later. It wasn’t perfect, but I would be able to spend five months with my new baby, bonding and learning to be a mother of two, without going into debt to do so. It’s shameful that something so simple, so human, is considered a gift in our society.
Almost exactly three years later I found myself negotiating another job offer, this time to manage a team of researchers at Twitter. The stakes were different; I wasn’t pregnant or moving or injured, but I knew my value beyond a shadow of a doubt. The fearless voice of a woman who advocated for what she deserved poured out of me, and this time I recognized her power.