How to manage first 2 years of your child's life, while making sacrifices in business
As soon as I had a baby, I started making less money. One of the risks of being a consultant is that you have no protection against any potential discrimination related to pregnancy. After I returned from maternity leave a major client announced they would be paying me less to do the same work. I had been on maternity leave for five months but in that time I had hired staff to fill in the gaps where I could not be present. I thought they done a good job, and client had not expressed disatisfaction yet still they paid me less post baby. I didn't have much room for negotiation. I needed the money. However, I did feel I was being punished for having gotten pregnant and gone away to have the baby.
I was prepared for the arrival of my son but I wasn't prepared for the way his birth would impact my productivity. After he was born and I was back on duty running my marketing agency, sleep no longer felt like something I could sacrifice for work. In fact I feel like I was biological unable to stay up late to work. My brain just wouldn't and didn't function the same in those first two years.
Once I traveled to Lagos for 72 hours and left my son and breast pump behind and I thought I was going to explode. My breasts filled up and became massive and engorged. I couldn't sleep on my belly. I had to run warm water over my nipples for a long time and hand express to ease the discomfort. I dont remember much of the trip. The need to bring my breast to my son is all I remember to this day. He was seven months at the time. Before his birth it was easy for me to stay up late and pull all-nighters, and travel but all that changed. I was no longer the same.
So I gave in, I accepted that there were things happening in my brain and in my body that I could not control. I wasn't going to be able to be more productive and but I still needed more money.
It was during this period that I decided I needed to increase my revenue streams. Na tin kin make tin be! And for me I thought trying to expand my firm into Sierra Leone from Ghana would give me a bigger customer base. Operating in Ghana alone wasn't going to cut it.
Perhaps not the optimal thing to do if you are a new mom. Traveling between Accra and Freetown is a two-hour flight but when you’re breastfeeding it feels like a whole day’s ordeal. I had a Ergobaby carrier that I used to travel with my bundle of joy and that allowed me to be handsfree but it doesn't save you from cleaning vomit on the plane seats and it doesn't make it any easier to pull two suitcases and a baby bag on your back. I was tired all the time and my arms hurt.
When I got to Freetown with my baby. I had help but not the usual help of a full time live-in nanny as I do in Accra. Since I was traveling for business I also was staying in hotels. And as you know hotels aren't particularly the best place for new moms, or families in general.
When I had to go to meetings I was afraid of leaving my baby behind with new helpers. Not that I thought they would hurt my child but my biggest concern was that someone would treat him in a generic ”all babies are like this” way. One thing all mom’s know is that their baby is not like every baby. All babies are actually different and the only way you know this, is if you pay attention and spend time with that baby. Strangers often dont listen when you say do this for my baby in this way because they think they know what's best because they've tended to other babies before.
So there was that part. The other part is that I worried about how prospective clients would react to me going into meetings at their offices with a baby that might cry, or might poop. Would I be breaking some code of professionalism by turning up with my baby? Or would they applaud my commitment to bonding with my child. It caused me anxiety. But for my own sanity I took my baby everywhere.
I took him when I had to meet the Managing Director at Sierra Leone Brewery to pitch for King Leone Beer. I took him to Big Market when I went in search of gifts for friends. I took him to a business networking event, ’Recipes for Success’ I hosted for young professionals in Freetown. I took him to client consultations.
Each time I would enlist the help of a close family friend or relation or yes even an employee (Hey Chris Nana!) to come with me. In the time I was going to be gone could they sit with him. Once I had my dad give me a female security guard from his company to come to help me. Another time I reached out to a headhunting firm to find me a nanny for the time I would be in Freetown. I also got a driver from them so I could sit in the back with my son as we went about to look for deals in Freetown. I took him to be my own personal lucky charm. Looking back at it all now I don't even know where or how I got the zeal, I just know I did what I had to do.
My son and I were inseparable in the first two years of his life. It required lots of sacrifice but those first two years are the most important time of a child’s life. Children need love and consistency of love and support and care in those first two years. So if you have to reorganize your life, seek help, take them everywhere, just do it.
And it's not even a question of the parent doing the consistent bonding. It is just important that one someone is there to bond with the child in those first two years. It could be a nanny, your aunty, or grandparents, it just needs to happen that someone provides that physical touch, love, and engagement with the child from birth to age 2.
For me breastfeeding also helped tremendously though I know not every mom can do so. If you can though breastfeed do it, especially as an African woman on the continent (read as shoddy health infrastructure and no 911 to call in case of emergency ) forget all the Internet blog posts about moms who didn’t breastfeed and are okay and remember that scientific research has proven that bobbi na ein baby sabi.
Early childhood research has also shown that consistent bonding between a child and a primary caregiver is crucial for not just the development of that child at that stage but well into adulthood. Children who bond with a primary caregiver grow up with better mental health, and are more able to build healthy relationships and bounce back from depression than those who do not.
So what is the take away for new working moms and mom entrepreneurs on the continent on making sure you secure the portmanteau and bond with baby?
Sacrifices must be made. In those first two years, you will earn less possibly and you won’t be able to do or have it all but bonding with your baby in those two years will set them up to be healthy well-adjusted adults.
If you can not be the one to be the consistent source of love and care for your child then enlist help from one relative or hire a full-time nanny. It is better that the child gets that bonding from somewhere than nowhere at all.
And it won’t mean that they won’t know you as their mother or love you as their mother. No one can replace you to your child. What it does mean however is that your child will get the human connection they need from birth to age two. They will have the benefits of bonding to carry them through adulthood.
You can always go back to business to work, find a new way to make money but you will never be able to make up for the impaired development of your child if you don’t ensure they get the nurturing and form the bond they need in their first two years of life.