I was lucky enough to meet Lauren through a mutual friend and I knew I wanted to get her on Work Like a Mother. Get this: while completing a joint MD / PhD at Wake Forest School of Medicine, she picked up a Master’s in Law, and gave birth to her first daughter, Joy. So let’s just say she knows how to do her homework and has a few gems to teach us about advocating for ourselves during pregnancy and the earliest stages of motherhood. This was also the first time we did the whole interview on IG Live, which was a lot of fun – so be sure to check that out too.
When she sets her sights on a goal, Dr. Lauren West-Livingston doesn’t miss. She’s a go getter. So even after many months of fertility treatments and multiple miscarriages, when she finally did get pregnant (IVF) she wasn’t planning to slow down. But morning sickness hit her hard and she realized that she couldn’t just keep taking on more and more. So while three months pregnant and preparing to defend her dissertation, Lauren switched gears. No more apologizing, no more “I hope it’s ok if…” – she asserted herself, let others help her out, and set boundaries that worked for her. Along the way she received plenty of well-intentioned “advice” and ultimately had her baby girl, Joy, just a few weeks after defending her dissertation.
Let’s start at the beginning. Tell us about your fertility and pregnancy journey.
I went through a few miscarriages and we actually conceived through IVF. So when I did get pregnant, I was just constantly concerned that something would go wrong. My entire pregnancy- I was terrified. There are some people who when they’re pregnant, they’re extremely happy and they’re able to celebrate the different landmarks of pregnancy. For me- It was just terrifying whole time.
How was it going through fertility while also having this demanding schedule?
I think that’s one of those instances where staying busy was nice because I was able to stay distracted. IVF, in vitro fertilization, is the process of bringing sperm and egg together outside of the body and making an embryo and implanting it into uterus. So that whole process can go wrong in many different eggs. So I was constantly worrying- Do we have enough eggs? Did the eggs fertilize? Are the embryos viable? Did the embryo take to the uterus? There are all these steps where it can be a success or we would have to trying again. It’s also a lot of waiting. So when it came to waiting for the next step, I just focused on my schoolwork. So I guess just tried to run away from my worries and distract myself with something else.
What advice would you have for other moms who might be pregnant right now or thinking about having a family?
I’ve met so many moms during their first pregnancy or any pregnancy that are a little worried. So I would tell people it’s completely normal to be concerned and have worries. It’s hard to be super logical when you’re hormonal, but listen to the logic of your providers, and try to enjoy the little moments like hitting the different trimesters. It’s normal to worry, but also hold optimism in the other hand.
It seems like you’re very much a planner. How did you balance that with the uncertainty of fertility?
I think that honestly the whole process of going through multiple miscarriages and going through IVF really changed my life. I am Type-A and I feel like I need to plan everything to a “T”. I really had no choice but to just let go. And even I was pregnant, I was not able to do certain things for myself because of my morning sickness and lack of energy. It was a chance for both my partner to realize how many things that I had just decided to take over and make my responsibility in our relationship. And not that he doesn’t help out, but I realized just how much I had taken on in terms of finances, groceries, and things around the house. I really learned how to let go of trying to control every aspect of everything.
There was one week where I just really didn’t feel great so I just didn’t go into the lab at all. I told my mentor I wasn’t coming in and I just spent the whole week at home in bed. And the world didn’t stop! No one was emailing me or calling me everyday asking- where are you? Or telling me- We need you to do this. I think it was a good lesson to learn that I can take a break and the world’s not going to stop.
How was it working throughout your pregnancy?
It was pretty tough. I was in the last year of my PhD which I know in theory sounds like you have more time because you’re done with classes and you’re finishing things up and writing. But, I definitely want to be finished and defend before the baby arrived so it was stressful. I actually had some pretty bad morning sickness. I remember in the first weeks I’d be in the lab and I’d walk by a trash can and throw up quickly and then get back to work. For a time, I would wake up at six and go right to the lab and just grind because I’d be asleep by 3 p.m. and just sleep through the night because I was so tired all the time.
When did you go back to work after having your daughter?
So I was actually supposed to start back on rotations two weeks after delivery. I was supposed to only have two weeks at home and the plan changed. My husband had paid paternity leave so he’d be at home with the baby and my mom would come help out, but I planned to go right back in. This was my first child so I really didn’t know what to expect. In retrospect, I could have done it, but it would have been very difficult. But with everything going on with the pandemic I ended up being at home for three months so I gave birth in March and didn’t go back to rotations till June.
I feel like in motherhood everyone has an opinion about your decisions. I know a lot of people had opinions when I went back to work so soon after having my second son. Did people have advice for you when you said, “I’m thinking of going back to work two weeks after giving birth”?
Advice is a nice way to put it. Various people communicated very strong opinions. Some of my favorites- (and by favorites I do mean least favorites) were “Is your child going to know you?” or “How are you going to be able to look your baby in the eyes and go back to work?” I don’t know if hurtful is the word but their comments upset me and made me angry. No one’s asking my spouse that. He’s a man and no one is asking him how he’ll go back and continue to work. It just really gendered parenting. What was being communicated to me is that the mom is the one that has to be at home with the baby, even though it wasn’t being said explicitly all the time.
What advice would give to your pre mom self?
Get comfortable with just asking for what you need. Having uncommunicated expectations of your partner or your employer or anyone is really tough. For example, I just emailed my professors and let them know, “Hey, I’m in your course this semester. I’m also defending my dissertation and I’m also expecting a baby. So not- “I might need” or “Can I please have” but, “I’m going to ask for some extensions on some assignments. Thank you for your understanding.” So instead of saying “Is it okay”, or “I’m sorry” I said, “This is what’s going on with me. I’m going to be in your class. Please work with me. This is what I’m going to need. Thank you for helping me out.” And everyone responded phenomenally to that.
It was such a pleasure to sit down with Lauren. Our full conversation is now out on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and you can see highlights on our IGTV. Subscribe and follow to make sure you don’t miss next week’s conversation on Work Like a Mother.
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Bridget is mom to two little boys, Hudson and Brooks, and a champion of working moms everywhere. NeighborSchools itself was borne out of Bridget’s challenge to find high-quality yet affordable child care, and the realization that so many parents struggle with these same issues every day.