I’m a planner. Always have been. Every Saturday I make (actually more like force) my husband to sit down to map out plans, logistics, meetings, and meals for the coming week. So I had to smile as Elysian shared all her planning and preparations for the birth of her son. Her attention to detail was next level. But I can only imagine how she felt when her plans went out the window and her world was turned upside down when Odin was born. This episode is a testament to the power of a mom’s love and a mom’s ability to face any challenge head on — quite simply because in motherhood, we’re not given the choice not to. But moms are tough, and Elysisn is one of the toughest I’ve met.
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Like a lot of hard working, driven women, Elysian McNiff Koglmeier had some reservations about how a baby would impact her career and her social life. But she was ready and after a relatively standard pregnancy, she gave birth to her first child, a boy they named Odin. And that’s when her story takes a sharp and unexpected turn. Odin was born with Treacher Collins syndrome, a rare condition that impairs physical development and requires 24/7 care. She learned that her beautiful newborn was what parents and professionals call a “medically complex child.” Odin’s medical needs would come to dominate their lives, and force Elysian to reconsider her vision and plans for her own life, both personally and professionally.
What was it like having your son when you were working for such a small company?
I wasn’t expecting to get pregnant so early on at my new job at Artwork Archive. But I’m sure they all saw it coming when they hired a thirty-something year old woman. So I got pregnant and told the team. I am the first member that they had to create a maternity or family leave for so it was really interesting to navigate that. I give so many props to the co-founders in that it was a real conversation and they developed it knowing me really well. So we had a set leave plan, but from the very beginning we knew it would be fluid.
We were talking a little bit about how you had this plan. You were at the company. You’re thinking- 3 months leave when your son was born. What happens next?
We had everything planned and then Odin came out and totally shook it up and broke it down. A lot of the lessons that we’ve learned from Odin is that it’s good to set up plans and be organized but then it’s also good to be nimble and flexible and pivot when needed.
So Odin surprised us all with a rare genetic syndrome. He has Treacher Collins syndrome. If anyone listening or watching has seen the movie Wonder, he has what Auggie, has which is a facial difference. He has given us the gift of experiencing the medical world in a very immersive way. He has a Trach and a G-tube (a feeding tube). He requires 24/7 alert and trained care which means that someone has to be awake and taking care of him for 24 hours a day. So when he was born, we actually pretty much lived in the hospital.
So how did that unexpected change in plans impact your plan to return to work?
Once Odin was born, I actually thought that I wasn’t going back to work. We hadn’t really learned about the Colorado support systems that are in place to help families once they’re discharged. And the first assumption was well, I’m not going back to work. I’m going to be a full-time mom- I guess it has been decided because I have to take care of my son. Then we learned that Medicaid in Colorado does cover nursing. Similar to daycare or child care, we had to hire nurses once we were discharged. We got help, but we did not get the full help that we needed so my partner and I ended up providing a lot of the care for Odin. We were discharged after three months and my maternity leave ended so I told my team that I needed another month to figure things out.
What happened after those trying 4 months? Did you decide to go back to work?
We came to the realization that a part-time job would be best for our family and for my work at artwork archive. My full-time job is being mother to Odin and managing his care. I also continue to work part-time for Artwork Archive. Even though I’m part time, I still expect full-time results. I still expect to get a lot more done than the time that I am allotted and so I still struggle with that. I also have to be patient and go with the flow. When my son develops an infection, I have to cancel my whole afternoon of calls, and call the doctor so I can bring him to the hospital. So I’ve learned to be fluid even though I’m client-facing with a lot of my work. I do have a lot of flexibility in my schedule and my team has been really supportive with that too. They know that sometimes I just can’t make a meeting. And so if anything-it’s my own expectations and pressure I put on myself to deliver but no one outside is really putting that on me.
You have even more things on your plate that other working moms- how do you find time for self-care?
I make it a goal that every day that I move. I need to move. If I don’t move I get cranky and I’m not my best self. I’m not a good mom or a good partner. My husband has been really supportive and making sure that I get some time. So if I don’t get time during the workday, sometimes he’ll cook dinner so I can roll my yoga mat down in the kitchen next to my kid’s high chair. I have a yoga class going and I’m doing downward-facing dog as my husband is moving around me chopping carrots and moving hot water from the sink. Self-care looks really different for me than it did 2 years ago, but it’s still a priority for me.
What advice would you give to your pre-mom self?
I would tell myself to go easy on myself, be kinder to myself and to be more graceful with myself. Like many things in life, there are chapters and transitions. The high expectations that I have set for myself by myself and that competitive drive that I had in my professional workplace might have been my top priority for the Elysian of my twenties, but that there’s actually a great ease and wonderful life of not having to go go go a hundred percent- especially with family. I would tell myself to look forward to that. I didn’t know what motherhood would look like and I just thought it would be slower than my typical pace. But actually, I’m really enjoying the slow pace. I’m the type of person that walks around people on the sidewalk and I go places really quickly, but now I meander with my son and it takes us 20 minutes to go down a block and that’s okay. I would tell my younger pre-mom self to look forward to slowing down.
Co-founder & COO
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.