Saturday, October 11, 2008
Much has been made about the juggling act that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a mother of five, would face if elected vice president next month. Can she handle both roles, people wonder?
Well, I’d like to point out the obvious. So many women do some version of this every day. They lug breast pumps to the office and sit in bathroom stalls. Then they find a way to keep this milk cold until they can get it home and into their private refrigerator. They endure hour upon heartbreaking hour when they’re unable to smell their baby’s head or touch his cherub skin.
Women continue to work after they have children for many reasons, from purely financial to deeply personal. But no matter the reason, all of them are able to do it because other women before them fought hard to give them the right to choose career and family — they enlightened society to the fact that it is possible to do both.
With all the talk surrounding Palin, I’ve been thinking about some of the more difficult challenges I’ve faced and how surprised I was by the lack of support I received. Probably the best example was when I took my daughter on a month-long business trip when she was just 4 months old. And I got a lot of flak for it.
My reason for having to go on that trip was a good one: I had sold an advertising TV campaign and was needed in Los Angeles to oversee the casting, shooting and editing. But the timing couldn’t have been worse. I had only been back to work from maternity leave for three weeks when I was told how long the production schedule was and that it would all take place in L.A. I was a first-time mom and a nursing one at that. I couldn’t leave my daughter for weeks. I just couldn’t. I didn’t have the milk storage to last that long, and I couldn’t see Fed-Exing breast milk home. (Yes, I’ve seen women do that.) Plus, my baby would have changed so much in that time, and those were changes I wanted to see for myself.
I’m sure my husband would have been more than capable on his own with my daughter. My mother would have flown in on weekends to help. Oh, but those heartstrings. They surely would have snapped.
I was lucky enough to be able to afford a nanny, and her boyfriend happened to live in L.A. I bought her ticket the requisite weeks in advance to get the affordable price. But when our production schedule kept changing, and our flight dates started moving, I saw there being a problem getting on the same flight with her. I just couldn’t imagine flying alone with a month’s worth of luggage, a car seat, a stroller — the list, it goes on — without some form of help.
The woman responsible for booking the trip initially balked at letting me fly a day earlier than everyone else so that I could travel with the nanny but finally approved it. And when I asked if I could get a hotel with a kitchenette, which would make heating bottles easier, I got the same can’t-do attitude. (I could see the eyes rolling even though we were speaking over the phone.) I’m sure people make personal requests all the time when booking such long trips, so I was surprised by the response.
So for a month, my daughter and I got cozy in a small hotel room where we had a dorm-size refrigerator brought in, as well as a microwave, so I could store and heat breast milk. We made it work.
My hotel was in Santa Monica and my nanny’s apartment was in Venice, so every morning I had to get going an hour earlier than everyone else in order to drive my daughter — and her Exersaucer — to the nanny’s place and get back in time to join the group. Needless to say, all the bellhops at that hotel and I became fast friends. I did a lot of undercover sweating in order to make it seem like having my baby with me was not affecting my work.
And it didn’t.
I produced a quality TV campaign on that shoot that is one of my favorites on my portfolio reel. (See Walmart’s Hot Release Tuesday campaign) At the same time, I had this bonding experience with my daughter that I wouldn’t take back for the world. Our hotel was a block from the beach, so on mornings when I had a later editing schedule, I would take her for walks in the Baby Bjorn. At only 4 months old, she slept through the night in her hotel-issued crib every single night we were there. I swore it was because of the calming nature of that Pacific Coast air.
When the shoot was over and I was filling out expense reports from the trip, I encountered resistance to that extra night I spent in the hotel. They wanted that night and the extra day of the rental car to come out of my pocket. I thought, “Seriously? You lug a baby halfway across the country because you don’t want your personal life to come between your ability to do your job, and you get absolutely no respect for that? Especially from other women?”
Palin gave a speech the other day that opened with a reference to a quote from former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that she had seen on a Starbucks cup. “There is a special place in hell reserved for women who don’t help other women.” I think hell is a bit harsh. But I certainly expected more compassion. At the very least, I thought that was something I deserved from other women. And though I don’t condone voting for candidates simply because of their gender, I do have compassion for women.
I know Palin can take her baby with her on business trips without a problem. She will have more access to nannies, as many as she wants, than I would. But if I was judged and made to feel like a pain for wanting to keep my baby close to me while I worked, I can only imagine the scrutiny Palin would have to endure from the entire country if she needed to ask for a little extra accommodation in order to do her job well.