Today, we’re back with our Amplifying Stories series and are excited to share the working mama story of Erika, one of our Mindful Return alums! (Note: we have changed this mama’s name at her request, to protect her privacy.)
If you’ve been following along on the Mindful Return blog, you know that a few weeks ago, we announced our 7 specific ongoing diversity and inclusion commitments. (See: Mindful Return’s Diversity Commitments: Reporting Out from My Work with a Diversity Consultant.) One of these commitments was to use the power of storytelling, to weave the perspectives of a wide range of working parent experiences into our weekly blog posts and newsletters. This interview is the second in our “Amplifying Stories” series. (For the first in the series, see Evette Stair Radlein’s story here!)
Erika is a Black woman, a vaccine-making scientist (YES!!!!), and mama of a toddler. Tune in below for her important perspectives on working parenthood in a STEM field, the weight of this past year, and her hopes for her daughter – especially her advice on the need for allies of Black colleagues to be advocates in the workplace.
Mindful Return: Erika! Welcome to the Mindful Return blog. First, we’d love to hear a bit about your working parent story. Where do you live? How old are your kids? And what type of work do you do?
Erika: I live in the Greater Boston Area. I have one daughter who is 1.5 years old. And I am a scientist in biotechnology. I make vaccines and find ways to improve their production.
Mindful Return: What inspired you to do the type of work you’re doing?
Erika: I have always loved learning about everything and took an interest in STEM early on. This led me to major in chemical engineering with a biology minor. I’ve had several research positions in undergrad and continued on to do a M.S. degree in Chemical Engineering. I have a fascination with biology and making the lives of people better. Working in biotech enables me to indulge in both of these things.
Mindful Return: What was your biggest challenge heading back to work after having a baby?
Erika: My biggest challenge heading back to work has been that my brain has been hijacked by my daughter. Nothing will ever be as important as her. This is a great thing, but I am obsessed. I think about her all day, check her daycare app updates, and show off pictures of her at work. I’ve noticed that no one else in my workplace talks about their family. And I’m the only woman at my level with children, so I struggle with not being taken seriously because of this, and my obsession with my daughter adding to that perception.
Mindful Return: How has being a member of the Black community shaped your working parent experience?
Erika: Wow, I haven’t thought about this before. It has really made being a working parent a challenge over the past year.
Aside from dealing with the lack of sleep, pandemic isolation, balancing pumping breastmilk on a lab experiment day, and keeping up with my daughter, I have to continually grieve and experience the emotional violence of seeing black bodies shot, disrespected and discriminated against.
It really takes a toll. And I’m not sure whether things will improve for my daughter as she grows up.
Mindful Return: What’s the top thing you wish individual Allies of Black mamas would do or know?
Erika: Black moms need encouragement, and oftentimes they need an advocate. I can only speak for myself, but I am burnt out and feeling directionless.
I’m doing what I can for my family and my workplace. But I need to find time, space and energy for myself. I feel that I’m constantly being asked to do things, and constantly being corrected. I just want to be appreciated for what I’ve done and what I bring to the table.
Mindful Return: What’s the top thing you wish employers would know about moms in the Black community?
Erika: I think I’ll repeat myself and say “Black moms need encouragement and oftentimes they need an advocate.” In a work setting, this may look like providing a mentor and sponsor to black women, to give them support and set up better for success. Additionally, having a colleague resource group for people of color to build community within the organization is a good way to offer support.
Mindful Return: What’s your biggest hope or dream for your daughter?
Erika: My biggest hope for my daughter is for her to be confident and self-aware. Many good things will come from that.
Mindful Return: Name one of each of the following that inspires you *or* that you find incredibly entertaining: (1) a podcast; (2) a book; (3) a show; and (4) an Instagram account.
- Podcast: WifeMotherLeader
- Book: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
- Show: Jane the Virgin
- Instagram account: @blackliturgies
Mindful Return: Tell us one story of you as a working parent that convinces us you’re human (and not a superwoman with a cape).
Erika: Actually, this past week I decided to do an 18 hour research study for work, requiring sampling every 3-6 hours. But I decided this about 5 hours before starting it. Not the wisest choice.
I sampled at 10pm, 4am, 7am, 10am, 1 pm, and 4pm. When I ran into my manager at the first 10pm time point, he reminded me that I’m supposed to let him know when I’m onsite during off-hours. I somehow did not think this was important to mention.
By the end of the experiment, my ability to do basic math was severely diminished!
Thank you, Erika, for sharing your story with our community.
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave