I Was Sleep-Deprived, Breastfeeding… And Asked to Speak on Stage

May 14, 2021

Just a few months after giving birth to my second child in 2017, I was invited to speak at The Hustle’s ConCon, a conference about content. 

At first, I figured I would decline. 

It felt like too much to be away from my baby for the first time when he was only a few months old and I had just returned to work. And fly across the country while managing to pump breast milk. And give an on-presentation to hundreds of people when I hadn’t slept through the night in months. 

Then I surprised myself by asking: What would have to be true for me to do this well? 

When I dug deep, I realized most of my anxiety was around pumping. I’d have to do it every few hours, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to wait until it was convenient. I worried about leaking on stage or being so uncomfortably full that I’d be distracted during my talk. And I was nervous about pumping on the plane. 

But I was also excited about the opportunity to share my knowledge, and the spotlight would benefit my company, too. So I thought through what I would need to feel good about taking the trip.

Here’s what I came up with:

✅ One of the first speaking slots in the morning, so I could pump at the hotel and go directly on stage. 

✅ A place to pump backstage after my talk. 

✅ A first-class plane seat so I could pump semi-comfortably while flying. 

It felt like a lot to ask; I didn’t want anyone to have to make special accommodations for me. Still, I knew I had nothing to lose, since I wouldn’t go without them. To their credit, The Hustle crew didn’t make me feel like a diva, they just made it happen (except for the plane seat; they reimbursed for economy and my company upgraded my ticket). 

After spending months in pajamas with my newborn, I felt out of my comfort zone at the conference, surrounded by people who seemed rested and put-together. But I got on the stage and delivered at least a little bit of value, sharing how we’d built the content team and created content at The Penny Hoarder:

 

I’m sharing this story for a few reasons:

1. To encourage you to look for an Option C when Options A and B don’t feel right. What needs to be true for it to work?

2. To showcase a positive example of a company — two companies, if you include my employer — supporting a new mom. It might require doing things a little differently, but companies can get new moms on stage or in leadership roles or wherever else they’re needed. If you’re not sure what a new mom needs to make it work, ask her. Sometimes small accommodations make a big difference.

3. To remind us all that moms are superheroes who juggle a lot behind the scenes. Paid work is only a fraction of what’s on their plate.

In the moment, I wouldn’t have characterized myself as doing anything big or significant; I was barely surviving, most certainly not thriving.

But looking back, I can give myself more credit and see the accomplishment more clearly. I did something that moved the content community, my company and my career forward, even while sleep-deprived.

And perhaps more importantly, I figured out what I needed — and asked for it.

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