Work Life Balance, Ha!
In the fall of my 42nd year, I was interviewing to become a Head of School. My travels took me away from my husband and two daughters, ages 8 and 10, as I crisscrossed the country: from our home in NYC to Connecticut, Texas, Michigan, to Ohio. In Shaker Heights, on the floor of a three-year-old classroom, on my hands and knees, I was cooing to an extremely patient class rabbit, brown and white with floppy ears, when things began to spin.
“Whoa, I am tired,” I thought, gathering myself and standing unsteadily. Back home, I told Seth, my husband, what had happened. “I couldn’t possibly be pregnant, could I?”
“No way,” he said kindly. “Not after all this time.”
About two weeks later, serene at my yoga studio in Manhattan, I moved into preparation for a headstand, extended my legs up, and came down immediately, the same woozy feeling engulfing me.
This is the time to let you know that our daughters are major infertility success stories—no spontaneous flight of passion; rather, temperature taking, daily injections of progesterone, sonograms, Chlomid, blood work, a vaccination of my husband’s cells into me at the hands of a doctor who was experimenting with the technique for those like me, who had suffered repeated miscarriages. Five excruciating losses, then the wondrous gift of two babies. After our daughters were born, we felt lucky. No more babies were happening, so birth control was not part of the routine; it took us a lot of work to get pregnant and even more work to stay pregnant.
After the yoga class, I stopped by the pharmacy on the corner to purchase an EPT kit. I had always done those tests first thing in the morning, fingers crossed, hoping, hoping. This time I thought, “I’m just going to rule this out. Maybe I’m anemic.” The blue line popped up instantly. “No way,” I thought, doing the second test immediately with the same result.
Seth was drowsing in front of the TV; our girls were upstairs with neighbors.
“Honey,” I said, shaking him slightly. “It looks like—it seems I’m—well, I might be pregnant.”
“You know. Pregnant.”
The next day, I called our wonderful OB/GYN, who did not sound enthusiastic.
“You’re not young, Ann,” she said gently. “How pregnant are you?”
To say I had no idea felt preposterous. How could I, who had monitored every second of every cycle for years and years, not have noticed my tender breasts, my queasiness first thing in the morning, my longing for Carr’s Water crackers and ginger ale?
“I don’t know,” I answered.
Twelve weeks. I was twelve weeks pregnant, and I was a finalist in a search for a job I really wanted. We told no one—not our children, not my mom or sister. I did not, after all, have a great track record of staying pregnant, and this time, I had missed the window of opportunity for all the interventions that had helped me stay pregnant with the girls. It could be I’d lose the baby.
The timeline of the search did not accommodate maybe-babies. Would I have to give up my dream job because I might be having a baby? I consulted two mentors, women I admired, but did not know well. I needed to retain my composure as I sought their advice. I was afraid that if I consulted a mentor I loved, who knew my infertility story, I’d fall apart.
“Good heavens, you’re pregnant. It’s not a disease,” scoffed the first. “They’d be lucky to get you, along with another baby.” My shoulders dropped away from my ears.
“If you’re offered the job, say yes, and there’s something I need to tell you. If they’re weird, you don’t want to work for them,” counseled the second wise woman briskly. I took a deep breath.
Right. Pregnancy isn’t forever; I’d already been a mom. This all-girls’ school liked the fact that I had children. On the way to my finalist interview, I sipped ginger ale on the plane. Nerves or morning sickness? Impossible to tell.
On a snowy December morning, the Board Chair and the Head of the Search committee offered me the job. I said, “Yes, and there’s something I need to tell you—“
The Board Chair exclaimed: “Are you pregnant? Another baby for Laurel!”
And I knew I had found the right school to lead.
A few weeks later, a genetics test for mothers of advanced maternal age, revealed our baby was chromosomally a-okay. I began to believe I might stay pregnant. I began to hope. Gradually, we started to share our news.
“Wait. You’re moving out of New York to Ohio; you’re going to be a headmistress and you’ve having a baby?” All true.
Dread. Anticipation. Fatigue. Auto-pilot. Packing up a family while eight months pregnant meant that I accepted help from anyone who offered. I was closing out a chapter of my career, having been twenty years at my New York school. But it was impossible to mourn extravagantly with tiny feet kicking and fluttering inside of me. I was excited—and scared. A baby shower re-equipped us for infancy; we had long given away the onesies and Baby Bjorn, the Moses basket and tummy-time mats. We were amazed by how many new baby items had been invented over almost a decade. We packed up all the gifts, dazed, trying to imagine our new life in Ohio.
As a family, we moved in the middle of June. We exchanged our apartment for a 1931 Tudor home, with a room for each child, a yard! Boxes got unpacked, belongings placed. Great with child, I conducted parents’ meetings, for the first time needing to sit down as I chatted with families in the humid heat of an un-air-conditioned dining room. Instead of being the graceful, lithe, elegant headmistress I had envisioned, I felt like a perspiring whale.
Next stop, Pennsylvania because we were committed to running our summer theatre program that pre-dated my new job. We traveled to Manhattan each Monday to check in with our doctor. And in NYC, our son, Atticus, arrived two weeks earlier than his due date, delivered in a single push. A no-drug VBAC. I was proud. Take that, advanced maternal age!
Lots of friends came to admire the baby in his few days as a NYC citizen. Then, we were back to Pennsylvania to finish the summer program. Fortunately, that summer, we had a lot of help! I rocked on the porch, nursed the baby, and wondered what it would feel like to really be the Head of School.
Early August found us back at Laurel, my own mother’s white wicker bassinette, circa 1927, repainted and refurbished, tucked in the corner of my office.
And so it began. A headship and a newborn—plus our two daughters in the school. I was the first headmistress have young daughters enrolled in the school. I was certainly the first to have produced a baby upon entry.
As I ran the opening faculty and staff meeting, Seth appeared in the back of the Chapel with a swaddled Atticus. He made his way up to me at the podium and handed me the baby, who was fussing, mouth puckering. An old hand at nursing, I simply covered his head with a blanket, lifted my shirt and held him close to nurse while I continued presiding over the meeting. Some say the school has never recovered. I say any mother feeds her baby when he’s hungry.
Being the head of a school is not unlike being a mom; you’re responsible for all of it—how children and adults feel, what the quality of life is like in your school, setting the tone, holding the line. One good thing about arriving with an infant was that, from time to time, I had to sit down, stop talking and nurse. I nursed this late-life bonus baby more successfully than I had nursed either daughter because, in his infancy, he was right there, drowsing in the bassinette or with his dad in our beautiful house across the parking lot. Everyone in the school grew accustomed to seeing Atticus in my arms as I strolled the hallways. I was the Admission Office’s best advertisement for prospective working mothers. His big sisters grew accustomed to sharing their baby brother. There was always someone willing to hold him when he fussed.
Everyone knows Atticus; as a toddler in our preschool, this used to bother him. As the third grade passed, calling out, “Hi, Atticus,” he would frown up at me and ask, “Why does everybody know my name?” I explained he had grown up at Laurel. Now he likes being known. Though he goes now to a coed school, Laurel is as much his home as our house is. At twelve, he is at ease with girls, a gracious ambassador showing visitors the way to the gym, lending a hand in offices, running errands.
Having our two daughters in the school was marvelous and hard. I remember an indignant Middle School daughter bringing a gaggle of friends in to my office.
“We need to speak to you,” she demanded, imperious.
“Are you speaking to me as your mom or as the Head of School?” I asked evenly.
“As the Head.”
“Then, make an appointment.”
Scowling, she fled with her posse.
On the plus side, I loved that I rarely had to miss any important events in their lives—chances were, the event was already a command performance on my calendar.
From time to time my phone will ring, and a hesitant stranger will say, “I’m up for a big job in my school. So and so said to call you. You had a baby, too?”
“I did, indeed.” I proclaim. “Go for it,” I encourage. “It’s not a disease, for heaven’s sake.”
Ann Klotz is a mother, teacher, writer and head of an all girls’ school in Shaker Heights, OH. Her work has appeared in MAW, Independent School Magazine, the Brevity Blog. Upcoming pieces will soon run in Literary Mama, Mutha and Motherlode. She blogs semi-regularly for The Huffington Post.