May we introduce?
Christiane Demgenski – is Chief Product Officer at Awina. Before moving into the startup world, she developed digital banking products in various roles at UBS. She is a new mum and lives in Zurich with her daughter and husband. We wanted to know from Christiane how she has experienced the last few months since the birth of her daughter and to what extent it has influenced her attitude to her job.
Christiane, you became a mother a few months ago. Congratulations! What has changed most in your life since the birth of your daughter?
My calendar was always full before her birth. Between work, conferences, travelling, chamber music, militia fire brigade, meeting friends, sports and lots of reading, my everyday life was always very busy and I valued my independence very much. Since becoming a mother, practically everything revolves around keeping this tiny little creature alive and enjoying every second with her – every day she learns something new! I still find time to read, but the rest is falling away. I also now understand how quickly one’s identity can get lost in the mother role. It’s strange that I can’t do anything spontaneously on my own anymore, but first have to make sure that someone looks after my little one and that there’s enough milk for her. And yet I can’t imagine my life without her.
What was it that nobody told you before you became a mother?
Firstly, that the pain doesn’t stop with the birth! I had a long birth that ended with an emergency caesarean section in hospital. I thought that was the end of the hardest part, but looking after an infant and learning to breastfeed, all without sleep and after an operation – that was hard. The small amount of paracetamol you’re allowed to take is a joke.
Secondly, and I’ve been told this but I didn’t believe it – about how many expenses are coming your way! The care costs are only one part. We luckily got most of the baby clothes as well as a dondolo and a baby carrier on loan from a good friend. We bought the pram and the rest of the equipment second-hand on Ricardo and through Facebook groups. We also decided to stay in our small but affordable flat for now – the Pinterest-worthy nursery can always come later.
What 5 pieces of advice would you give to other working mothers before having their first child?
- Plan your exit early enough. In my last month of pregnancy I was on sick leave overnight, so I was glad I had at least discussed most of my responsibilities with someone already, if not handed them over. Who wants to get a call from the office during childbirth because there’s a fire somewhere and only you know where the fire extinguisher is?
- Use the last few weeks before the birth to rest physically and mentally. I had to fight with a guilty conscience, pregnancy is not a “disease”. However, now I’m glad about the few weeks when I could just look after myself. During pregnancy everything revolves around your needs – the change after birth is abrupt.
- It takes a village, you can’t handle everything on your own, no matter how independent you think you are. Especially if, like us, you’re not from Switzerland and don’t have a lot of relatives nearby. The first days after the birth are particularly intense. Without the alternating help of my mother, my mother-in-law and my sisters, who cooked for us, walked the dog or took care of our baby so we could sleep, the first weeks would have been much more stressful. Instead, my husband and I were able to focus fully on bonding.
- Plan your return to work in advance, including your future childcare needs. Maternity leave goes by in no time at all, so you’ll be glad if everything on the administrative side is already settled and you have a rough plan of what your life will look like afterwards. I visited different day-care centres during my pregnancy, talked to the day-care centre managers and only had to sign the contract after the birth.
- Life doesn’t stop, it’s just different! One of my worries was that I would be stuck at home with my baby. In fact, we went to a rustico in Ticino over Easter with our 6-week-old baby, to Lausanne for a long weekend at 10 weeks, flew for the first time at 13 weeks and went to Poland for a week, and we are planning France and Israel for the summer. Of course, now we have to carry a pram everywhere. However, we don’t have to queue at the airport – that’s not bad either!
What is your teamwork like: who takes care of what? Is there a balance between you and your husband?
My husband had 4 weeks paternity leave. During that time I almost didn’t change a single nappy, he spent hours bouncing her on the yoga ball when she had a tummy ache, and I was able to sleep in mornings. But time went by in a flash, and suddenly I was practically responsible for her alone during the day. My husband mainly works from home and did what he could, but he has a demanding job in a start-up and often works late. In the beginning, I felt overwhelmed, especially by the household demands. Since I was at home, I felt like I was now also responsible for the dog, laundry, cleaning and all administrative tasks. I never had time for myself and had to learn to let go – who cares if the laundry hangs on the clothes horse for a week? Now I have a babysitter two or three evenings a week, so I can get out of the house even if my husband still has calls. We also have a cleaner once a week. Now that I’m back at work, the teamwork looks a bit different again: My husband takes care of the little one for half a day a week and I go to the office. When I go back to work full time we will have to adjust the rhythm again so that it is right for everyone. Communication is the most important thing here.
Maternity leave will soon be over: how do you want to find a good work-life balance?
Honestly? On my last day of maternity leave, all I did was cry. Even though I’m coming back to a great team and a great job. I can understand mothers who prefer to stay with their baby. But I also know that in the long run it’s better for me, my family and my daughter if I stay financially independent and work on my own projects. For the first three months, I’m going back to work part-time (at 50%) and mainly remotely. From September, I’ll be back full time and our daughter will go to day-care.
How about a guilty conscience, have you also experienced that when you handed over your daughter to someone else to look after?
Since I breastfeed my daughter fully, I have only been out for three to four hours at the most without her and she has always been with someone I trust. I didn’t feel any remorse, also because our daughter is very happy and laughs a lot with the babysitters. It is also important for her to have different caregivers. I’m curious to see what it will be like when she goes to the nursery all day. I’m already aware that you can’t always control your emotions. The head of the day-care centre has already warned me that it is often more difficult for the parents than for the children! But I have already been to our day-care centre with our daughter and it was very reassuring to see how warmly the carers treat her there.
How has your daughter changed your attitude towards your job?
She helps me prioritise. Every minute I spend elsewhere has to be worth it. I have not slept more than four hours at a stretch for three months. My tolerance for inefficiency is now zero ;). I also realise how much Awina is needed. I thought I was fully prepared for my time with a baby – I can only laugh about that now. The rush hour of life has hit me full on. I am groping my way blindly from day to day, hoping that I haven’t missed anything.
Awina is your partner during the Rush Hour of Life. The company supports young families with day-care financing and advocates for a better work-life balance. But what does compatibility actually look like in everyday life? In the series “Hey, Mama”, “Hey, Papa”, working parents talk openly about their experiences and challenges as working parents and give insight into how they personally reconcile child and career.