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Having a baby shouldn’t be a high-pressure experience — yet somehow it has become one. Emily Lammers ’06 worked hard to carve her own path through parenting, and then she wrote a book about it: No Drama First-Time Mama. On this episode of the PAWcast, Lammers breaks down the pressures directed at first-time moms, from breastfeeding to helicopter parenting to neglecting their own well-being, and offers advice and confidence to anyone who wants to do the same.
Liz Daugherty: Emily Lammers wanted to have a baby. But she didn’t want to lose her sense of self, her friendships, or the career she worked so hard to achieve. So she came up with a plan to resist the intense pressures directed at first-time moms and carve her own path. In her book, No Drama First-Time Mama, she offers this advice like a life preserver thrown to new mothers. Bravely, she posits that breastfeeding is optional, that everyone sleeps better in their own rooms, that babysitters can be used liberally without guilt, and that a new mother’s health and well-being deserves attention — just like her baby.
Emily, what made you decide to write this book?
Emily Lammers: Yeah, so as you mentioned, I kind of went into becoming a mother with a plan. I had a vision that I wanted to aspire to, preserving my identity and my life as I had known it while adding this crazy, new, exciting thing. And I was probably about nine months in — my son was nine months old — and I decided you know, I think I’ve been on this journey, I’ve kind of seen how it’s going with a baby, and it’s actually going pretty well. I’m very surprised. But it also made me recognize a lot of this was how I was thinking about approaching having a baby, and I’m not sure a lot of people go in with that mindset.
And then added to that, I had seen that there really wasn’t that much focus on moms. There are tons and tons of resources out there, but they’re related to baby care, or sleep training, or breastfeeding, or alternatively, kind of what I would consider lame mom humor about, “Oh, my life’s a mess. You know, I’m just giving up and it’s time for wine,” which I feel that way sometimes, but I also don’t think that’s all that constructive for day-to-day life.
I kind of was thinking, hey, I think this has gone well for me. I’d like to share what I’ve learned and what I thought was really helpful to me. And I think moms just need to be told kind of right out of the gate when they’re starting this journey, it’s really important to take care of yourself and you need to do that. They’re not told that by a lot of people, so I wanted to try to be that source, to put that out there and help these women right at the beginning.
LD: So you talk in the book about these intense pressures that moms feel today when they enter parenthood in our present, very interesting culture. What are some of them and where do you think they come from?
EL: I mean, I think one of the biggest pressures by far is the pressure to breastfeed. We are taught “breast is best,” I think most adults have probably heard that, whether they’re interested in kids or not. And I think where that comes from — it comes from a good place. I think formula was very prevalent in the ’80s and there was kind of corporate influence on hospitals and mothers. So this is a reaction to that, but I would say almost an overcorrection in the fact that now, you’re expected to do that by your doctors, your friends, other mothers, and it’s really hard. And it can be debilitating for a lot of mothers, even with all the resources that there are for breastfeeding.
So I think that’s one really hard thing. I also think it’s just — it’s gotten a little competitive. (laughs) You know, a lot of mothers are asking, well like, what’s your goal? Or like, how long are you doing this for? Or I did this many months. And that’s not really helpful, either. It’s not a contest. You shouldn’t feel pressured to make a certain goal if that’s not what you really want, it’s just what you feel like you should be doing because everyone’s telling you that. So you know, I’m pro-breastfeeding if it works for you, I think that’s great. But I do think just the pressure can be really debilitating for a lot of new mothers who struggle with that.
Another thing kind of in the same vein is there seems to be a lot of pressure these days to be Supermom and always be with your baby. We want to be doing all the activities and spending all the time with these precious children. Again, coming from a good place, but that can be a road to burnout. I think everyone needs a little time for themselves.
LD: One of the things that struck me when I had kids — and my children are a little older than yours, but not by much — was this pressure to be constantly stimulating your baby’s brain. Like, if you spend all of your time doing activities with this baby, they’re going to be a genius and go to... Well, obviously they’ll go to Princeton, (laughter) but who knows, you know what I mean? And that I found sort of unsustainable over time. And it gets in the way of another really important point you make in the book, which is the need for everyone, including the child, to have some independence.
And you talk in here about using babysitters and just sort of generally letting Schnitzel (laughter) — I love that name, your nickname — kind of explore a little bit on his own without you constantly hovering and saying, “Look at this, it’s a square! Look at this, it’s a triangle! It’s the color red!”
EL: See, I think even from the very beginning at the hospital, there’s this focus on rooming-in, spending all your time with your baby. And then that kind of pervades, even as you go home and start interacting with your child, there can be pressure, which I certainly felt, should I be stimulating this baby all the time and interacting with them? Well guess what, at the very beginning, they don’t have the brain capacity for that. They can pay attention for a couple minutes. And this was something I had to learn from my pediatrician, actually. She was like, you should just let your baby go to sleep. (laughs) OK!
I think a lot of moms do feel that. And I still feel that with an older child, now. I want to be doing my best for them, but really, my best means letting them have some time for themselves to explore their environment, to quiet their brain if they need that. And then on the flip side, having time for me to read a book, or go for a workout, or just take a nap. I think everyone can’t be stimulated all the time. So giving your baby some space, giving you some time is actually one of the best things you can do for both of you.
Another pressure I think is prevalent in today’s society is “leaning in,” or having it all, which was really a big concept — I’m dating myself a little bit — but probably 10 years ago when Sheryl Sandberg came out with the book, there was a lot of pressure, like I was in my 20s, I’m like, “Oh, I’m going to have it all when I’m a little bit older. I’m going to have a family and a great career and this great life.” Well, it turns out, there are trade-offs, as my dad always said, which really always annoyed me, but he was right. (laughs) You are going to burn yourself out if you try to do it all. And I think you just need to think about your opportunity set and where you want to make some compromises and try to accept that.
The last thing that I think has gotten even harder for new moms these days is social media. We spend a lot of time on social media whether we want to or not. I know there are some people who can cut it out or limit themselves and kudos to them, but the vast reality is that people are constantly looking at what others are doing, and the best versions of what other people are doing. And I think that can be really difficult for our minds. We think, “Oh hey, here’s this other mom, with this perfect baby and this perfect house and she’s so happy and looks great.” Well, that’s one moment in time. That is not the reality. I think we need to remind ourselves that.
On the flip side, you know, social media can be tough for kind of being nostalgic for what your life used to be like when you did have more freedom and less responsibility. You can see your friends out you know, having dinner on vacation, and obviously you can still do those things, but you can’t just do them at the drop of a dime. So that can be hard, too. So I think social media has just kind of amplified some of the complex thoughts in our head (laughs) and I’d be lying if I say I don’t fall prey to this, but I have found that at least trying to limit it a little bit and remind myself that this is not reality, this is a very curated look at what other people are doing and I don’t need to compare myself to this.
LD: So you mentioned your career, and that’s a really important part of, I think, your experience as a first-time mom. Can you talk about some of these career shifts that you made in the lead up, and what did you change and how did it work out?
EL: You know, in my mid-20s to early 30s, I had been working at one of the premier investment firms, doing really well there. I was growing dramatically, working on really interesting projects, but I would say I was kind of obsessed with my job in a way that wasn’t totally healthy. Both, you know, in the work that I was doing, but also in the drama (laughs) of the organization and just the competitiveness of it. And I was starting to feel a little burnt out on that, and also thinking about like, is this sustainable for the rest of my career or the things I want to do in the next five years? So I wouldn’t say my decision to ultimately leave this track that I was on was driven by wanting to have a family, but it was certainly a consideration. I knew I was getting into my 30s and I needed to think about what was going to be the right balance for me to have a career and a family.
What I ultimately decided was to move to a different investment firm that maybe wasn’t doing quite as well in the industry, but it was well known for having a really family-friendly environment. And for me, that was a good compromise to keep my career going, keep working on interesting projects, but also you know, have that space and time to not be stressed out all the time. I believe I had Schnitzel two years into my new job, and I can’t tell you how thankful I was to just not be consumed by work or the thought of getting back to work. I was actually promoted on my first maternity leave, which kind of tells you the attitude towards mothers and families at the firm I’m currently at.
But I do think it’s important to mention that this wasn’t always easy for me. It wasn’t a cut-and-dry decision. You know, a lot of times, I wasn’t as motivated as I had been at my previous firm. Or I didn’t feel like I had this dramatic growth that I had had in the past. And that’s hard to give up for people like us Princetonians and career women who do want to continue growing and having these dynamic careers. It was difficult to see some of my friends at least on social media or on LinkedIn, you know, still progressing at a rate that I wasn’t. But I just had to remind myself that this was the right fit for me at that time. And I was very much playing the long game in my career. I was thinking about it like, this is just for now. Careers are decades long and there are so many different things I can do with my career. The baby and toddler phase is a couple years, and that was a sacrifice I was willing to make for that short amount of time.
And then lastly, just with less stress and less hours of work at my new firm, that gave me time and energy to kind of explore some different career interests that I hadn’t had time to explore. So that’s when I started doing my MBA admissions consulting work, which I’ve been doing for six years now and I absolutely love. And it also gave me some time to write this book. I’ve always loved writing and that was something that I could finally kind of squeeze into my schedule. The pivot to maybe not climbing the corporate ladder as aggressively as I had been opened up a lot of possibilities to me and also kind of helped me think about a portfolio career: What are all the different pieces that I can kind of cultivate and maybe pursue full time later?
LD: That sounds like a really healthy approach to thinking about your career and thinking about your time. That’s also another theme in your book, is this idea that you’re a mom, you have to be thinking about your own health and well-being, which is not a message that new moms get a whole lot. And you went into it thinking about this, thinking I’m going to prioritize myself as well as the baby and take care of myself. Can you talk a little bit about some of the other ways that you did that?
EL: I was really focused on my mental and physical health. This will probably not surprise anyone, but having a baby is really hard on your body (laughs) and takes a while to recover from. So I was very vigilant about making sure I was getting the health-care services I needed to recover from that, that I was getting plenty of rest, whether I was utilizing my partner or my family members to help with that, or a babysitter. I mentioned in my book that I had a babysitter come just for three hours every week when I was on leave, which felt like a total luxury. I was a little embarrassed to even tell people about it. But I used that time to go to appointments, to work out. Working out is something that makes me feel really good and relieves stress and just kind of gives me a new breath of life. So that was always a big piece of how I gave myself the time that I needed to just recover from the birth and just the intensity of the day-to-day with a baby.
You know, in trying to prioritize taking care of myself, the mental piece was also a really big part of that. I think awareness for postpartum depression and also postpartum anxiety, which was something that I hadn’t really heard of, but now have had friends struggle with. The awareness of those is growing, but I still think people can do themselves a favor by taking ownership of doing a self-inventory. How do I feel? Asking your partner, your family members, like, how do you think I’m doing? I think it can be really hard to be objective when you’re in the middle of such an intense experience. So that was something I did. I was just very attuned to how I was feeling and asking others for feedback because I — if there was starting to be a problem with my mental health, I wanted to address it right away.
I wouldn’t say I had any formal help, but man, just finding people that I could talk to, whether that was friends or my physical therapist, or the pediatrician. Just talking to people authentically about how I was doing and navigating this process was almost a form of therapy and mental health help (laughs) that I found really beneficial. I think there’s something so raw about becoming a mother and navigating all these uncertainties and things are always changing. And when you’re alone with a baby for most of the hours of the day, it can be so helpful to just talk about how you’re doing with trusted sources. So I encourage new moms out there to find those people to talk to, even if they are your cleaning lady or your (laughs) dentist, I don’t know.
LD: Speaking of mental health, let’s mention the pandemic, because that really has been a game changer for parents of young children. I mean for a while, new parents didn’t have access to childcare, grandparents, and you couldn’t even have your spouse in the hospital with you, you know. And there’s a lot of anxiety over vaccines and how much should you isolate, which — very difficult. Can you talk about that at all? Do you have any advice for parents who are navigating that crazy new reality that we’re in?
EL: Yeah, well, first of all, my heart goes out to the new parents during this time. Especially those who didn’t have their partner with them while they were giving birth. I really can’t imagine, and I hope we are past that point forever. But it just seems like one more piece of uncertainty on what is already a very uncertain journey. But what I will say is the more things to be nervous about, that there are — and this pandemic is a huge, huge unknown and a huge stressor for so many people — I think it’s just even more important, then, to prioritize your needs and make sure you are doing OK. Because if you are not doing OK, you’re not going to be there for your child in the way that they need you. So just kind of reinforcing my overarching message in this book: The more difficult things are, the more important it is to make sure that you are taking care of yourself.
But some of the things I talked about in the book from my experience, that helped me feel good — getting outside, exercising, having that alone time, connecting with friends and family, in person or virtually — those are things you can still do during the pandemic. So yes, it’s shut down a lot of our things that we do day-to-day, but some of these fundamental, basic things that can really help with your mental health and well-being are still accessible.
And then with the vaccine issue, I am feeling frustration with that right now, as my children are not eligible and honestly it feels like kids under five are not really even in the conversation, which is really frustrating. There is no plan or clarity on when a solution might be available from what I can tell. But my personal approach with the pandemic has been to not let it dictate how my kids and I are living life. I think it’s still very important for them to go out and do things, to see people, to have playdates. For me, taking the risk of them getting the virus, you know, the benefits of having a normal life outweigh that risk in my mind. And I think there are some really scary headlines that we all see, all of us parents, about long COVID in kids, or this multi-system inflammatory syndrome, those are really terrifying. And while it’s good to be aware of those, I just have to remind myself — and this is what I would encourage others to do as well — is focus on the big picture. The big picture is millions of kids have gotten COVID and most of them have had very mild cases. So when I am getting very stressed by the latest headline, I try to remind myself of that. And just on a personal note, actually my kids did get the virus over Christmas and that was hard, but I just had to kind of roll with it.
That brings me to another important point. I personally have not wanted to make it a scary thing for my — for Schnitzel. I mean, he’s three, he kind of understands what’s going on now. The last year was really confusing for him. But I haven’t talked to him about it like it’s this very scary thing that we need to avoid at all costs, or that someone had the virus, isn’t that terrible? I’ve just been very matter-of-fact about it, and you know, a lot of people had this virus, and it’s not a big deal. Most people are doing fine with it. So just trying to not let any of the anxiety that is out there about the virus kind of permeate into his psyche is very important.
LD: So let me ask you as well, so you know, we mentioned baby Marzipan. So when you wrote your book, you had had one baby, and now, you’ve had two. So can you talk a little bit about how that experience? What was the same, or different?
EL: Yeah, so I had heard that one plus one equals whatever large number before, so that was my expectation. I went into motherhood with very low expectations and have been pleasantly surprised. I would say that was the same with having my second child as well. Which by the way, I am still surprised I have two children, because as you know from the book, I was kind of a reluctant mother. I was an only child, I always said I was just going to have one child, and Schnitzel was so wonderful that I got suckered into another one. (laughs)
But it was a very different experience from the beginning. I had a really tough pregnancy with Marzipan. Schnitzel had been really easy. Obviously the pandemic was going on. We had just left our lives in San Francisco and were living in my parents’ basement in Bozeman, Montana, not knowing where we were going next. So just the initial — you know, the pregnancy and getting ready for the next child was very different. Lots of uncertainty just different uncertainties. I kind of knew what having the baby was going to be like.
When Marzipan arrived, I think I already alluded to this, I was kind of surprised by how not-chaotic it was. You know, I knew what do with a baby this time, which was very helpful. And I had the same mindset. I, you know, wanted to take care of myself, wanted to make sure I was getting the help and support that I needed and the time for myself. And I just kind of followed the same playbook as I had with my first child, and that has continued to work really well for me.
I think one of the things I hadn’t really considered that was different, however, is just the dynamic. When you have one child, you’re on maternity leave, in normal times, you’re home with your child a lot. This is actually a perk of the pandemic in my opinion, so many people are still working from home that my husband was around all the time. And that was really wonderful to have him around, getting to see our new baby more. And also my son was around. And grandparents were around, because we were still living in the same place as them.
So my first experience, very isolating, a lot of alone time with the new baby. The second time around, it seemed like there was a houseful of kids and a jabbering toddler and I actually oddly missed those hours of one-on-one time. Again, there’s nothing in the middle. It’s kind of all or nothing. So very different experience on my second maternity leave. But overall, still following my north star of making sure that my needs were taken care of, that I was in the best position to be a really strong mother for my baby during what is still a very intense time, worked very well for me.
One thing I’ve learned about being a parent is things change all the time. So I don’t want to be too smug and think this is going to work forever, but I have been pleasantly surprised by how it’s going with two children and it’s a lot of fun to see them interact and how things change just in a couple months.
LD: Well let me ask you, if you were looking at a soon-to-be mom who’s just starting down this path like you were once, and feeling all this crazy pressure, and wondering if she can do this, what would you tell her?
EL: You can do it! I know it’s crazy, but so many people do. And most mothers, I would say, would say it’s one of the best experiences of their lives, and would they ever trade it? No. So I would just you know, take comfort in that. I would say other people’s opinions, what they think you should be doing, don’t matter. Don’t keep doing anything that isn’t working for you. You know, parenting is very personal and individual, and I would just tell you that it’s going to be intense, and it’s going to be really hard at times, but it’s also going to be a lot of fun. I am continually surprised by how much fun being a parent is.
LD: So thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us on the PAWcast, Emily.
EL: Of course, thank you for having me! It was really fun to get to re-live my first experience with motherhood three years ago, and I just hope this is an encouraging but also real-life message for all the other new moms out there.
PAWcast is a monthly interview podcast produced by the Princeton Alumni Weekly. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe. You can find us on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and Soundcloud. You can read transcripts of every episode on our website, paw.princeton.edu. Music for this podcast is licensed from Universal Production Music.