November 30, 2021

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In the last issue of The Cohort newsletter, I spoke to three journalists about how they’re managing their careers on top of caregiving. Meg Cramer is a freelance audio journalist who is planning to have her first child in a few months (full disclosure: she’s a former colleague of mine, a friend, and an alumna of the Women’s Leadership Academy!). I have always loved how she thinks about work and life, so I sent her a few questions I had about how she’s getting ready for parenthood.

Listen to the voice memo she sent in, or read the transcript below.

What steps did I take to prepare for pregnancy and parental leave before I got pregnant and did going freelance have anything to do with this? 

So, I mean, this is something that my spouse and I have been talking about for a long time, wanting to start a family. So for three or four years, we’ve been setting aside money to cover the first couple of months of day care. So our first step was sort of putting together a fund that we could use to pay for that expense. And then the second step was that when I started freelancing, I got paid family leave insurance, which is something that you can buy in New York state. I don’t know how it works in other states, but in New York, you, as a new parent, can take 12 weeks off and get 67% of your income over the previous year, up to a certain cutoff point. So I think the maximum benefit per week is like a little over a thousand dollars that you get during those 12 weeks. And this is a benefit that everyone has access to, a lot of people get it through their employers and you could use it to, you know, put it on top of whatever paid family leave your employer offers. But as a freelancer you can purchase it. I think it was $400 for the year. And if you’re starting a new business, it kicks in immediately.

So I knew that by getting this, I would be able to take parental leave within the first year and knew that it would be worth it, even if I didn’t end up using it for a couple of years. And also my spouse will get a similar benefit through his work. So between the two of us, we’ll be able to put together six months of covered paid family leave. And I think having those two things in place was a really important part of even allowing myself to imagine becoming a parent. Doing all that research and planning, I was finally able to see that I was ready and had been ready for a little while, once those things were in place. And that didn’t have anything to do with going freelance. I did not start freelancing because I wanted to become a parent. That’s just where I ended up in my professional life when the time came. So having those two things in place feels really important. I don’t want to be in a position where I’m doing math to figure out whether or not it’s worth it to pay for day care if I’m in between projects, that kind of thing. So I’m glad that we have both of those things set up for us.

Can I talk about my decision to go back to school and how that related to my attitude towards work and starting a family? 

Well, OK, so right now I’m getting a second undergraduate degree in studio art and maybe someday I’ll take that further, but right now I’m just taking it one step at a time.

I’m taking classes at Hunter College and I think I’ve had my own art practice one way or another for about eight years. And there was a period of time when my job got really intense and I decided that I should scale back on art making so I could focus on work. And a year later I was like, why did I do that?

So I started to wonder what would happen if I pursued art more seriously. And once I started thinking about that, it was kind of hard to put that thought back in the box. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. And then the pandemic happened and I was like, OK, I’ve got to put everything on the back burner. Work got really intense, and coming out of that experience, I realized that it was like time for something new, so I thought like maybe I could come back to this idea of going to art school. And every time that I have thought about taking a professional risk, I start by mapping out a budget. So like how much money do I have to make?

What would be possible if I didn’t try to make any more money than that? And I realized that I could afford to do this, go to school if I worked just part time. So that was sort of in the back of my mind. And then my project that I was working on, which focused on the Trump presidency ended and I got laid off and that made the decision a lot easier.

And I think, did that have anything to do with starting a family? I mean, yes and no. I think that for a long time, becoming a parent felt like a risk that I needed to mitigate by having everything in my professional world lined up just right. Like it needed to be just the right time in my career to take a step back.

I needed to have a permanent job and really great benefits. I needed to be working on a supportive team, et cetera, et cetera. And, yeah, all of that is true. And we deserve all of those things. But I think after this horribly unpredictable pandemic year, I realized that there’s some risks that you just can’t avoid.

And if there’s a risk that you can take, that’s going to mean a positive change or that’s really worth it. That’s for something really, really important. Then maybe I should be more willing to embrace that risk. Soall of that sort of shifted my thinking a little bit about becoming a parent.

So like, it’s not like all of this as part of some five-year plan, but it’s all definitely related.

If I could give any advice to a younger journalist who wants to have a family and a career, what advice would I give?

I think it’s important to find support wherever you can get it. We’re not supposed to do this alone. So whether that’s a partner, community, financial support that you have, or that you create for yourself. That for me was like a very important thing to have in place to even be ready to think about this. But other than that, I don’t think I have any good advice yet, because I’m sure that however I’m expecting this to go, it’s going to be different in confusing and wonderful ways.

And right now my partner and I are just trying to prepare ourselves to be humbled by the experience of becoming parents. You know, it’s not a rational decision that you make to become a parent. You have no idea how it’s going to go and you have to have faith and confidence in yourself that you’re going to be able to pull it off.

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Alex Sujong Laughlin is the writer and editor of Poynter's The Cohort, a newsletter about gender in media. She's a writer and an award-winning audio…
Alex Sujong Laughlin

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