Expectations > reality. Uncovering blind spots. Chief.
I hope your Halloween went well!
My older kids spent weeks anticipating their candy hauls, only to have freezing rain cut their evening short.
Expectations > reality
This got me thinking about the gaps between expectations and reality after a baby arrives.
Across the hundreds of interviews I’ve conducted this year, 3 in 4 new moms said they felt well-prepared before delivery.
The tone changed when they described how it was afterward.
Unfortunately, these findings aren’t new. A study of new mothers’ experiences from 25 years ago found feeling ‘unready’ and ‘realizing’ was typical.
So, how do we get better at managing this?
Planning for the unexpected
I was under-prepared when my first was born. Getting ready the next time, I intuitively started applying a project management tool from work.
It’s used to tackle new and complex assignments, and it goes like this:
Source: My drawing of the knowns and unknowns framework
The horizontal axis is related to my awareness of something. It covers things I’m already aware of (knowns) and the open questions I see (my unknowns).
The vertical axis is what happens as a result of these things. When something is consistent and clearly understood, it has a known impact.
Conversely, if something happens erratically or infrequently, its impact on my situation is unknown.
Knowns and unknowns of having a baby
Mapping out my second baby’s arrival looked like this:
Source: My application of the knowns and unknowns framework
Known-knowns: I was ready to navigate caring for baby #2.
I got ready by lining up YouTube tutorials about breastfeeding and swaddling. This was to refresh my memory of these newborn fundamentals.
Unknown-knowns: I overlooked what the first 6-weeks would feel like for me.
Experiences of loneliness and exhaustion are usual, but I was clueless the first time around.
Preparing for my second, I asked friends what it’s like with a newborn and an older sibling. I learned I should keep my eldest in daycare so I could nap during the day.
If you don’t have friends with kids, Reddit threads like this are a great spot to hear advice from other parents.
Known-unknowns: Considering potential complications in delivery.
According to this study, approximately 4 in 10 new moms experience medical issues during labor and delivery. Anticipating this, I outlined my likely complications and had backup plans ready.
Unknown-unknowns: The changes in values that I didn't anticipate.
After my maternity leave, I moved from a VP to a Director-level role. This was to have less travel and more mental bandwidth for my family. I never thought I’d value flexibility more than reaching the next career level, but it happened.
Feeling my circumstance was generally under control helped me respond to my shifting identity.
Broadly, I suggest trying this planning exercise because it made my maternity leave experience less stressful and more enjoyable.
Would you like to see what the known/unknown framing looks like for your situation? Take this 3-minute quiz, and I’ll calculate your quadrants for you.
(Does my outline have gaps versus your experience? Let me know so I can make this more useful for others.)
P.S. Do you have a topic you want to see? Reply and tell me.
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Mother Honestly. A community for working parents with advice and events. It’s also pivoting into software for employees to manage their childcare needs better.
Chief. Private membership club for women leaders to network and grow. It requires 15+ years of experience and being in an executive role. And the waitlist is enormous.
Bodily. This direct-to-consumer maker of post-pregnancy products also has helpful content on postpartum recovery timelines and experiences.