Mothergood Feature: Christina Chieffo
1. Tell us about your background and a little bit about who you are?
I’m an East Coaster by birth, and a Midwesterner—somewhat inadvertently—by choice. I grew up in a small town outside Philadelphia, went to Notre Dame for undergrad, and then moved to Chicago for law school. We live in a fun neighborhood in a two-bedroom apartment with a giant kitchen.
I met my husband two weeks into our freshman year of college, and we’ve been together ever since. A few months before I graduated law school, we got engaged. I took the bar exam (and passed!) the summer after graduation, and started working full time as an in-house attorney for a real estate development company in the Chicago suburbs that fall. My husband and I got married about a year after that, and then had a baby about a year later. It was the most excitement-filled two and a half years of my life!
In my day to day life now, I’m an in-house attorney in the corporate real estate field (at the same company that hired me fresh out of law school), and mom to a sweet 16 month old girl.
2. What do you find most fulfilling about motherhood? The most challenging?
Especially as my daughter is growing, I love seeing things through her perspective. Watching her learn more about the world and interact with it brings me so much joy, and is so rewarding. Some recent favorite examples of this are when she ran through the aquarium on a family trip shouting “Ish! Ish!” as she pointed at all the fish, and how she will point out every dog on our street and make a barking noise.
Maternity leave was a real challenge for me. I know it might seem strange to be talking about this over a year later, but as I’ve moved forward, I’ve realized how much those first experiences of motherhood make an impact on your self-image and confidence as a mother. I wasn’t prepared for how difficult maternity leave would be. I have some extrovert tendencies, and so not having other adults around to talk to was tougher than I realized. My family is also on the East Coast. They visited the weekend after the baby was born, but flew back home on Monday. That same day, my husband went back to work after his one week of “paternity leave.” I was home, alone, with a newborn and no idea what I was doing. Breastfeeding was not as natural as I had expected, and it was winter in Chicago. With my breastfeeding struggles, we had regular weight checks at the pediatrician’s office and met with two lactation consultants. For the first time, I felt like it didn’t matter how hard I tried. As a former A-student in a challenging field of study, it had previously been true that if I didn’t succeed at something, it was because I didn’t try hard enough; once I applied myself, results would improve. With breastfeeding, I had a physiological issue that made exclusive breastfeeding nearly impossible. For a few weeks, I was in a nurse-bottle-pump cycle that physically and emotionally drained me. Finally, the second LC I met with gave me permission to mourn the breastfeeding relationship I planned on, which made a huge difference. I ultimately half breastfed, half formula fed our daughter for about 8 months, and everything turned out just fine. I also found ways to get out more, which made a huge difference. While I wouldn’t recommend this to everyone, about one month postpartum, I planned and hosted Thanksgiving dinner for ten people. I look back on that Thanksgiving as an opportunity for me to get outside of myself, to go out (even just to the grocery store), and focus on something other than baby stuff. I was eventually relieved to go back to work, although it was bittersweet because by the time my leave ended, my girl was just starting to smile and sleep through the night.
3. What does motherhood look like for you right now? What do you love about where you are? What would you change?
We’re in a fun and wild toddler stage right now, so motherhood looks like chasing my girl around the apartment with her coat to try to get out the door by a reasonable time, and accepting that sometimes oatmeal is a finger food. Sometimes, it looks like turning my laptop back on after bedtime and getting in another hour of work. It also can look like ignoring the unanswered emails or dishes in the sink to linger over a beer at the dinner table with my husband. We also try really hard to get out and do things as a family, whether that’s just Sunday brunch or trips to museums, gardens, and zoos near us.
I love the adult interaction and intellectual and mental stimulation I get from my job. I didn’t fully appreciate how much I liked being an attorney and using my lawyer brain until I was on leave. But the problem-solving and writing aspects of my work are really rewarding, and I like to think I’m pretty good at it. Then, I love coming home and getting sweet, unconditional baby love. My husband usually does daycare pickup after work, so they get home before I do. There’s nothing like seeing my daughter put down whatever she’s playing with and get so excited to see me. I love her slobbery toddler kisses and endless requests for one more bedtime story.
I would love just a little more downtime at home. This year, we’ve gone on quite a few round trip flights as a family. Our families both live far away, and we’ve got friends all over the map, too. We’re definitely lucky to be able to travel as much as we do, and go so many places with our little one, but I’m increasingly realizing the benefits of being home and relaxing in our own space. This means fighting my inclination to fill up the family calendar and say yes to everything that comes up, but I’m going to work on it. I’m realizing that having “no plans” as a family is an important part of life, and not just a void to fill.
4. How have you incorporated motherhood into your identity without losing your own individuality?
I have a lot of close girlfriends—some of whom are moms, but most of them aren’t. I think that maintaining those relationships has helped me to find the balance. My close friends here in Chicago (who don’t have kids yet) have babysat for us on multiple occasions so my husband and I could go to concerts, festivals, or sporting events. I’m also a member of a fitness studio in my neighborhood, which I’ve come to realize is invaluable. I started taking classes there right before I found out I was pregnant, and have been going there regularly since. I’ve found that making the time for regular workouts, socializing with other women, and focusing on myself has had such a positive impact on my personal physical and mental wellbeing.
Finally, my husband and I find ways to take our baby with us when we go out places. With our living in a family-friendly neighborhood in a big city, we decided that we wanted to make the most of it and include our daughter in the things that we enjoy most. We’ve taken her to college football games, museums, breweries, and street festivals. We’ve had to adjust some of our expectations, work around naptimes, and bring plenty of snacks, but I think that it has been fun and worthwhile for all of us.
5. What advice would you give women who are considering/desiring motherhood?
I would tell them how much fun it can be! When you have a baby/toddler, they are totally non-self-conscious, which gives you full license to do the same. It’s so liberating to make up ridiculous voices for book characters and get a little laugh in return. Especially having a job outside the home that requires a certain degree of seriousness, I’ve really come to appreciate coming home to someone who is amazed by my ability to make animal noises. Yes, there are diaper blowouts, ear infections, and temper tantrums along the way, but you also have an excuse to build with blocks and sing songs all day long.
Another piece of advice, especially for women who are planning on working outside the home after having kids, is to read the book I Know How She Does It by Laura Vanderkam. I read this book while I was pregnant and it was so empowering. Basically, it’s about making the most of your time, based on journals filled out by real mothers in demanding careers. One of the most valuable takeaways for me was in thinking about achieving balance on the whole, not in a day. Maybe I don’t achieve “balance” between my mom role and my attorney role on any given day, but over the course of a week, I’m a lot more likely to do so.