by Anna Karsten

Motherhood & Career: How to Balance Being Mom and Being Yourself

I knew my life was about to change when my firstborn – Dylan Fitzgerald was born. It’s hard not to think that your life will change once the baby is born. Other parents have probably told you this over and over again.

“Enjoy your last weeks of freedom” people kept saying during my last weeks of pregnancy. While all wanted was for my baby to just come out and make an appearance already.

A year later I can tell you that it’s been a journey. In both good and bad ways if I’m completely frank, but if Italy didn’t screw us over or if we lived in the US since the beginning things would have been smoother and easier. But even these bi-monthly short trips to Poland from Italy for check-ups weren’t that bad. Dylan took them like a champ.

While my life has changed, I also continue to do my own thing and according to some of my friends I’m that mom that doesn’t complain about motherhood as much as their other friends do. Frankly, I think it’s actually because I didn’t take any official maternity leave.

Fresh baby Dylan!

One Year Since the Baby

This past year has been very busy for me. Navigating everything in a foreign country, flying with the baby alone to another country for medical appointments for the first few months, then moving back to the US and buying a house kept both myself and my husband occupied.

Navigating through doctors’ appointments, dealing with a deviated septum, psoriasis, as well as secondary infertility issues and ectopic pregnancy also didn’t make roll up in a ball and stay depressed.

On top of that, I traveled to multiple spots alone, reached 7th continent, challenged myself with some projects, started another brand (on top of Anna Everywhere), doubled my income (before the world collapsed because of covid-19 LOL!), passed entrance exams to nursing school, and probably did a few more things I don’t even remember.

Why am I even telling you this? Because I feel like right after the trend of “your world is going to end with the baby” there was another trend of “look what I’ve done after the baby”. Quite frankly, I don’t think either of these trends is very helpful to new moms.

Right after Dylan was born I had an urge to prove everyone around me that “I can still continue on with my life”. When I spent a week alone with the baby I was worried I’m falling into the trap of becoming “just a mom without any other interests”, but when I was doing my work I was worried whether I’m spending enough time with the baby.

I really wish I knew back then what I realized recently: this isn’t a competition. Everyone makes different choices and none of them is wrong – as long as they’re not harmful to the baby, naturally.

I was able to continue my work and projects because Dylan was a healthy baby and I felt fine (I had to continue working though, this wasn’t a choice). On top of that, I was in a position that I could leave my husband alone with a baby since we both work from home.

Could I do more in terms of my career? Absolutely, but unfortunately, I didn’t have a family nearby or people coming over and willing to take over my baby. Quite frankly it made me feel bad at times, but…

Many moms don’t have the possibility to travel or go on a baby-free work-related thing during the day – if they’re a single mom, their husband works and family doesn’t live nearby. Many don’t have that urge either – they have a different motherhood style.

Different Motherhood Styles

I firmly believe that nobody wants to be a bad mother and every woman is trying to do her best. Regardless of how your parents were treating you, you may wonder if you’ll be the same way. Psychology will tell you that most people become just like their parents, even if they swore they wouldn’t want to be like them.

In some cases, those who didn’t like the way their parents raised them and dreamed of something else, they might do the opposite. And potentially, turn their new dream vision into their child’s nightmare as well. It actually happened in my family…

My grandmother had to work a lot as a single parent and my mother wished she’d have had more time for her. Hence why she was a stay-at-home mother and let me tell you – if you’re an only child like me that was my worst nightmare. Hence why I knew that I needed to raise my kid in moderation. Work, but also have enough time for him at the same time.

Why Many Moms Lose Their Identity After a Child is Born?

No one knows when exactly it happens, but almost every mom feels a loss of identity at some point in her journey through motherhood. Once a woman is on maternity leave and staying with baby at home, life naturally revolves around the baby. Diapers, feedings, soothing, cleaning – over and over again. Things become monotonic pretty quickly.

The lack of adults around when you carry for a baby can also be very lonely. While it’s great to have a support system of other adults, new moms are often turning to other new moms to talk to. While it’s great to have an adult contact, these conversations also revolve around babies.

Ironically, while many new parents think their old single friends don’t understand them anymore I found great comfort in talking with my childless friends, just to talk about something other than baby stuff.

While the baby smiles are rewarding, especially for the first few months the discussions between yourself and a baby are pretty much your own monologues unless the baby decided to cry back. Afterward, you’ll proudly graduate to ‘goi goi’ and ‘dada’ type of conversations.

There’s also a common perception that once you’re a mom you’ll be running around in Crocs and dirty shirt with unwashed hair and no make-up. I remember during the first months of motherhood someone on Instagram sent me a message asking when do I plan on dressing up like a mom. Whatever on earth that meant.

No matter what, I always took my morning shower. Where was the baby? Next to the shower chilling in a stroller or swing, usually also staring at me.

Shower when you have a baby and a cat 😛

If you don’t feel like dressing up or putting makeup on, by all means – don’t do it. Babies are a lot of work to handle on your own and the job is tiring, but I didn’t want to be that person who stays in pajamas all day long. I actually bought myself some brand new clothes as a birthing gift and proudly wore them when I was ready.

I can honestly admit that if I stayed at home for a year without working, traveling, or doing my own thing I’d probably be depressed, at least. In my case, the American system with no maternity leave* actually worked out great.

(*For non-Americans: in the US there’s no law securing any maternity leave at all. It’s up to your employer to grant you some, but it’s mostly unpaid and about 6 weeks.)

I knew I had to stay busy with non-baby related things for my own sanity while raising a baby to actually have a healthy relationship with my baby.

However, wanting to do your own thing so early onto motherhood and actually doing it are two different stories…

Self-Employment with a Small Baby

Most people think that self-employment and having a baby the best thing you can have. People tend to think that you can work while sitting at home with a baby, right? Well… it’s not that simple.

First of all, you don’t really get maternity leave when self-employed. While both our businesses hugely rely on passive income, we could take random chunks of time off, but definitely not 8-12 months paid maternity leave as people get in Europe. Not including an L4 sick leave that many women in Europe get pretty much by the 5th month of pregnancy.

Secondly, have you ever tried to work next to a baby or a toddler? While the first 4 months Dylan was basically sleeping lots, both Matt and I were able to work and go out for dinner in the evening. When the baby was ready to sleep, he just rubbed his eyes to let us know he wants to lie down in a stroller.

Once he became mobile, which in his case it was fairly quickly at 7 months, we had to find different solutions and toys, especially as we’ve moved twice babyproofing the house wasn’t really a reliable option.

For an active baby, I found that wooden climbing toys was the best possible solution.

Poofy the Cat was doing a good job as a babysitter at first…

Hiring a Babysitter and Finding Daycare

Since my husband and I didn’t have any family members around we left Dylan alone with a babysitter when he was about 3 months old.

Finding a babysitter that’s reliable and more importantly, is willing to take care of a baby that young wasn’t easy. Truth to be told, we installed a camera (visible, not hidden – I’m not a creep) in the room and kept monitoring the situation while we were out at times.

It was very scary and showed us how much easier would it be if family members lived nearby us.

While the first time was scary, each time leaving the baby with the babysitter was easier. We figured that the kid will be fine if I’m not with him 24/7.

Once Dylan was mobile the time he had with the babysitter was the only time either myself or my husband could work. Also because by 8 months he quit his second nap completely.

I can honestly say that the best thing we’ve done to baby Dylan was to send him to daycare once we moved back to the US. He loves hanging out with his new friends there and comes home happy.

Quite frankly everyone is happy, as I have time to work and run errands during the day and then spend time with the baby when he’s back without having to try to work while the baby is around.

Traveling Alone & Working While Having a Baby

I keep getting messages from my readers asking how do I travel alone without a baby. They aren’t hateful messages. They’re genuinely interested fellow moms asking for tips – they want to do their own thing, but they’re afraid.

Afraid of leaving the baby and afraid of missing the baby.

Let’s face it – leaving your baby behind while you go to work, travel or go out is scary and not easy. That’s why I wholeheartedly recommend traveling alone WITH the baby first. Dylan was so much happier exploring new places than when he was at home.


First Trip Alone Without a Baby Isn’t Easy

When I embarked on my first longer trip alone (because I couldn’t bring the baby with me), on my third day I met up with a friend who frequently travels alone but also has a kid at home. She warned me that she actually returned earlier from her first few trips because she missed her baby.

Little did I know that a few days later I would be canceling the last leg of my trip and returning home earlier. I missed the little guy too much, I was worried about him even though he was with his dad and didn’t feel like I could fully work and/or enjoy the trip.

However, when I returned home I quickly realized that I’ve fallen back into the monotony of changing diapers and making bottles, asking myself whether I made the right choice by cutting my trip short. I wasn’t feeling great with whichever option I picked and knew it was going to take practice.

The next baby-free trip I took was actually with my husband. They don’t allow kids under 8 years old in Antarctica, so we had no choice but to leave Dylan with grandparents. It was hard to leave him for so long, but we managed.

Not surprisingly, when I recently left for another 2-week long trip it was definitely easier. I knew the baby will be happy to see me again when I return.


Dylan making friends with goats.

To answer your question how do I do it and how or if you can do the same – there’s really no one right response.

What I choose to do might not work for you and vice versa. Maybe your life will temporarily end with the baby when forced by circumstances.

But, if you have a possibility you can try traveling alone or working as a mom. It’s possible and not selfish. The baby will be fine and so will you.

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