I am a mother and have been since January 2015. I am also a career woman who spends her weekdays creating architecture. Then the are other days. Days in which the morning begins as I stare into the abyss that is my closet and wonder, “Who do I need to be today? Who can I be today? Being an ArchiMom isn’t enough. I need to be more.”
In the architecture profession, my days are often punctured with high-stakes client meetings that are predominately filled with men: important, competent (whether faked or otherwise) and wealthy men. I stare into my closet with analytical concern because I know that I have seconds to prove my worth. I know I will be unconsciously evaluated by each individual that I shake hands with. It is likely that I will be the lone ArchiMom at my conference table or construction site.
Lately my clothing selections for my client meetings have grown increasingly complex. I became a mother of two in February. A little girl. As a recent postpartum, breastfeeding mother of two, my morphed pregnancy body has detained its retreat (more so than with my first) and time for sourcing a purposeful wardrobe is as scant as sleep. Consequently, I have continued to wear my maternity clothes.
Therefore, as I stare into my humble closet, I search for an ensemble that first and foremost grants me confidence and strategic camouflage while providing comfort and ease of lactation. A wave of questions are analyzed. What is in the closest piece that demonstrates competence and professionalism? Will it couple with shoes that are easy to walk in? Are they PPE (personal protective equipment — i.e. closed toe shoes) certified for being on a job site? Will I have to worry about accidentally exposing undergarments? Is it going to rain and simultaneously be 90-degrees? Will my outer coat, purse and shoes coordinate? Are the contenders clean, let alone wrinkle free? Will this outfit be versatile enough to be warm or cool regardless of the office environment and site visit? Nothing worse to the mental psychology of a woman at a meeting than trying to cloak chattering teeth or shivering spasms. Lord forbid I wear a shirt that discloses perspiration or reveals that I have gone too long between pumping.
Even after I pull a few possibilities out and try them on, I continue to critique asking: “Are you trying to portray a trendy fashionista, formal professional, or one-of-the-boy’s casual? Do I have subtle, yet complimentary jewelry to accompany that blouse? Is there a shirt that will let me step onto the job site without having a sub-contractor inquire if I am lost? How will I toe the line of the spectrum between being too sexy, juvenile or too motherly? Will this collective garment portray that I have the monetary means to complete the millions of dollars that causally lounge around the table?”
Every part of me wishes I could wear my yoga pants.
This exhaustive preparation is undertaken so I am able to start at the gate of, “She belongs here,” let her mind and contributions demonstrate the remainder. This is the struggle of the professional, parenting-navigating woman. This is why far too many mothers all too frequently bemoan at their filled closet saying, “I have nothing to wear today.”
Precious minutes have ticked by and I inch ever closer to being late. Again. Half an hour later I am dressed but I am haggard. It has been another rushed morning of feeding, consoling and cajoling my two tiny beings out of our house. Nearly two hours after waking up, my family is on the road ready to launch another day. An hour later I walk into my client meeting, slightly hungry but thankful to have gotten there on time without my daughter’s reflux all over my shoulder. No one knows that I lost ten minutes because my toddler son threw an all-mighty tantrum because his banana broke in two. But, that’s the whole point, right? Mothers are expected to solider on while keeping flawless peace at home. I scoff at my own fantasy, but I still try to get somewhat close to believing it’s true. Even so, it is ill-advised (from a societal context) to bring our morning chaos into the office.
Mothers carry on because that is our normal and we constantly travel with baby wipes to contend with our reality. There will be plenty of men, fathers, even women and empathetic mothers who read this and think, “You do not need to try so hard.” My retort? In a world of unconscious bias, what I wear is the first of a multitude of considerations that are used to combat the stereotypes and win the day. Adjusting to the role of ArchiMom has been an evolutionary adventure, online shopping has been a glorious comrade. Even though the identity debate rages in the early morning hours, by the end of the day I will come home, put on my yoga pants and soak up every ounce of love from those precious two of mine. While I may morph into a contender of a career woman during the day, once the late afternoon sun starts to set, I resume being the best person of all, their momma.