Content Warning: motherhood, birth, prematurity, breastfeeding, placenta image
Today is New Year’s Day. The first day of 2020 and that of a new decade. I look back on 2019 with the greatest of gratitude and on to 2020 with utmost hope and excitement.
I want to share one adventure that I’m very excited about and I hope grows in 2020. Note that this post is a bit long, but I hope you take the time to read it if you are already here. 🙂
At its most basic form, a community is a group of people that share some interest or characteristic. Communities are essential to our survival as humans. You may have many communities you are a part of – the neighborhood in which you live, the church you attend, people who align with your hobbies (hiking, cosplay, board games, night life, quilting, gardening, Tableau, etc.), people who share similar values (sexuality, gender, political views, education, living location, job type), or whatever. Community means a lot of different things to a lot of people. Without communities we would struggle to connect in meaningful ways. Perhaps our social networks would be lost and we’d lose the many psychological benefits we get from relating and interacting with others.
The struggle is that in today’s society it’s hard to talk about groups of people because “groups” by definition have some sort of boundary. Communities are different. Let me be clear. A community, in my eyes, is a boundaryless place, but you have to want to be a part of it because you connect with the concept and values of the community. A community is welcoming of all who want to be a part of it. Boundaries are fluid but the core “glue” remains relatively stable.
For example, if I say I’m a part of my neighborhood community, it’s likely that the defining similar characteristic is proximity. You have to live in my neighborhood to generally be a part of that community. However, people may visit the neighborhood and be welcomed into the social community network. It’s up to them if they feel that they are a part of my neighborhood or consider the group friends, but not a community they are a part of. One’s definition of a community is dependent on a number of things such as participation, values, relationship to other communities, level of connectedness, etc.
A community is only defined by those who wish to be a part of it and that those agree to what that community is at its core.
I became a mother in 2013 when my son was born. He came unexpectedly 6.5 weeks early. While I had some understanding of the complication I had – placenta previa, which means my placenta was positioned squarely over my cervix leaving no way for my son to be born – I wasn’t really concerned about his birth. Maybe I was naive. I was told around 20-some weeks that I would require a cesarean section where the doctor would surgically bring my son into the world. I was certainly upset about the news, but I knew I couldn’t change anything and just had to move on and accept reality. I didn’t think about it much after – since, why bother? I didn’t need any unnecessary worry.
In March 2013, my husband was in Miami at his brother’s bachelor party. I awoke around 3am bleeding, a lot. I called my husband, who, ironically but not surprisingly, was still awake and told him what was going on. He told me to call the doctor and call him back, which I did. I was directed to go to the hospital. I was alone (my family, my community, lived 5 hours away, and my closest friends were in different towns) and had to drive myself to the hospital, which was 40 minutes away, at 4 in the morning. Upon arrival, I was admitted. My husband quickly went to the airport and, after not sleeping all night, rushed to make it back to Connecticut.
After a day in the hospital, the bleeding subsided, and I begged to leave but was discharged on bed rest. Unfortunately, less than 12 hours later I woke again the next night bleeding and was rushed back to the hospital.
My doctor assessed the situation and after a few hours decided that in order to save my life (he told me he wasn’t worried about my son – that he would be fine). I was rushed to the OR and had an emergency c-section, which thankfully went just fine.
My son was born weighing 4 pounds, 12 ounces and spent 2.5 weeks in the NICU. I was determined to breastfeed him regardless of the circumstances. This meant that I started pumping right after surgery. I’m a determined woman and when faced with something I want to do – let me tell you – I will make it happen. While I believe it’s best to feed your child, no matter what (breast or formula), I was determined to at least try my best, which I did.
Because I decided to breastfeed, I had to pump a shit-ton. Literally, ever three hours. This is hard for any new mother, but it was particularly hard because I wasn’t entirely ready (though when are you ever for a new baby?). It also meant, I had to be at the hospital a lot. While I wanted to be with my son, many parents who don’t breastfeed don’t have to go back or stay as long. I had to drop off milk and I lived 40 minutes away. This meant I pumped through the night at home, drove to the hospital, fed my child through a bottle and a tube (and every time tried to teach him to feed on the breast), and stayed at the hospital for many hours each day. Since I wasn’t able to drive for 2 weeks due to the surgery, I had to have relatives visit from 5 hours away to help me out (my husband went back to work).
It was commitment. It was dedication. It was hard. I developed a community at the NICU with the nurses and I reached out to other parents of NICU babies. I was there everyday for 2.5 weeks. While I know some parents have to be there for months, I was luckily that my son went home when he was a little over 5 pounds but able to maintain his temperature and eat on his own.
When my son came home, I didn’t have a community to reach out to. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was alone. My family was far away. My friends had moved out of the state or lived in other towns when I had my son, and I didn’t feel connected.
Finding a community of people who could understand what I was going through, provide emotional support, provide answers and guidance, and just be there to chat with, was so necessary to help me get through the tough days.
I sought out communities in places such as Facebook groups, mom yoga groups, and Instagram. Anywhere I could find people to talk to who could relate to having a premie or just having a newborn. I spoke to my mom and my mother-in-law a lot more when I needed help.
Community was what got me through this time in my life. Community helped me fulfill my goals with breastfeeding my son. I had a lot of questions and many other mothers had answers and provided support and encouragement.
After any event, we learn (hopefully). I learned a ton from my experience with my premature son. I was now connected into communities that I was able to give back to. I could share my experience, my advice, and help others navigate the new waters of motherhood.
Giving is an integral part of a community. It cannot sustain without the “elders” passing along information, encouragement, wisdom, advice, values, and skills to those coming into the community. Without this, communities may just disintegrate, and some do naturally for this reason and others (such as a change of values).
As with many mothers, when you have another child, you pass along what you learned with your first to your second. You teach them what you’ve learned. Change techniques based on past mistakes and perfect those that were successful.
I had another son in 2017. I was determined to do this birth differently. While I learned that you cannot control how your child comes into this world, I knew that I wanted to do what I could to experience a different birth. I wanted a fully natural birth and I wanted to embrace the organ that changed the course of my first pregnancy – the placenta (which I’ll get to).
I did everything I could to set myself up for success. I hired a doula to help me manage the birth. I spoke to my husband to ensure he and I were on the same page and that he could support me. I also mentally prepared myself for anything. That meant no expectations. I knew that peace begins when expectations end (as the Buddhists say). I just had to be okay with whatever happened. And I was.
My second son came into the world completely opposite of my first. A natural birth. No drugs. I experienced everything I didn’t the first time. I was brave. I was determined. I was strong. I was successful. I was challenged.
My husband and I (and my doula and nurse even) spent time making placenta prints. I felt it was important for me to praise this organ that gave my sons life, but contributed differently in both.
After my second son was born, things felt easier. I had done this before so I knew what to expect. I was less anxious and less concerned about every little detail. I knew he’d be just fine.
This meant I was able to focus on other things when he napped rather than worrying if he was breathing. It was in late 2017 that I started MakeoverMonday and became much more involved in the Tableau community.
Andy Kriebel and Eva Murray (and Andy Cotgreave before Eva) were two people that helped to elevate my Tableau journey. I had been using Tableau since 2014 (so over 3 years by the time I discovered Makeover Monday) but having the weekly practice for a year significantly launched my skills and career. I was able to build a portfolio outside of work that I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to do.
However, I got started when I was on maternity leave. As my youngest got older, I didn’t have extra time. I had two kids who required not just my physical presence, but my emotional and social presence. Let’s be honest. When my youngest was sleeping, I could viz. When he was nursing, I could viz. In fact, I completed 42 out of 52 Makeover Monday challenges. You can see in the image below (from my TC18 Fanalytics talk) that by October of 2018, I had created 59 new visualizations and started #ProjectHealthViz.
Things are different now. Two kids is a lot more work than one. I don’t have time like I used to. This means that something has to give just a bit. That can be challenging because it requires prioritizing and not everything can be a top priority.
After going back to work, I was still able to do many Makeover Monday vizzes. I eased into work, for one, but also, I had to pump during the day. Which meant I had some time separated in my office where I had forced quiet. During these “breaks” I focused on Makeover Monday vizzes.
The work/life balance is tough with children (or for me it is). Here is my day: From when I wake until my kids are off to school I’m focused on them (about 2 hours). Then I go straight to work and work for 8-9 hours. Because I work at home, when my kids come home I immediately transition to being present for them. For the next 3 hours I’m making them dinner, giving them baths, playing, reading them books and putting them to bed. My husband does much of this with me. By 8pm I finally have time for me, but by then I’m exhausted and there isn’t much energy left for “me” time.
In the two hours I have left before bed. I have choices. I can work on my hobby (Tableau), connect with other friends, spend time engaging with other people in the communities I’m a part of, talk with my husband, or veg out on TV/media.
It’s hard to find extra time with kids. I know people do it. I’d love to figure it out. I can’t make more time in the day and I think I do the best with what time I have. But when I think about these things: Community. Motherhood. Balance. I knew there is something needed for the Tableau Community.
Moms Who Viz
In late 2018 (one year ago), I started connecting with other mothers in the Tableau data visualization community. I was curious about how other mothers balanced family life with work and then the public Tableau community, which involves creating “personal” visualizations which may be a part of other community-led initiatives or one’s own vizzes.
From these discussions, I learned that many mothers felt on the “sidelines” unable to fully participate not because they didn’t have the skills, knowledge, desire, or expertise, but because other priorities (such as children) took up whatever extra time they had.
There are so many ‘unsung’ heros in these mothers that I know. They are exceptionally knowledgeable, skilled Tableau masters, fantastic collaborators, clear experts in visual design, and people committed to the heart of what community is.
At that time, at the end of 2018, at the kitchen table over Christmas, I decided I was going to create a viz template for other mothers. Something that would be easy enough for someone to plug in information about their life as a working mom. I hoped that if someone didn’t have time to create a viz that year, they could at least plug in their own data to create a unique “landscape” of their motherhood.
A number of mothers used the template to create their viz and shared it with me. It was then that I started to connect with these moms. I could relate to them and I loved the friendships that I developed.
The blog about this template is here, including the links to the data sources to use.
Don’t get me wrong. I have a TON of male friends in this field. Most #datafam friends (maybe 75% of them) are male, but that’s likely because the data visualization space (and analytic field) is male-dominated. Historically, I’ve always had more male friends. Why? Maybe because I’ve just struggled to find the right community that I felt was important to me. Whatever the reason, the point is that I value the female relationships I have with other women who also share a passion for Tableau, but also those who can relate to the uniqueness of being a mother. Things that even fathers cannot quite understand.
After a year of thinking about the concept of community and motherhood, I set up a brain date at TC19 for Moms Who Viz. The response was overwhelming. In fact, there wasn’t enough space, but Tableau allowed me to have more people join in. We had a fantastic conversation.
At that foundational braindate, Michelle Frayman, Stephanie Shorey-Roca, Karen Hinson, Christina Gorga, Katie Poznanski-Ring, Aline Leo, Jacqui Moore, and myself had a wonderful conversation about what it meant to be a mother in the Tableau community. We talked about how we could support other women – other mothers and even fathers. How we could develop a community within this broader one. We talked about the challenges of being a mother and participating regularing in the public Tableau space. How could we support those women who felt on the sidelines as we have? How could we raise up others? How could we join forces such as in collaboration to help when time is limited?
Back to the beginning. Community. Communities are welcome to all. Moms Who Viz is about supporting mothers who care for children or are caregivers, work a job, have partners, build up others, enjoy Tableau and visualizing data, and want a space to communicate. We (those who participated at the TC19 braindate) are dedicated to supporting other mothers, recognizing their work (even if it’s infrequently posted), providing feedback, coordinating collaboration, joining up on blog posts, sharing the effort, and providing a space to talk about goals, challenges, and needs.
We are a community of mothers who love to viz. We welcome you to join us.