The Coffee Chat (#18)

My conversation with Elizabeth Litchfield - Manufacturing operations leader, lover of the outdoors and mom to a 14 month old baby girl

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Hi there 👋🏽

I recently got my 2nd vaccine shot - I have never felt so hopeful and so miserable at the same time. Those 36-48 hours when I was lying in bed convinced me that getting the vaccine has been one of the best things I have done recently for myself, my family and my community. I would any day take this short term discomfort over the constant stress, fear and actual effects of the disease.

If you are getting vaccinated, please plan accordingly. Definitely recommend you take the next day off to rest. Also, if you are a parent don’t make the mistake we made. We both got our 2nd shot on the same day (a big big shout-out to my amazing husband who did the bulk of parenting over those 36-48 hours) - ideally we should have spread it out so one of us could just be in bed and the other could be the adult.

 Now, on to today’s coffee chat…

Meet Elizabeth Litchfield

Elizabeth is a chemical engineer by training and a manufacturing operations people leader. In her last role she oversaw three production lines (>1MM products a day), with 4 crews of 5 operators as well as a support team of 4 maintenance team members, 3 process specialists and 3 engineers.

I was introduced to Elizabeth by a common friend and I am glad we connected. While Elizabeth and I have had very different professional experiences what truly connected us was the fact that we both became parents for the first time in the middle of a pandemic while being cut off from the rest of the world. We cancelled a bunch of calls with words such as “baby teething” - knowing that the other would understand.

Below is my conversation with Elizabeth…

Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your family 

I'm Elizabeth and till very recently I was working as an Operations Leader at Kimberly-Clark in Ogden, UT where we make diapers (no joke!). I am currently transitioning professionally and will be starting my new role on July 5.

My husband, Kyle, also works for Kimberly-Clark as an electrical engineer. Our daughter, my Little Bean, was born last year, about a month after the United States shut down for the pandemic.

Kyle and I were born and raised in Canada (northern Ontario to be specific), and met at university. Shortly after I graduated, we both ended up in full time positions at the Kimberly-Clark plant in Huntsville, ON. 2 years ago, we saw an opportunity to come down to Utah, and we both transferred down here.

We enjoy alpine skiing, hiking, camping and generally adventuring when we aren't working so it was a really wonderful opportunity for both of us professionally and personally. Where we currently live, we are less than a 5 hour drive away from 6 different national parks. 

For you what was the hardest part of becoming a new parent? 

Twofold - the mental challenge and major life changes of having a child, specifically as it related to my independence, and the lack of local support due to our recent international move / pandemic.

Did you take maternity leave? If yes, how was the transition back?  

Yes I did, but much shorter than I grew up expecting in Canada. I was also expecting a 16 week leave with my company, and ended up with a 12 week leave which was explained to me when I was 6 weeks post-partum.

Once I got over that shock and change in expectations, transition back was actually good. I had to find a new rhythm at work after taking a promotion/role change that started on my return, and pumping etc. But it was nice to talk to other adults and I honestly savor and look forward to the evenings with my daughter more than I did when I was on leave. Also, she LOVES daycare and is much happier there to be honest. She gets bored with us at home!

My husband was also able to take 4 weeks of paternity leave. This is more time than I think he would have had in Canada. After having a C-section, this was also a blessing. 

I will also say that being 8 months pregnant when the world shutdown for the pandemic, my boss and peers were INCREDIBLE and I actually worked from home for the final 4-6 weeks of my pregnancy. Even though I had a shorter maternity leave, I don't have the words for how grateful I am about the caution and support my team gave me in this time. 

After becoming a parent did you adopt any new beliefs, behaviors, or habits that have most improved your life?

I would say that I adopted two new "mantras". The first is "Flexible Routine, not a Rigid Schedule." When this one came into my life, it was actually related to sleep schedules and whatnot. Learning my daughter's sleep/hunger cues, being OK if a nap happened in the car some days, and not avoiding "events" (visiting people outside the house, travelling, etc) just to stick to a rigid schedule. But it's actually helped me personally as well to remember that even if we don't follow our "exact" schedule, it's not a bad day, I'm not a bad parent, and my daughter's development is still progressing. The second mantra is "Progress > Perfection." Again, this applies both in parenting and in my personal life, and is a reminder that anything worth doing is worth doing poorly. As a recovering Type A / Perfectionist, this has been key. 

As for habits, I honestly work out more frequently and consistently than I did before kids. I had a huge mindset shift where I view this time as self care, but also as building my longevity to spend more time with my kid for longer in my life. 

What is one of the best or most worthwhile investment you have made after becoming a parent? 

Taking the time to find the right fit and paying for incredible child care. The first provider we tried was priced quite well, but did not meet our expectations from a safety standpoint (especially during a pandemic). The one we are currently at is expensive relative to all the research we did, but I trust them so much. They legitimately care for my kid the way I do, get excited with her development, and take such good care of her. It's such a relief on days when I'm running late to think she's spending the extra time THERE, with those phenomenal care providers. 

The biggest challenge that working parents with young kids have is a lack of predictability in their schedule and limited time for themselves. How have you managed this? 

I don't know that I have managed this well to be honest. We have a flexible work schedule at my plant where I can get every other Friday off without exhausting vacation - I've been making a concerted effort to protect this time for ME. As I alluded to, I'm also trying to protect my workout time since that's important for my physical and mental health. Other than that, I'm still working on how to manage this as it's been a huge challenge for me mentally. 

What choices have you and your partner made that has helped you become a dual career household with kids?

I think the biggest "choice" we have made is being equally engaged in child care. My husband does daycare dropoff and I do pickup. We have both attended an equal amount of wellness visits with our pediatrician. We try to give each other a heads up when our plans don't work. We both have engineering backgrounds, so I think our mindset of looking at it like "project management" and continually talking status and aligning on plans is what has made us successful (although I feel weird saying we're successful!).

I also just want to give a huge shout out to my husband. We made a really awesome kid, but I couldn't do this without him.

What advice would you give others who are on the cusp of becoming parents? What advice should they ignore? 

Fourth trimester is real, for all parents. Do more research on this, and make good plans to take care of yourself during this time. The first 3 - 6 months is probably the biggest change and you should probably just try to survive, keep your kid alive, and then you can build new habits after that.

The biggest piece of advice I heard that was bologna was "Sleep when the baby sleeps." I think people's intentions in this advice are good and are trying to tell you to focus on prioritizing sleep (instead of dishes, laundry, etc), but the reality is so much harder. When my newborn was asleep, I was balancing feeding myself and pumping. In the early days, I barely had enough time for those tasks. Let alone sleep. This was more helpful advice

A post shared by @she.found.motherhood

I would also encourage ANY parent to really look at cultivating their social media content when they become parents. I have found so many amazing Instagram accounts for parenting about a wide range of topics that really help me feel more confident as a parent and also feel less alone.

Quick-fire questions:

What’s the best thing you have watched recently?

StoryBots (for my daughter) - seriously, it's not annoying and as a chemical engineer by education, I have learned tons of new things from the show myself.

Schitt's Creek / The Queen's Gambit (for adults) - my husband and I binged Schitt's Creek at the beginning of the pandemic, and the Canadian in me was super proud. After the Queen's Gambit, my husband and I have started playing chess since we finished this series.

Also I repeatedly recommend this TedTalk to people (I'm a musician / theatre girl at heart): How playing an instrument benefits your brain

What’s the best thing you have read recently?

Currently reading The Golden Compass.

Re-reading Harry Potter actually got me back into reading as a habit postpartum (I knew the plot, could stop mid chapter, but was also interested enough in the content to keep me engaged). Don't know if these are good, just what I'm currently consuming!

What’s the best thing you have listened to recently?

Generally listening to the Waitress (the musical) soundtrack both in pregnancy and postpartum has been super good for me. I think the relevancy of a main character who is pregnant was not lost on me.

Current podcast consumption is Guilty Pleasures or You Can Sit with Us by 2nd Try LLC. 

I would love to hear from you, feedback is always welcome!

And if you happen to know an inspiring working parent who should be featured in a future edition (or if you yourself are one) - please do get in touch.

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