The Coffee Chat (#36)
My conversation with Gia D'souza - ex-healthcare strategy professional, entrepreneur and mom to 4 kids under 10!
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Hi there 👋🏽
On May 24th I was in the US on work. In the middle of my meetings I suddenly started noticing people around me becoming a little bit disconnected from our discussions and leaving the room to make calls.
I stepped outside the conference room to see a group gathered around a TV watching the news of the very horrific events unfolding in Uvalde, Texas (The Uvalde 21 - a tribute to the 19 children and 2 teachers who lost their life).
The elementary school shooting in Texas was the 212th mass shooting in the US this year. It is the 27th school shooting. The leading cause of death in children in the US are firearms.
It made me feel angry, disgusted and sad. As a mother I could not help but think of those little children who witnessed this senseless violence. The fear and helplessness they must have felt.
As a parent you want to do nothing more than protect your child from any harm. I think of all those parents who now for the rest of their life will have to live with this pain.
Smallest coffins are the heaviest.
I don’t understand how one of the most developed country on Earth has gotten so numb and so accustomed to this?
☕ Now, on to today’s coffee chat…
Meet Gia D'souza
Gia spent the first 15 years of her career working in healthcare, mostly public sector strategy work prior to pivoting to entrepreneurship and full time parenting! Gia is currently in the process of designing a retreat specifically for professional mothers that are continually challenged to balance their career and family life as they strive to excel at it all. She sees this as a place for them to recharge, reflect, and grow so that they can be even better versions of themselves.
I was introduced to Gia via a common acquittance who felt I could offer some advice to Gia as she went about putting this retreat together.
If you have any thoughts to share on this topic - What would you want out of your ideal retreat? Have you experienced something like this elsewhere? Please DM Gia on Instagram @giadsouza.
Below is my conversation with Gia…
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your family
My husband, Gerson, and I live with our four kids (ages 9, 7, 5 and 2) just outside of Toronto, Canada. I spent the first 15 years of my career working in healthcare, mostly public sector strategy work. I’ve experienced the sweet, sweet taste of fulfilling, challenging and impactful work, while receiving promotion after promotion. After diving into work after my third mat leave I soon had my first experience with anxiety. Mastering my work and family life felt like an impossibility. After much contemplation I decided to step away from work – which was an incredibly tough decision given that much of my identity was wrapped up in my professional world.
Over the last three years I’ve given birth to a fourth baby and completely redefined ‘success’ for myself. I of course spend most of my time with the kids – but I’ve also had the space and time to explore some of my previously unused talents. For example, I wrote a book of my friends’ birth stories as a gift, which was so well received it’s turned into a side hustle! In case you’re looking for a gift for yourself or a friend that is a new mom, this is a great way to ensure your memory of this incredible milestone never fades: www.birthstories.ca
For you what was the hardest part of becoming a new parent?
The hardest part has been losing so much of my autonomy. Gone are the days of doing what I want, when I want. I also found it difficult to revert to single-tasking. With an infant, my engrained habit of multi-tasking only seemed to frustrate me further. I guess this is what ‘being present’ can mean. Sit and breast feed without also trying to prepare the grocery list or research which dishwasher we should buy.
You are a mom to 4 kids. What gets easier and harder as you become a parent for the second, third and fourth time? :)
For your first kid you have no frame of reference. Anticipating and interpreting needs is nearly impossible. That is a very unsettling feeling. Especially if you relish planning and control, like I do. Adults usually haven’t felt this much foreign newness since we were kids. With each additional kid that feeling subsides and your ability to predict and anticipate increases: what does this rash mean? What should I pack for a day-trip? How can I keep them quiet while I deal with the person on the phone? You also develop habits that help avoid crises – like grabbing 2 extra diapers every time you leave the house, or stuffing wet wipes into nearly every bag you carry.
After becoming a parent did you adopt any new beliefs, behaviours, or habits that have most improved your life?
Work at home is just as valuable as paid work, even though it didn’t require a master’s degree, and on the surface it doesn’t look hard.
Rest is just as important as work. I can’t be my best self if I don’t take care of myself.
There is no point crying over (or yelling about) spilt milk.
A lot of times, women are not comfortable telling the world that they're on maternity leave or that they are mothers because there is this whole "mommy tax" that they face - the idea that people will perceive them as less ambitious or less committed to their careers. Given that you had 4 kids you probably took a significant period of time away from conventional work to focus on your role as a mom (which is equally challenging, if not more). What was your experience like transitioning in and out of the workforce at those points? What helped and more importantly reflecting back what could have helped more?
I was fortunate to have an entire year of mat leave for each child. But this also means that I was oscillating on and off work for a seven year period. I felt a bit like Jekyll and Hyde. It was dizzying to switch from one extreme to the other. Thank goodness I was surrounded by other professionals that understood that hours in the office didn’t equate to more dedication or higher quality work. When you’re contemplating a job offer, think about this type of scenario. Commit to an organization that knows and respects your priorities in life.
I felt blindsided by motherhood. I grew up in a family with three girls, encouraged to pursue a higher education and ‘be what I wanted to be’. I spent years and endless time building my professional career, but I barely contemplated what motherhood would mean or require of me.
I recently listened to podcast with Jordan Peterson where he noted that women in our society don’t really ‘aspire’ to be mothers. We don’t see this as the ‘ambitious’ option. I think this is true. In retrospect, when my husband and I were starting a family, I wish I had looked at it as if we were starting our own business, for which I was going to be the CEO. Visioning exercises, business planning, partnership strategies. These are prudent for starting a business, and yet they were done in such a casual, haphazard manner for our family.
The biggest challenge that parents with young kids have is limited time for themselves. How have you managed this? How do you manage your energy?
Gerson and I believe our relationship is a higher priority than the relationship with our children. Our relationship is the foundation for the family. So we made time for ourselves from the very beginning. We are lucky to have both sets of grandparents within driving distance. We took full advantage of this. The kids spend a lot of time with them, and we made sure they got use to sleeping at their houses from a young age. One of the bonus features of this strong relationship is that it affords Gerson and me some freedom. Every year we try to do a family vacation, as well as a parents-only vacation. It doesn’t have to be extravagant. Just child-free. We are also very committed to regular date nights. Fancy take-out post kids’ bedtime has been a lifesaver during the pandemic.
We’ve also valued alone time. But it is hard to carve out this time without feeling unproductive or guilty. We tend to jam it into the smallest of cracks in our schedule. I’m in the process of designing a retreat specifically for professional mothers that are continually challenged to balance their career and family life as they strive to excel at it all. A place for them to recharge, reflect, and grow so that they can be even better versions of themselves. A place to share with women that can empathize and advise. A place to learn some new skills and mindsets in a creative way.
You are someone who is very passionate about the idea that we are simultaneously mothers and professionals and these two topics need to be fully integrated. I completely agree. However I would love to understand your journey to arrive at this insight and what you are trying to do live this?
I’ve spent the last 3 years talking to a lot of people, reflecting, reading, struggling. The anxiety that forced me to leave work was extremely painful, but I now see it as a gift. It fueled my resolve to turn inward and revaluate the deep seeded beliefs that I was standing on. I’ve started to see some of my flawed assumptions. For example, I do believe that work is integral to the human experience. But I now see that valuable work is not synonymous with professional accolades, status and salary. I think I misconstrued co-relation with causation. Unfortunately, being aware of this error doesn’t magically undo the way I feel overnight.
It’s a slow process, but so far these are some of the things I’ve realized.
What is one of the best or most worthwhile investment you have made after becoming a parent?
We bought an expensive stroller for baby #1, and it’s still rolling perfectly for kid #4. We also invested in help for the daily activities that were taking up a lot of our time. We hired a house cleaner and subscribed to a meal kit program (we tried Hello Fresh and Good Food. Good Food had better variety, but more plastic/waste in their packaging).
What advice would you give others who are on the cusp of becoming parents? What advice should they ignore?
Welcome to the best club in the world. I don’t have any advice you can’t google, but I do have a few reminders: You didn’t do anything to deserve entry. And you won’t have done anything to deserve the tribulations ahead of you. This is an exceptional job on which the future of the world depends.
Remember the skills and experience you gain in one aspect of life have the potential to add value in the other. Each aspect supports the other. They don’t work in opposition. It is important to have the people in each realm know about the part of you that also resides in the other. I equally value these aspects of myself, even though one came before the other….and even though others may not!
What’s the best thing you have watched recently?
I’m a sucker for anything British. I thoroughly enjoyed the TV series Call the Midwife.
What’s the best thing you have read recently?
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, by Atul Gawande. A thought provoking reflection on how our society has shaped the end-of-life experience. Very useful for those of us with aging loved-ones.
What’s the best thing you have listened to recently?
Any episode of 99% Invisible Podcast, but most recently Episode 473, the first 13 min about focused on the intersection of architecture and the Tour de France. A topic I never thought I would find so entertaining!
📖 My private thoughts from my very public diary…
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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