- During the early stages of the pandemic, Larisa Ellison was working remotely while pregnant.
- She said it was tough to give work her all while caring for her kids and worries about her career.
- Here’s Ellison’s story, as told to writer Casey Kleczek.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Larisa Ellison, a 37-year-old integration design engineer for an automotive company, from Royal Oak, Michigan. It has been edited for length and clarity.
This story is part of “How the Pandemic Changed My Career,” an Insider series documenting the moves and moments that shaped people’s careers over the last two years.
At the beginning of the pandemic, my husband and I had an 8-month-old, and I was about six weeks pregnant the day that they sent me home from work — which I originally thought was going to be a week or two.
With the exception of one day, I haven’t been back to my office since.
I work directly with the artists who do the exterior and interior design of cars — anything a customer would see, touch, or feel. As an engineering consultant, I help enable their vision and design.
It’s a very hands-on job
We actually make full-size models in my studio — it’s almost a workshop type of setting — and work with the sculptors and digital designers.
There’s a lot of sitting on desks, talking things out, and sketching. My husband works for the same company as a cost engineer, so he’s more in finance.
When they first told everyone to go home from work, I wouldn’t let anyone in my house for the next three months
We really toughed it out and locked down. In the beginning, it was just us pregnant with Evie, trying to get by with the same workload.
Caring for an 8-month-old is all-encompassing. They want and need your attention all the time. We did our very best to try and balance when each of us had meetings, but essentially, it’s a totally impossible situation. As soon as our daughter saw us, she would want us to hold her, hang out, read her books, play, and do all those wonderful things, so that was really tough.
When things calmed down a bit, my mother started watching my daughter, but those were still pretty rough days because, at the time, I wasn’t comfortable with her taking my daughter anywhere else.
Dave and I went from waking up in the morning, leaving for the day, and having these eight hours that were truly dedicated to our work to trying to do everything online with our 8-month-old and my mother in our 932-square-foot bungalow without an office, at the same pace as before.
There’s been a lot of anxiety in our home
Frankly, we didn’t collaborate very well. It was so difficult to concentrate, and I think that there was so much guilt in not being able to do the jobs that we have in the way we want to complete them. We would actually feel resentful when the other person would take time to take a meeting. And I would look around and see all these other people who seemed able to do it, but obviously, everybody’s in a different situation.
We’d initially planned to send Evie to day care when she was 18 months old, but ultimately, when I had my son in October 2020, we knew that we were about to go into the COVID-19 winter surge experts were predicting, and I couldn’t see how we could send a toddler to a day care and not expect them to bring COVID-19 home. I was also trying to protect my older family members, so we decided to stay home.
I ended up finishing the basement myself as best I could when I was pregnant so we could get more space
Sometimes, I’ll work at the dining room table, the couch, or the kids’ rocking chair.
Generally, I feel like I’m in college again with a laptop on my lap. Sometimes Dave works at coffee shops and restaurants.
It’s pretty different from working at the office. I had my own desk, file cabinet, two full monitors, and a laptop. Our company did have an internal marketplace that was offering us discounts on home-office furniture and things like that, but we ended up turning our last spare bedroom that used to have my desk into a nursery.
I feel like until this pandemic ends, it will be impossible for me to move forward in my career or even catch up
I don’t feel a connection with my coworkers that I used to. I feel like a name on a log-in screen, and my career has absolutely stagnated.
I have to exceed my previous performance year upon year to progress. I can’t do that when I can barely be present because my kids are here.
I rely a lot on my social skills to further myself in my position because it’s really collaborative, and because I work with more creative people, that aspect of my personality really works for me. But it’s not something that I can flex sitting behind a computer screen.
I haven’t really been put on the same level of assignments that I was previously, and I don’t think that’s a dig from my boss — I have a very good relationship with him. He has three children of his own who are grown up now, so I think he’s very understanding and supportive of not only what it is like to have a young family but what it is like to have them during this time. It is, of course, impossible to do two full-time jobs at once.
I haven’t rethought my career path, but I do have a feeling that these are the years to really make a name for myself, and instead, I’m mommy. I just won’t be able to compete.
I’ve become much more efficient at getting everything done
When I take a 20-minute break in the middle of the day, instead of spending it to walk and get a coffee or a muffin, I’m loading the dishwasher. Or if I’m at a portion of a meeting where I’m just listening, I’m simultaneously getting things done around the house, so it really allows me to just be so much more efficient.
I reflect on when I returned to work from my first maternity leave after three months — everything in the morning with my daughter was very hurried. I was trying to put on a full face of makeup and perfume and be this particularly presentable person. When I had to figure out my commute, my goal every day was that I could be there to feed my daughter breakfast and dinner. I had an hour with her before it was time for her to go to bed again.
And that was really tough. People use work-life balance as a catchphrase, but it really can’t exist in a timeline where your child’s awake for only 12 hours.
This really has changed my perspective on what we have been asking working mothers to do. It’s honestly ludicrous.
There needs to be more support in the pre-K realm for working parents.
At the very beginning of the pandemic, I was running a large meeting with everybody on the vehicle team: directors, shape engineers, design managers, my boss — probably 100 people logged on to it.
I distinctly remember running this meeting and having to go on mute to throw up and then go off mute to keep running my meeting, and then maybe my daughter would start crying and she would burst into the room and demand my attention, and I just felt so much guilt over that.
Here I am just trying to juggle everything and feeling like I’m succeeding at nothing at a time that’s supposed to be really joyous when you’re expecting. You’re kind of hoping to feel enveloped by your family and community, and yet no one’s there to support you and really see or know how much you’re struggling.
I’m very much looking forward to a return to normalcy
What we’re expecting in my industry is that people got a taste of work from home and they’re not willing to get rid of that quickly. What I’m hoping for or foresee happening is that I’ll do Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday in the office, where I get that benefit of in-person collaboration, and Monday and Friday will be more work-from-home days.
There will be more flexibility for when your kids are sick. I think this has opened some people’s eyes to what young working parents are dealing with.
I’m just looking forward to that day where we have more balance and we’re able to complete our work while our kids can go to day care — with the exception of when they get the flu or a cold or a fever instead of, you know, this frankly terrifying disease.