When I was pregnant with my first child, I knew two things for certain: First, although it sounded physically impossible, this baby was going to exit my body. Second, I would take maternity leave.
I had started a small Web consulting business a few years earlier, and as the sole proprietor, my plan for maternity leave included telling my clients I was having a baby, hiring a freelancer to handle my projects, and crossing my fingers.
The woman I found to cover for me — let’s call her Robin — was more of a trainee. I'd been coaching her, but she wasn’t totally getting it. As I scaled down my hours in the last week of my pregnancy, one of my clients panicked. "These aren’t the way you do them," my client said, clicking through site schematics.
I rubbed my belly, thinking about all the nesting I was supposed to be doing. I said I’d work with Robin and would deliver what they’d been promised.
A few days later — on my due date — I woke up with contractions. That afternoon, while waiting for my body to figure out how to produce an actual human rather than just sharp pains, I checked my email and found several unhappy messages from my client. Before I knew it, I was on a conference call with Robin and the client team while in labor.
"I know you’re about to have a baby soon," my client said, "but this needs to be done correctly." Sooner than you think, I thought as I breathed through a contraction.
I bent over my desk to ease the pain of the contractions, listened to Robin and my client bicker, and realized that this was simultaneously the best and worst day of my life. On the one hand, I was kind of living out a secret dream. I was the businesswoman I’d aspired to be: so important that I couldn’t stop working to give birth.
But on the other hand, being on a conference call while in labor closely approximates the ninth ring of hell. I was supposed to be listening to soft music while sitting on a birthing ball, baking cookies for the hospital nurses, and folding and refolding newborn clothing. I was not supposed to be mitigating between an agitated client and an employee who didn’t know what she was doing.
So I did the only thing I could do: I fired Robin.