I just got back from Seattle after attending a pre-conference I had organized along with my friend and collaborator Dr. Elena Gabor. The pre-conference titled, ‘(Re)Defining and (Re)Negotiating the Meaning of Work, Career, Happiness, and Good Life’ was sponsored by Bradley University, DePaul University, and Management Communication Quarterly.
This was my first time organizing a pre-conference. It was back in August that I accepted the Organizational Communication Division Chair, Ted Zorn’s request to organize this pre-conference with a very short turnaround of less than a week. It seemed like a really interesting thing to do and I am always up for new challenges so I immediately said yes. I, then, persuaded Elena to collaborate with me on this project since we were collaborators on our book project as well, an invitation Elena very graciously accepted despite the time constraints.
We put together a proposal and submitted it by the September 1 deadline. It was subsequently accepted…but then the real work began. I was pregnant during the entire process and later, as the actual conference date got closer, I was even closer to my delivery date and had my baby three months before the 2014 conference. As you can imagine, balancing the pre-conference work with a newborn was very challenging. I honestly can’t imagine how I would have managed to organize it by myself and without Elena’s help. For her commitment to this pre-conference, to her friendship, to her unquestioning taking on of more of the workload when a completely sleep-deprived, emotionally and physically exhausted me couldn’t even keep her eyes open during the day lagged behind, and for her support throughout this process, I shall eternally be grateful.
The day of the pre-conference was a really good day. In addition to Elena and I, we had four facilitators/topic experts for group discussions – Majia Nadesan, Patrice Buzzanell, Pamela Lutgen-Sandvik, and Daniel Lair. Everything went well from our perspective. We did have a few glitches that mostly had to do with time allocations but overall, it was a well attended session with some very thoughtful discussions. There are a number of things I would do differently if I was to ever host another pre-conference but for now, I am going to feel extremely content and even proud of having managed to put together this preconference post-partum.
Perhaps, the thing I will remember the most will be wearing my baby during one part of the session. Given the title of the pre-conference, I was quite confident of doing what I was planning on doing – I am breastfeeding my baby and so naturally, I would have to excuse myself every now and then to go be a mom (not that, that is only limited to breastfeeding). I also expressed this during my introduction and informed attendees that I might need to excuse myself on occasion. Anyway, so at one point, I did get a message saying that Baby had been crying on and off for almost two hours. Even though I was in the midst of small group discussions, with Elena’s permission, I excused myself and went to our room upstairs. After I fed him, Baby was calmer but then because M had to get some work done, I just strapped Baby on me using my Ergo Baby and off I went to continue the session. I even gave my short presentation on Immigrants and Meanings of Work with Baby on me.
The amazing thing about this whole experience was that I was totally confident and sure of what I was doing. Later on, a number of participants came over and told me their own experiences with their newborns or infants and breastfeeding and balancing work and babies. I feel grateful to belong to a community of parents who instinctively ‘get’ each other and at least in my experience so far, have been extremely supportive. Baby got quite a few admirers. At one point, however, I have to admit, I did wonder if I was being unprofessional, bringing a baby to this session but any doubts I might have were quickly dismissed by Majia Nadesan (Thanks, Majia) who told me to NEVER FEEL GUILTY and encouraged me to do what is right for my family. Who gets to decide what is professional and what is not? Who makes these rules anyway?
This Seattle ICA was quite the adventure. Not only was this Baby’s first plane ride since he was born (he traveled four times by air while in the womb), it was our first long trip as a family. Based on my experiences personally and professionally, I wonder if my research will get new meaning and added layers as I continue working on issues and topics that interest me.