It was May of 2010 when I found myself, six months pregnant, crying in the backseat of a car service, as my in-house position was on the chopping block from another round of corporate cuts. I must have cried for about a week. Not because I really missed my job, but because I felt helpless… and lost. Entering my third trimester, I couldn’t even apply for jobs. Who would hire me?
Then one day, when I literally found myself barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen watching a marathon of Real Housewives of New York, I stopped being sad. I realized this could be an opportunity to reinvent myself; and luckily, I soon secured a job with a former employer. I was to start some time after my baby’s arrival. It never even occurred to me that I may want to stay home with a baby. I always assumed I would want to work.
My first daughter arrived on Labor Day weekend. We hired a nanny, who started when my daughter turned 6-weeks-old. I went back to work at week seven, ramping up to four days of work in New York City, and one day a week from home in the New Jersey suburbs.
As most new mothers will tell you, going back to work is hard. Tears were shed. Pump parts were forgotten. Late nights were hard. Sleepless nights even harder.
But I managed. I had the support of my husband, work got busy, my baby girl was happy, and life rolled right along.
Around this time, I also read an article in USA Today about a new trend in office spaces called coworking. Hmm, I thought. How cool would it be to have a place like that here, in the suburbs, that also has childcare? I dreamed of a place where I could plug in, participate in conference calls, fulfill my job responsibilities, and still nurse my infant throughout the day. But work was busy, life was busy, and I had little time to devote to cooking dinner, let alone nurturing a business idea. So I let the concept gestate.
And then I got pregnant again.
This time, I wanted to take a longer maternity leave - four months off, my company’s max. I wanted to use the time to decide how to move forward. Did I want to continue working full-time? Did I want to stay home with my girls? Did I want to work part-time? What was the right formula for me?
Deborah Engel during her daughter's birthday party at Work and Play
I quickly realized I wasn’t cut out to be a stay-at-home mom. But I also couldn’t commit to the long hours and endless commute anymore. I tried negotiating a part-time deal with my employer; they said no. I wrestled with what to do, and after having a heart-to-heart with a senior level female executive, who reminded me that kids are only young once, I decided to call it quits and launch my own business.
I remembered the idea I had for coworking and childcare, which my husband dubbed Work and Play, and I decided to pursue it while also freelancing as a public relations specialist. I started attending networking events and met other entrepreneurs in the community. I talked about my idea for a flexible workspace, one that would also offer drop-in, customizable childcare.
In late 2013, while seven months pregnant with a third daughter, I bought a building that is now Work and Play. By offering childcare and a workspace, we are offering a solution for parents who want to balance their career and family. Our community is made up of creatives, entrepreneurs, mothers, fathers, friends and their young children.
What have I learned on this journey so far?
1. Learn something new from everyone you meet. People are interesting. They have fascinating careers. They have stories to tell. Ask questions.
2. Don’t try too hard to figure out your future. Your goals and ideals might change. Focus on today. But also allow yourself to daydream.
3. If you’re young or in transition, consider jobs that allow for flexibility - find a trade that you can use at a company or freelance, like a graphic designer, copywriter or social media marketer. Therapy of all kinds - speech, OT, PT, psychological - allow for flexible schedules through private practice.
4. Be confident in your decision and know you won’t be perfect. You may mess up. You may feel you could do better. But trust me, you’re doing great!
Beth Goldring, Director of Play, at Work and Play's childcare space
In 2016, I finally found my voice. I always thought I had one, especially as a business owner and mother of two vocal toddlers, but I had been wrong.
For more than 30 years, I had been struggling with the fear of being my true self and speaking my truth. Then the repressed memories of my childhood sexual abuse unraveled before me while raising my 3-year-old daughter, and my life has not been the same since.
Believe it or not, I am happy about that.
The journey for a survivor like me to feel even slightly comfortable sharing these words, without fear of being shamed or looked down upon, is a long and often lonely one. For all of the people out there in the shadows who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse, I dedicate this to you. You might never come out to talk about it and that's okay, but I am going to do so here and I hope that in doing so, I will open people's eyes to the long-term effects of abuse. As a survivor who is now fully conscious of her abuse, I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and, quite frankly, it may never go away.
It took me some time to accept that and I refuse to let it stop me from thriving in life; therefore, I strive to manage it (as do many others with PTSD) through various strategies I've learned and continue to learn through personal and group therapy. Over the years, various things have triggered my repressed memories and emotions of my abuse--from going to birthday parties and attending preschool tours to the Kavanaugh hearing and most recently, the"Leaving Neverland" documentary (I did not watch the latter, but read commentary about it).
These triggers often cause panic attacks. I was angry when I read Barbara Streisand's comments about the men who accused Michael Jackson of sexually abusing them, as detailed in the documentary. She was quoted as saying, "They both married and they both have children, so it didn't kill them." She later apologized for her comments. I was frustrated when one of the senators questioning Dr. Christine Blasey Ford (during the Kavanaugh hearing) responded snidely that Dr. Ford was still able to get her Ph.D. after her alleged assault--as if to imply she must be lying because she gained success in life.We survivors are screaming to the world, "You just don't get it!" So let me explain: It takes a great amount of resilience and fortitude to walk out into society every day knowing that at any moment an image, a sound, a color, a smell, or a child crying could ignite fear in us that brings us back to that moment of abuse, causing a chemical reaction that results in a panic attack.
So yes, despite enduring and repressing those awful moments in my early life during which I didn't understand what was happening to me or why, decades later I did get married; I did become a parent; I did start a business that I continue to run today; and I am still learning to navigate this "new normal." These milestones do not erase the trauma that I experienced. Society needs to open their eyes and realize that any triumph after something as ghastly as childhood abuse should be celebrated, not looked upon as evidence that perhaps the trauma "never happened" or "wasn't that bad. "When a survivor is speaking out about what happened to them, they are asking the world to join them on their journey to heal. We need love, we need to feel safe and we need society to learn the signs of abuse and how to prevent it so that we can protect the 1 out of 10 children who are being abused by the age of 18. When I state this statistic at events or in large groups, I often have at least one person come up to me after and confide that they too are a survivor and have kept it a secret. My vehicle for speaking out was through the novella The Survivors Club, which is the inspiration behind a TV pilot that my co-creator and I are pitching as a supernatural, mind-bending TV series. Acknowledging my abuse has empowered me to speak up on behalf of innocent children who do not have a voice and the adult survivors who are silent.
Remembering has helped me further understand my young adult challenges,past risky relationships, anger issues, buried fears, and my anxieties. I am determined to thrive and not hide behind these negative things as they have molded me into the strong person I am today.Here is my advice to those who wonder how to best support survivors of sexual abuse:Ask how we need support: Many survivors have a tough exterior, which means the people around them assume they never need help--we tend to be the caregivers for our friends and families. Learning to be vulnerable was new for me, so I realized I needed a check-off list of what loved ones should ask me afterI had a panic attack.
The list had questions like: "Do you need a hug," "How are you feeling," "Do you need time alone."Be patient with our PTSD". Family and close ones tend to ask when will the PTSD go away. It isn't a cold or a disease that requires a finite amount of drugs or treatment. There's no pill to make it miraculously disappear, but therapy helps manage it and some therapies have been known to help it go away. Mental Health America has a wealth of information on PTSD that can help you and survivors understand it better. Have compassion: When I was with friends at a preschool tour to learn more about its summer camp, I almost fainted because I couldn't stop worrying about my kids being around new teenagers and staff that might watch them go the bathroom or put on their bathing suit. After the tour, my friends said,"Nubia, you don't have to put your kids in this camp. They will be happy doing other things this summer."
In that moment, I realized how lucky I was to have friends who understood what I was going through and supported me. They showed me love and compassion, which made me feel safe and not judged.