Stephanie Kramer, CARRY STRONG

Stephanie Kramer, CARRY STRONG

Zibby interviews Stephanie Kramer about her book CARRY STRONG: AN EMPOWERED APPROACH TO NAVIGATING PREGNANCY AND WORK. Stephanie explores the complexities of balancing pregnancy with a professional career, based on extensive research and interviews. The discussion delves into societal pressures and the need for supportive work environments, with Stephanie sharing her own experience of writing the book amidst her busy life. The episode underscores the importance of support and dialogue for women managing work-life balance during pregnancy.


Zibby Owens: Hi, Stephanie. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Carry Strong.

Stephanie Kramer: Of course. So great to be with you, Zibby. Thank you for having me.

Zibby: Of course. First of all, I feel like I need your web designer because you have the best website ever.

Stephanie: She’s great. She’s an awesome human. You absolutely can have all the information.

Zibby: Really? We’ll have to touch base after this.

Stephanie: She’s really good.

Zibby: I wanted you to talk about the book, but I want to just read this quote that you had on the site, which says, “Just because you carry something well doesn’t mean it isn’t heavy.” I love that so much on so many levels.

Stephanie: It’s one of those things that I think we all feel. Even when I was writing the book, I wanted it to be something that was lifting some weight off our shoulders, but it doesn’t mean that it’s not going to exist. Just because you carry it well doesn’t mean it isn’t heavy. We don’t have to always show up that way for our friends, for our family, for ourselves. Sometimes it’s okay to recognize there’s some pressure.

Zibby: Pressure? What do you mean? There’s no pressure in working and having kids and whatever. Where is the Carry Strong for Teens? I need that. I needed the PS to this. Wait, let’s back up. Why don’t you tell listeners what Carry Strong, the book, is about and also the accompanying company and mission and all of that? It’s all wrapped up.

Stephanie: Sure, absolutely. The full title is Carry Strong: An Empowered Approach to Navigating Pregnancy and Work. It launched in May in 2023, so during the month of mothers, my first book. It was a real labor of love, pun intended. I wrote it over the past three years late at night. I have a full-time day job. I am also the mom of two young sons, and a professor. For me, I saw the advice I was often giving behind closed doors from my own experiences. Having a much bigger home and place, particularly in something as powerful as a resource like a book that you can read in private — you can share with someone. You can discuss if you want to, or not, or listen to it, like our listeners. I wanted to create something that was comprehensive but for something really specific, which was navigating pregnancy and work. I started the first of four quantitative studies. Then I did over two hundred interviews with amazing inspirations and icons. The result is the book.

Zibby: Wow. What are some of the takeaways that we should know? How can anyone survive that time of life?

Stephanie: The big part of it is that there’s the survival instinct that kicks in, but it’s also what you can you do. You can thrive and actually come out on the other side of it. So many women shared this. In hindsight, they want to thank themselves. They got a confidence boost. They have so much pride in becoming a mother and a working mother. Within the book, there’s two sections. One are these five principles that I really found from the research, and the stories were helpful, no matter what phase you’re in. Then the second part is actually to define the phases of pregnancy and work as not just when you have a baby bump or not just maternity leave, but actually from way before you think about it, and even college-age women or even teenagers, and allow the conversation to happen earlier and in fact, start to lift off exactly that same kind of heaviness that you can be feeling. The five principles are perspective; balance; community; communication; and identity, which was, by far, the hardest chapter to write.

Zibby: Which one? Identity was hard?

Stephanie: Identity was super hard. I wrote it once I was finished with the whole thing. Personally, it was the one that I grappled with the most. So many women, their stories were so empowering. I wanted it to be a really pivotal one. Then the phases, which I think is really helpful for anyone either to be supportive of someone going through this or if you’re in it right now or maybe this is long in your past or way in your future — the BTTC, so before trying to conceive, what considerations are you making for your place of work or the type of job you might want to have? What do you want for your life right now? Trying to conceive, one of the studies I did was, one out of two women said that trying to conceive, not yet being pregnant at work had an impact. I think for anyone who has children, obviously, it’s a hundred percent. It’s a really big deal because we don’t talk about it. We talk about it in little pieces, fertility impacts or pregnancy and loss impacts, but that can be a really long time. Someone could be pregnant at work for five years and not yet have the baby.

Then there’s the private pregnancy. There’s the rules of, is it at the end of your first trimester that you share? You have to share earlier if you have issues. Instead, I just say there’s this private pregnancy of the hush and your public pregnancy of your push. When you decide is up to you, why and how you need to share. Then the push, so public pregnancy, I call it the push because a lot of people feel both the positive and challenging pressure around this very tiny “get your stuff in order” window that happens during pregnancy. It’s also very physically visible for most people that are birthing people, that are also carrying their child. Then the last part I call anticipating the great return. There’s a few awesome resources for the great return or return to work. For me, it was really important how to bridge that with anticipating. Do a walk-through of what your day is going to be like. Have the conversation about what your job could be like when you come back while you’re still in it. What resources do you need? Private places to pump. Doing it ahead helps to also take off some of that pressure during this really special time where you’re super pregnant or you’re on maternity leave with your baby.

Zibby: One of the things in particular that resonates, I’m sure, with so many people is that time when you’re trying to get pregnant and going through the disappointment and going through all of the stuff. Emotions are high. Yet there’s no explanation for them. You’re in this crazy hormone world and expected to behave like normal. The secrecy — I talk a lot on this podcast about how the corrosive effects of secrets is at the heart of most novels and books. I feel like that’s it, too, at work when you have to keep such a giant secret. During COVID, people were having babies. You didn’t even know. One day, they would just post a baby. It’s like, what?

Stephanie: Totally. The “how to tell my boss I’m pregnant” was one of these huge, pivotal moments that I talk about in the book and how to approach it in a different way. People think that there’s going to be this horrible impact of their perception or their identity shift and what their boss is going to say. Often, at the end of it, the boss, hopefully, says something like, if you’re half as good as an employee as you are at being a mom, that’s a lucky kid. For women, we feel it a lot. We’re also really worried about our health at that time. There are so many other factors that are out of control and also private at the same time, for sure.

Zibby: I remember when I was a very new mom. It was the summer. I was in my home alone a lot of the time. It was like, this feels like not the right society to be having kids in. It would’ve been so much better just to be able to have a kid, and it’s okay, but things don’t slow down for even a minute to allow you to have a totally different lifestyle with different hours and all the stuff that especially the beginning requires.

Stephanie: Absolutely.

Zibby: Tell me more about why this identity chapter was hard for you. I would think it’s so easy. Look at you. You’ve got a whole brand associated.

Stephanie: For me, I had been writing this book — I have two sons. One’s nine. One’s five. I was writing the book with the pregnancy in my rearview mirror. I was giving advice to people. I was trying to think about how to write it so that I expressed my own point of view, I expressed the research, but I gave a lot of space to it. The one thing I was really deliberate with in the book is any of the story or the advice is more to empower her or the environment around her versus saying, here’s how you can think about your identity. For some people, they didn’t feel a change at all. In fact, they don’t want to have any kind of perception. Other people are like, I’m a completely different person. A metamorphosis happened during my pregnancy. It might also be that this happens right away or years later in hindsight. I just thought about it a lot for myself but then also how to make sure that I wasn’t adding any other constraints on all the dimensions that we give to ourselves, all the labels we give to ourselves. I’m a mom. I’m a sister. I’m an employee. I’m all these different places. I was kind of trying to take that off.

Zibby: Why, in the midst of your own busy life, take time out to help all these other moms? Where is this coming from? Have you always been someone who helps other people?

Stephanie: This was such a really resonate topic personally. I also realized that there were so many people that were willing to share their voices in stories and didn’t know how to do it. I majored in chemistry, so I’m a super nerd. On the other side, I’ve always been in marketing and product development. I like bringing together different ideas. For me, it was crystallizing that together in one single resource, but was so fueled by these most private, personal moments that people were willing to share in order to help others. Yes, I felt that way, but I’m so much more motivated by the fact that there are so many amazing humans out there that are willing to do that too, not just within the book, but also that right now is a moment where we can flip the script, the shift in our culture that needs to happen. Those two fueling things for me were like, okay, I can do this. I can write it between eleven o’clock at night and two o’clock in the morning. When I was reading the stories, I really genuinely felt not alone, which is exactly what I wanted to do with the book for so many. Also, if I can help to move the needle just a little bit, I’m going to go for it.

Zibby: What are some of the stories that you’re excited about or that you felt helped you the most?

Stephanie: This week, I was speaking to someone who’s a fantastic leader. The notion we are talking about, about the self-doubt, is real. One of the questions I asked any interviewee, so CEOs or Olympians or nurses, practitioners, physicians — I asked them five questions. I said, “Tell me a story about you when you were pregnant at work. What phase did this occur?” I wanted to see how it lined up with the phases or advice to make sure I put it in the chapters, which I know you appreciate. Then for me, I asked, “What advice do you have in hindsight? What advice do you wish you would’ve had?” so I could tie together advice of others in between the stories. Then the last question that I asked every person was, “Who do you want to thank?” One person that sticks out in particular, she said, “Myself.” I was like, that’s a really cool story. Her story in the book is just a very simple thing, advocating for a seat on a bus, very simple pregnant request that I’m sure so many people can relate to. That little moment was something that she recognized. This boost in confidence that she needed to take care of both herself and also her child in that little moment was really powerful. There’s amazing stories from people throughout the book. That’s the one that, right now, is in my mind.

Zibby: When people were thanking other people — myself, yes, okay, I can see that. Was there anyone surprising? I’m guessing a lot of people thanked — well, I don’t know. Who else was a surprise to you? Were there people who thanked their bosses and were grateful for them and that made the whole thing better, or thanking more their moms, or across the board?

Stephanie: I talk about, in the book, the community that you need to create. Obviously, a lot of people thank the people closest in, so whether that’s a partner or a family member or a best friend. Within work, a lot of people do, they thank that boss. If they had that boss, then they’re going to be that boss. If they didn’t have that boss, then they also want to be that boss that can be there for someone else. It also was sometimes the best friend at work or the ally or the secret partner during that secret time that helped people navigate until they were ready to share. Also, there were some surprising thank yous to teams where I think people realized in hindsight, wow, they either really helped me in this moment, or I couldn’t have done this time period without them. They created their own community that also were going through similar experiences.

Zibby: I know your book is geared more towards the mom. As someone who has a team, and a lot of young women on my team, who are amazing and hopefully will stay with me forever, I’m assuming at some point, if that happens, they will have families, or at least some of them. What can you do as an employer — the script earlier that you talked about was really helpful. What can you do to set up a culture at work that makes it as easy as possible for the workers to succeed? Not workers. The team. You know what I mean.

Stephanie: One thing that you can do and you already do — you were just talking about your own experiences. It makes it very normal not just to talk about children or pregnancy and work, but all of the many work-life intersections. I often start big with that and say, listen, if you create an environment where people are comfortable to, overused phrase, but bring their whole selves to work, that happens in those big life moments. It happens in little life moments. When you need to have the “how to tell my boss I’m pregnant” conversation or, hey, I’m thinking about freezing my eggs, it’s much more natural and is a conversation versus a pressure that they’re feeling. The second thing, particularly with regards to pregnancy and work is, talk about it long before they ever may need it. For a lot of employers, people might join an organization and then search within a webpage to try to find out benefits. Instead, if you put them up front of, this is what we offer, before if you’re considering having a family, during or after — employee resource groups, all different types of resources that exist for that continuum instead of only what’s in front of people, I find that that really has been resonating a lot with new employees within organizations.

Zibby: That’s a good idea. I should put a whole thing about this somewhere. This is great. I’m going to leave here and make some changes. Although, some of them are twenty-three. They’re dating, but it’s never too early.

Stephanie: They might be going through other things, too, as a caregiver or their friends or their sisters. It might just help to make that something that’s, oh, of course, I feel supported at work. Then you engage people way before it’s a point of attrition in the pipeline for women, both pregnancy and menopause, in fact. You see the first time people become managers are within their late twenties, early thirties. It’s the same time when their careers are having this moment. If you anticipate it, then your retention is happening long before there’s any kind of risk to that too. Of course, they’re perpetuating in a good way for everybody else also.

Zibby: Yes, exactly. More children’s books. What does being strong mean to you?

Stephanie: You know, it’s funny, I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately because I feel as a leader, as an author, as someone who’s talking about an empowered approach, I have these moments where I have self-doubt. I think that the strength that you need to carry, literally, as a leader, as an author, as a friend, as a teammate is a big one. I think that true strength comes from, yes, having that confidence and fortitude no matter what, but it’s also recognizing that you’re not superhuman. The more that we can share both sides of that, I find that that’s actually tremendous strength and what I really try to do. I don’t do it great, especially in front of my children. I’m like, it’s completely fine. We can do all of these things at the same time. I do often ask for help. That’s one of the ways that I show being strong.

Zibby: Interesting. I like that. I like that a lot. You mentioned you wrote this book between eleven PM and two AM. I like how you just threw that in there. Wait, tell me about the whole process. Did it all take place in the middle of the night?

Stephanie: It couldn’t because of the interview piece.

Zibby: No, of course. The writing, I mean.

Stephanie: A lot of the writing did. One thing, first of all, I’m a night owl. Second of all, I work for a global organization, so the early mornings, I’m normally already on that time zone. At the end of the night, I would put my kids to sleep. I would have this quiet moment. The emails would not be firing up for work. I would be like, okay. It’s a creative space that was actually really fueling. I enjoyed the quiet. I also enjoy, now, my Friday nights a little bit versus only editing track changes. It was something really gratifying. I just did it in a way that was really structured. I would do the interviews when I could, in different time slots or early or at lunchtime or at the end of the day. Then I would organize myself. When I was tired and I wasn’t feeling creative to write, I would write back to the emails. I would go through the research. I would pluck different quotes that I really liked. Then I would get in the zone. I knew that I liked to write in these big chunks. I just planned it that way. It also was not the best decision, but it worked out.

Zibby: Would you do it again? Are you going to write another book?

Stephanie: I would love to. I think that I need to feel the topic. It’s interesting. I have a couple different options of ones where I think it could be really helpful that are coming from kind of a similar space, but I want to give it a little bit of time. This is where I need your advice. I feel like I put so much into it in terms of making sure that there was the research, that it was relevant, that it had all of the stories, that I gave the space. It was a different type of structure. Now I just want to share it. That’s why the first page in the book is my most favorite part of the book. It actually has a “pass it on” page in the inside. It says, “This book is meant to be passed on.” It has lines on it. Everyone says, what do you want from the book? I’m like, I want to someday just find one of these books that has all these names listed in it because I really believe that. That’s all I want to create. It’s this ripple effect. There’s great things. There’s tough things. There’s a lot of neutral. We’re going to continue to have kids. We’re going to continue to be leaders. We’re going to continue to join the workforce. I would love to help to contribute more than just the dire headlines that we often hear.

Zibby: I love the “pass it on.” It’s like chainmail we used to get as kids. We would literally fold it up in an envelope and mail it.

Stephanie: So many women talk about passing off their potty training or their breastfeeding books. I love that moms often pass on little raincoats or blazers or things like this. The names are always scribbled in the back. I was like, that’s really cool. Now I’m like, this is what I’d like to contribute.

Zibby: That’s really nice. This is the hand-me-down.

Stephanie: When you share it, you’re sharing it also with your support. If you have questions, you want to talk about it, I’m here for you, or not, and I’ll give you your space. It’s been interesting, though, to have some people who are mother-in-laws ask me if they can give this as a gift. I’m like, is it because she has shared with you that she needs this support, or are you being passive-aggressive? If that’s the case, then no.

Zibby: Then don’t.

Stephanie: Don’t do that.

Zibby: I feel bad. Mother-in-laws have it rough.

Stephanie: I have an awesome one. They just want what’s best for that family.

Zibby: I know. I understand. It’s funny. What did you want to be when you were a little kid?

Stephanie: Two things I wanted to be was a CEO and a mom. Then somewhere in between that, I actually had an ambition to be — I would mix potions in my bathroom. I’m in very much a similar space with all of those things that I do now. I was really inspired by Mary Kay birthday parties. I wanted to have the pink Cadillac and create these magic potions. On the side of that, I also wanted to have a big family. I’m doing my best against those lofty goals.

Zibby: That’s awesome. I love that. It’s the whole Tupperware, that whole —

Stephanie: — Why not? It was really cool. Now I’m really proud because I get to work, also, with people. I was a chemistry major in undergrad in college. Then I started working for chemical and beauty companies. Now I’m really proud to work at L’Oréal and get to work with those scientists but also with the people. With my job in HR, it’s been pretty amazing to be able to bring it all together in an organic way.

Zibby: I worked for a short time at Unilever doing consumer products management for the launch of the Vera Wang fragrance. I learned so much about beauty in general and companies devoted to that and tooling of the bottles and everything and the noses, everything that goes into every single product. I’ve never looked at anything the same since.

Stephanie: Totally. One of my first jobs was at a fragrance house. I worked on Britney Spears’ Curious.

Zibby: Oh, my goodness, wow.

Stephanie: A classic.

Zibby: All the ads, we would rip out the ads. What do the bottles look like? The smells. At the beginning, they were like, once you smell Angel, you’ll never be able to not smell it. I was like, what do you mean? Now anytime I smell that fragrance, I’m like, yep.

Stephanie: It’s true. It is. I can smell it right now.

Zibby: Do you wear that?

Stephanie: No, it’s just the same thing where you different ones. Now I’m like, here we go.

Zibby: It’s so funny. That’s awesome. Do you like to read in your spare time? If so, what? By the way, how great that you recommended other books in your genre. That’s really awesome. That’s a nice .

Stephanie: I remember when I met Lauren Smith Brody at an event. I was like, “Hi. I have to tell you I’m a huge fan of yours.” Basically, when I was writing my book, I was like, okay, where’s the sweet spot between all these other awesome books? That way I can say, you can buy this, but you also should get this one and this one and this one. That was pretty cool. That was really amazing. I love to read. I like to alternate. I try to read something that is full pleasure and then something that is going to have some kind of more intellectual value. I alternate back and forth. It’s interesting because I also have a cousin who, the two of us do these book clubs and try to also pick books for each other to like. I’m actually in the market right now for a new book, so any recommendations? I know you have many. Very welcome as I’m about to actually get on a plane. I have to load up the Kindle.

Zibby: I interviewed Angie Kim this morning, who wrote Happiness Falls, which I would recommend. You should pick this up for the plane.

Stephanie: Awesome. Cool. I will.

Zibby: It’s immersive and interesting and talks a lot about parenting. It’s really good. That was a terrible pitch, but it’s a really good book.

Stephanie: I’m very open. You certainly have good suggestions.

Zibby: Thank you.

Stephanie: It’s been nice, though, after writing — I don’t know how you feel about it. When you’re writing, it’s really hard to read. One, my brain would have trouble with the space. Also, you start to go back to what you’re writing. I don’t know. It was tough to really get into a good book. This summer once the book was launched, I was so happy. I was flying through things. It was nice. There was an old stack. There’s actually a stack behind me, too, of a whole bunch of ones that I wanted to read.

Zibby: You have to have the stack going. You always have a good stack.

Stephanie: I know. They look so pretty too.

Zibby: They do. I know. They make great ornaments.

Stephanie: I know. They look really good.

Zibby: I keep meaning to move around these colors behind me, but I don’t think of it until I’m in the middle of a podcast. Then I run out of the room. I love your books. It’s really beautiful. I actually love your wallpaper. It’s really nice.

Stephanie: I’m actually sitting on this other desk because my other computer decided not to work.

Zibby: Looks great. How do you know Eve Rodsky?

Stephanie: It’s funny because she was introduced to me through a couple different people, contributors in the book. Also, was just so impressed by her and by Fair Play and by Find Your Unicorn Space. Then she contributed one of her stories. Then she blurbed the book. I think that she’s such an example of what I aspire to with creating a conversation. I think she has done that so well, particularly with, I say in the book, shining all the lights on the caregiving burden. For me, it was the same thing where I was like, all right, I want to flip the script on this culture constant of pregnancy and work. Just really impressed by her.

Zibby: Amazing. Thank you so much. This has been so enjoyable. I feel stronger already. Your whole message and the way you’re helping, it’s really great. Bravo. Bravo.

Stephanie: Thank you for everything you’ve created and encouraging more individuals and certainly, moms who should read books.

Zibby: It’s true. We have to make time. Certainly not going to find it laying around. Got to make it.

Stephanie: Listen to it. We can read it. We can touch it. We can sign it and pass it on. Thank you so much.

Zibby: Take care. Hope to meet you in person.

Stephanie: Thank you.

Zibby: Buh-bye.

Stephanie: Bye.

CARRY STRONG by Stephanie Kramer

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