Episode Transcription by Fayelle Ewuakye. Find her on Twitter at @FayelleEwuakye.
Amanda – Hey listeners of Fat and Faithful, Amanda Martinez Beck here. Nicole is off this week and I have the opportunity to interview JoAnna Wahlund. JoAnna is the woman behind the Catholic Working Mother blog on Patheos, and also the Catholic Working Mother group on Facebook. Today we talk about a lot of things regarding bodies and pregnancy. And Family Medical Leave Act. I just wanted to give our listeners a heads up. Nicole and I know that we have people of all different stages of life listening to this podcast. And we’re really thankful. JoAnna and I are both mothers of multiple children. And we both have had experience working full time and dealing with pregnancies and medical leave with that. And Nicole and I recognize that family medical leave that affects not just married people with children and we’re really thankful for the input that you all give us about that. One thing that JoAnna says that I think is the heart of this episode is how bodies are perceived in the workplace, and she says this: “we need to change the concept of the male wombless body as being normative.” So I’m really excited to share this episode with JoAnna Wahlund of Catholic Working Mother and I hope y’all have a great week and can’t wait to have Nicole back on air with us, thanks.
Amanda – Welcome to Fat and Faithful. And ongoing conversation about faith, politics, and culture as they relate to fatness.
Amanda – Well hey Fat and Faithful listeners. I am here today with JoAnna Wahlund and I didn’t ask if that was the right way to pronounce your name.
JoAnna – That’s exactly the right way to pronounce my name.
Amanda – Great, well JoAnna is the woman behind the Catholic Working Mother blog on Patheos and the Catholic Working Mother group on Facebook which has over 5,000 members –
JoAnna – Actually we’re over 6,000 now.
Amanda – Awesome, 6,000 members, and I joined back when it was a wee 4,000 members. A couple years ago. JoAnna and I have a special bond because we have the same publisher and she is coming out with her book, the Catholic Working Mom’s Guide to Life at the end of May. And so I wanted to have her on to talk about life as a Catholic working mom because I am one as well. And I just love, love your book.
JoAnna – Well thank you! And I’m so happy that you participated in my book, I wrote about you in chapter 4!
Amanda – Yes, I was so excited to see my story there! I had forgotten responding to your interview questions until I read your book again. My memory is pretty terrible.
JoAnna – Yeah, join the club.
Amanda – It’s a mom thing.
JoAnna – Kids kill brain cells.
Amanda – Yeah, they give us some other great stuff, but they do take up a lot of mental space and also deplete our resources mentally. JoAnna tell me about how you started writing and where all of this for the Catholic Working Mother began.
JoAnna – Well I’ve been blogging off and on since, oh gosh, I suppose right after college was when I started. But that was with LiveJournal if you remember that, way back when. But I’d just been blogging off and on, not too seriously for a while. And about a year after, I started the Catholic Working Mother’s group, I was talking with someone who worked in a Catholic publishing company, you know, just tossing around the idea of a potential book. You know, nothing concrete. And she said, well, if you’re gonna write a book, the first thing you want to do is build up your platform. Because most authors these days, you’ll have a better chance of getting a manuscript or a proposal accepted if you already have an existing platform. And they know there’s people waiting to buy your book. So she recommended that I start, ‘cause at the time my blog was just a general Catholic mom blog type thing. But she suggested that I start a blog specifically about being a Catholic working mother that would tie into the group. So I did that and started blogging with that. And a couple years later, the channel manager for Patheos emailed me and invited me to start blogging on that platform which I did. And I’ve been doing that for about a year now, on the Patheos platform.
Amanda – Oh that’s so exciting. So we have the same publisher, Our Sunday Visitor, and tell me what it’s been like to go through the publishing process.
JoAnna – There have been a lot of surprising things and some things I expected, some things I was, kind of, not expecting. But it was, what surprised me was how fast it was. Because I sent my proposal in February of 2018 and they got, it was like February, well I know the exact, about exactly when it was because I was laid off from my job on February 20th, and I sent in my proposal just like a few days later.
Amanda – Wow.
JoAnna – So it was like that. And then, it was holy week of that year when I got the email saying they wanted to publish it. So it was like a month later.
Amanda – Wow.
JoAnna – So I was super surprised at how fast that was, because I thought, for sure it was gonna take months for them just to get back to me on whether or not they were interested in publishing it. But that was pretty quick. And then they said they wanted the finished manuscript by October 1st so they could publish it in spring 2019 and I was like, oh boy. But considering I had just been laid off from my job, and I suddenly had all this free time I was like, okay sure, I can do that, really. It’s been, it’s a fulfillment of a lifelong dream, ‘cause writing a book has always been at the top of my bucket list. So it’s just been amazing to go on that journey especially transitioning from the typical 9 to 5 full time, 8 to 5 full time job. And then all of a sudden I’m, not a full time employee anymore, I’m an author writing a book and trying to fit in writing in between taking care of kids and grocery shopping and housework and all that fun stuff.
Amanda – Right. I was about to ask how is it writing a book with, you have 6 children?
JoAnna – 6 children, yes.
Amanda – Are they in school? Or do you homeschool? What is your situation like?
JoAnna – I do not homeschool. My oldest 4 are in school full time. My oldest is gonna start high school in the fall she’s 14.
Amanda – Wow.
JoAnna – And then I have 3 more who are in 5th grade, 3rd grade, and 1st grade at the moment. And then my 5 year old, he’s on the autism spectrum and he goes to a special needs preschool every day but that’s only a half day. So he’s there from about noon to three most days. And so, then I have my youngest is 2 and she’s at home full time. She’s not doing preschool or anything right now.
Amanda – And does she nap in the afternoons?
JoAnna – Sometimes, if I’m lucky.
Amanda – Right.
JoAnna – There are some days she will only want to sleep on me. There are some days I can get her to take a nap right after lunch and there are some days she will not nap until her siblings have gotten back from school. It’s like she waits for them to get home and then she’ll conk out.
Amanda – Doesn’t wanna waste any one on one time with mama.
JoAnna – Pretty much. So it’s a toss-up. And really, the only way I was able to get the book written, was for the last, I’d say the last 2 months before my deadline, I left the house on Saturday morning and I went to the public library and I wrote all day long and I came home. And then the next day I’d get up, go to mass, go back to the public library, write all day long and then go home. And I did that every weekend for about 2 months straight.
Amanda – Wow.
JoAnna – I told my husband, this is the only way I’m gonna get this book done, if I’m able to leave the house and write with no distractions. And he’s like, okay, you do whatever you need to do and we’ll manage, and I’m like, okay! So that’s what I did and that’s how it got written.
Amanda – That’s awesome. Not unsimilar to my story. I was fortunate to have an office to go to in town. There were definitely late nights. It’s interesting being an author while having little kids. People are like, how did you do that? I’m like, I don’t honestly remember.
JoAnna – You know, I was trying to write during the day but that didn’t always work ‘cause, you know, inconsistent nap times, then the kids would get home and needing that time to run errands or make phone calls or whatever. And then I would try to write at night but that didn’t really work because you know, once I made supper and we cleaned up the kitchen and then we did the bedtime thing and after that point, I didn’t have any energy to write, I just wanted to collapse in the bed.
Amanda – Right.
JoAnna – And you know, I tried during the weekends, we have a bedroom in our house we use as a home office. So I would try to lock myself in the office and write on the weekends but that didn’t work because I had kids constantly banging on the door needing something. Even when my husband was around, they’d be banging on the office door saying mom I need this, mom I need that, mom, he’s punching me, mom he called me names, mom! And it was just like, oh my gosh, I can’t do this.
Amanda – Yeah. Well you know, part of what I talked about in my short snippet in your book was the idea of capacity versus potential. And how you and I are intelligent women. We have a ton of potential but our children and our life stage limits our capacity to achieve that potential. Where have you felt that tension as a working mom, as a writing mom?
JoAnna – Well what’s really difficult, as a working mom, is well when I was working, I couldn’t usually stay late if I needed to. Because I had hard deadlines in terms of picking up kids from daycare. So if say, this didn’t happen so much in the job I was in for 8 years, but if like a coworkers wanted to go out for a drink after work. I couldn’t do that because I had to get home, I had to pick up kids. I was really the only young mother with children on my team. Everyone else was, there was like 2 other mothers but their children were either high school age or adults and the rest of the employees either weren’t married or didn’t have kids or you know, so, I was really the only one with those limitations. Which kind of made it frustrating because if I didn’t get something done, I couldn’t stay late and do it. Because I had to get home to pick up kids and if my coworkers wanted to do something, I couldn’t do it because I had to go get kids and that kind of thing. And just the fact that I had to use up all my sick and vacation time when kids were sick or you know, or something and it’s like, sorry my phone alarm’s going off. It’s just frustrating because I felt like if we wanted to go on vacation, I felt like I had to scrimp and save my vacation time because I’d used so much having, and if I had a baby that year? Forget about it. Because all of my vacation time went towards maternity leave.
Amanda – And when you consider that you have 6 children, that happened a little frequently.
JoAnna – Two times out of my 6 kids where the company I worked for was so small that I didn’t qualify for Family Medical Leave Act. So I didn’t even know if I’d have a job once I was done with my maternity leave. I mean, there was no guarantee. And some of my leaves were unpaid so we had to scrimp and save just to pay for me to be able to take 6 weeks off after.
Amanda – Right.
JoAnna – I might have had some paid time off, but usually I was only able to save up a couple days. But with kids getting sick and obstetrician appointments and that kind of thing, so.
Amanda – You know, one thing I really loved about your book, is how practical it is. But especially you know, I have my group, All Bodies Are Good Bodies that you’re a part of. And we talk about the ways that our bodies affect all of our lives. And I think pregnancy is a huge way that women are affected at work.
JoAnna – Oh yes.
Amanda – And I love your chapter on pregnancy and work, teaching women how to stand up for themselves and to talk about FMLA and maternity leave and paid time off. Have you found that companies are willing to work with people, just with anecdotal evidence? Is there resistance to that body issue in women’s working lives?
JoAnna – It really depends. And I know that’s a vague answer. But it really depends on your workplace, it depends on who owns the company or your boss. I’ve been fortunate I guess, in that everywhere I’ve worked, even if I didn’t have paid leave, I at least didn’t have a problem getting leave. It was fortunate where I was never in a situation where they were like, well I’m sorry, you don’t get. With my first child, I was working for a very, very small company. Had maybe 10 employees. Probably less than that. But it was very small. So it was a very small business. So they obviously did not offer any kind of paid leave. I’m trying to remember, I’m not even sure if I had paid time off let alone paid leave. It was like my first job out of college basically. And I talked with my boss and our conversation about maternity leave went something like, well how long do you think you’ll be out? And I said, well I guess about 6 weeks. ‘Cause none of the daycares I’ve spoken to will take a child who’s younger than 6 weeks old. And he said, okay, just let me know when you’re coming back. And that was it. So I never, I didn’t have an issue there. But I mean, I know I’ve heard stories of women who basically could only take 2 weeks of maternity leave.
Amanda – Oh my goodness.
JoAnna – Because their bosses were just basically like, well if you don’t come back in 2 weeks, you will no longer have a job. We’re not willing to hold your job longer than 2 weeks. And if it was a company that, where they didn’t qualify for Family Medical Leave Act, they had no recourse, they had no alternative. It was either try to find a new job while pregnant which is hard, or not have a job which is hard. And it’s just, you’re in a really tough situation there. And then I’ve been in other situations where I did quality for Family Medical Leave Act, and I did have some sort of paid maternity leave. So it really depends, it’s still a problem I think. I think it’s still something we are gonna need. We need to change the concept in the workplace of the male wombless body being normative. Because the basic assumption seems to be, you’re gonna be this employee without a womb, who does not get pregnant, who does not need to take 6 to 8 weeks or more of leave every couple years. And that’s how you should be and if you’re not, you’re deficient in some way. Or even just, starting to encourage fathers to take paternity leave or family leave or parental leave or whatever it’s called at various places. Because if we can make it seem normal for a person of any sex to take 6 to 8 weeks off when a new baby is born, it’s not gonna seem like that much of an accommodation or that much of a hardship, you know? Because I know with all of my kids, my husband took, I think the most he ever took off was 2 weeks. And we were grateful to get that 2 weeks. ‘Cause there were sometimes he was only able to take like, 3 days off and then he had to go back.
Amanda – Wow.
JoAnna – And you know, so the times where he was able to take 2 weeks off was wonderful. But even then, I mean, it would have been amazing if he could have taken a month off, or 6 weeks off. Or even 8 weeks off. Just to help me, just to help our family adjust. And I don’t think enough fathers are, if they’re offered that benefit, I’m not sure if they’re taking advantage of it. Maybe they’re scared that if they do, their career’s gonna suffer. Because coworker Bob, who doesn’t have kids is gonna be seen as the go getter because he didn’t take 8 weeks off.
Amanda – My husband was off for 2 weeks of paternity leave for our 3rd child and our 4th child. Those kind of blend together for me because they’re only 15 months apart. And he was only gonna take a week of it. And you know, we lived right across the street from campus, and so I thought, okay, well he’s a professor. I can deal with one week of him fully at home and one week with him you know, on call. But his coworkers, his male coworkers said, hey we fought hard to get these 2 weeks of paternity leave, you need to take both.
JoAnna – Yeah.
Amanda – And so I was really thankful for his coworkers to say, no, this is something the university is trying to say they value. You need to spend 2 weeks at home with your family. It would have been awesome if it had been more. We have a little bit of more flexible situation since he’s off a whole month at Christmas and three months in the summer.
JoAnna – Yeah, my husband, before he had the job that he has now, he worked for a school district. I mean, he wasn’t a teacher or anything, he was a computer programmer, so he didn’t like, get the summers off. When our 6th baby was born in January 2017, he still, he only took a couple days off because that’s all he had. He didn’t have any kind of family. I mean they had unpaid family leave. But they didn’t have any paid family leave and they couldn’t afford for us to take unpaid leave. So he took, I’m trying to remember, she was born on a Saturday, I think he took like 3 days off and then went back to work that following Thursday, I’m trying to remember. But yeah, that was all he had. I basically, you know, 3 days after she was born, it was back to business as normal. And I had to get up and get everyone ready for school in the mornings and everything.
Amanda – My goodness.
JoAnna – It was hard. It was really hard.
Amanda – Yeah, I couldn’t have, we moved back to my hometown to be near my parents when I was pregnant with our 2nd. So that has gotten me through a lot of that.
JoAnna – I lived close to my family when our first two were born which was really nice.
Amanda – Your book is called The Catholic Working Mom’s Guide to Life. And it’s obviously targeted towards Catholic working mothers. But I really think that any working mom, any mom who thinks she might want to work or you know, needs some help in her daily life would benefit from reading your book. Do you think so?
JoAnna – I think so. The 2nd chapter is all about working mother saints. So I’m not sure if our protestant brothers and sisters or non-Catholic brothers and sisters would be as enthused about that portion. But otherwise I think it’s a book that any working mother could get something out of, definitely.
Amanda – And where can our listeners find your book?
JoAnna – Right now it’s available for preorder at both Amazon and Barnes and Noble. And I think it’s gonna be up pretty soon on the Our Sunday Visitor website as well.
Amanda – How about you, how can our listeners get in touch with you and your Catholic Working Mothers group and blog?
JoAnna – I have all that information at my website which is www.catholicworkingmom.com.
Amanda – Okay! Well, JoAnna I thank you so much for taking your time to talk with me today and tell your husband thanks for covering when I misunderstood the difference between central and mountain time.
JoAnna – No problem!
Amanda – Well I look forward to reading your book in hard copy and thank you so much for sharing what you’ve done and what you’re doing with the listeners of Fat and Faithful!
JoAnna – Great, thank you so much for having me!