Last year at this time, I was in Arizona attending the International Dairy Foods Association Dairy Forum for the first time. I was a member of the inaugural cohort of their NextGen Leadership Program, and I was excited for a packed schedule focusing on all things dairy.
Right after I checked in to the hotel, I ran into an executive from an international dairy company in the elevator. I was pushing a stroller, and she asked how old my baby was. I proudly replied, “Six weeks,” to which she said, “And you’re here?” Before I could respond, she immediately volunteered, “Of course you are here! I was back to milking cows on our farm when my kids were that old!” I instantly felt supported.
You see, as soon as I was invited to be a member of that Leadership Program, I looked at the calendar to compare its schedule with the expected arrival of my second child. I decided that I could make it work, and I knew that I wanted to make it work.
When January came around, I had arranged for my parents to meet me in Arizona to watch the baby while I attended the sessions and dinners. I’ve learned that a grandchild is one of the few ways to get them off the farm for a few days! My husband was at home managing his career and our kindergartener. As it happened, that week at school had a daily themed attire, and he sent pictures every morning of our oldest dressed in each ensemble. My in-laws picked up our son from school on the days my husband worked late. It certainly takes a village, and my behind-the-scenes network made it all possible.
In all honesty, that trip was hard. The baby (and I) didn’t sleep at night, and finding small slivers of time to slip out and feed him during the day was tricky. The exhaustion and hormones put my emotions on edge, and I’m still not sure how I kept it together. Nevertheless, I showed up with a smile to every session and am so glad I did. Despite the challenges, it was indeed worth it.
I realize that everyone has different priorities influencing their choices and adding varying weight to tradeoffs they must make. Some may not agree with mine, and that is okay. I have learned that sometimes you just have to sign up and figure it out on the way. It may not be easy, but when you run into those moments of hope (or a kind comment in an elevator), you’ll get that extra push to keep going. After all, I kept reminding myself that our entire industry relies on working mothers. It’s just that most of them have four legs.
Erin Massey is the product development manager at Prairie Farms, a farmer-owned cooperative based in Edwardsville, Illinois. She is responsible for overseeing all aspects of the development process, from concept to commercialization. Erin grew up on a Florida dairy farm and has a deep-rooted passion to invigorate the dairy industry. Erin earned a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from the University of South Florida. Her personal mantra is "Be Bold."