Category: Personal

  • Maternity leave is not vacation

    Maternity leave is not vacation

    I made a bit of a mistake today. I read the comments on a post, and not just any post – one on Valleywag. It’s not a complete mistake, though – it reminds me about some things I’ve been thinking through about maternity leave, having taken one quite recently myself.

    The gist of the comment was a view I’ve heard several times: hiring pregnant women is bad for business. They are a liability and stick all the other schmucks with their entire workload while they take off and suck the company’s coffers dry. Paying somebody to go have a work-free vacation is a terrible business decision and an investment with no return. And so on, and so forth.

    Maternity leave in the USA is a tough topic. I’m not going to pretend I can analyze it or know all the facts ever, or that I have any sort of polarized and/or political opinion, but here’s what I do know. We’re one of four countries on this planet who don’t have any national paid maternity leave. Federally, there is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which grants 12 weeks of job safety to an employee at a qualified company (50+ employees, and other things) caring for a newborn (among some other situations and provisions). On a state level, there can be legislation going further than that. In New Jersey, you can file for up to 10 weeks of disability pay (4 before birth, 6 after) – however, in my understanding, you may not draw a paycheck during that time, meaning that you must pay the full premium of any employer insurance plan, as the employer cannot contribute anything toward it when you are not receiving pay.

    When you hear about paid maternity leave in the US, generally the weight of it is borne by the employer (I say generally, but have to admit that I’m not versed enough to know what other situations might be). In a country where things like insurance and benefits are largely reliant on businesses and employers, it seems expected, but is also understandably difficult to implement, especially for smaller businesses where FMLA doesn’t apply to begin with. Certainly it take conscious effort on the part of the employer to provide paid leave if they so choose, and generally you find that businesses that provide it are either running at quite a large scale and/or have declared that parenting is a central part of their values.

    How can it possibly be a good business decision? Well, if your evaluation methods of a good business decision rely solely on short-term raw numbers, then to you it probably won’t ever be one. But, there can be tangible benefits, both to you and to everybody, when looking at the bigger picture – a larger talent pool in being able to include those who appreciate what the company values (whether or not they personally would benefit), the ability to retain a great employee whose overall value now and into the future to the company far outweighs the raw cost of pay while on leave, general employee morale and thus productivity, and giving future generations (of employees!) more tools to having a happy, healthy life. Add to that the costs associated with on-boarding and training a completely new employee, especially at upper levels, and you will likely find that things balance out just fine, if not favorably.

    If you have your workload directly and unexpectedly impacted by somebody (not just pregnant women or another parent) taking leave, your concern should be with your management, not the one taking that leave. Yes, of course any change in the workplace is going to have some effect, but most of the time, we are not on an episode of that “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant” show – there is some warning and therefore time to plan and make adjustments. Good management will absorb most of the impact, make appropriate changes, and keep you informed about any direct changes. If you’re in management and unwilling to handle such impacts, then I wonder why you are at the higher levels in the first place. People leave jobs permanently, not just temporarily, for any number of reasons, so having a single point of failure is asking for future troubles anyway.

    It’s also a great opportunity to step up and show that you are willing and able to take on a challenge and advance your job and your skills, whether or not that’s on a management level. It’s also a good time to evaluate what that employee who wants to take leave really wants to do. In my case, I had already been working toward creating a position as an internal employee (as opposed to being directly client-facing), so going on leave provided a natural yet clearly delineated timeline in which to introduce new faces to the clients I was working with and take the training wheels off completely at a given date.

    I do think that there are steps a parent or parent-to-be can take to put themselves in a better position. Seeking employment at a company with good and clear benefits, finding a position that has some redundancy in personnel and thus flexibility, having a couple of contingency plans in the case that something doesn’t work out, etc. I do know that not every job one might want and/or is qualified for can fit into these overly generalized buckets, and there are factors in life that often limit possibilities and put your work situation out of your control. But, given that as an employee you play a part in a company’s success, it’s not unreasonable to hope that you take your own impact into consideration and play a proactive role in making leave a possibility, paid or not.

    Even if you still don’t believe in the value of maternity leave yourself, you should be able to recognize that somebody gave birth to you and have a little respect for that, and not make statements about how terrible it is that it’s not lawful to discriminate against a pregnant woman and fire her, or not hire somebody at all just because she happens to be fertile (which you shouldn’t definitively know about in the first place). I believe in the value of maternity and parental leave, but Equal Employment Opportunity is law, and for good reason. When I see such disrespect, I feel sad that somebody’s life could be so devoid of positive female role models, and hope that women of all kinds (non-parents, working moms, and stay-at-home moms alike) can seek to fill that void.

    As for those who like to tell pregnant women that they’re so lucky to go on a work-free vacation – well, growing a person and then pushing it out (or having it cut out, if that’s how things go) isn’t exactly my idea of a rocking good time. If you’re a nursing mom, then you get the added bonus of being on call as a 24/7 food machine, and for at least the first several weeks, we’re talking near-constant switching from side to side. Wanting to have and raise children is an interesting parallel to providing a benefit like maternity leave – maybe not super easy or intuitive when you think about the details of the process, but a no-brainer when you look at the overall outcome.

  • Domains and self identity

    helen blog, having long been at, now rests right at the top level of The old landing page is gone. Tweaks will come, since I don’t want the front page to be a blog, and I’m sure there will be a few bugs here and there (please tell me if you encounter any), but the move is complete.

    When I got married and changed my name, I bought Instead of replacing, which had long held my website as a pianist, I decided it was time to start embracing my move into web development and put a semi-crappy landing page (that I never did change much), a WordPress blog about WordPress (leaving helen blog as a more personal stream), and a brief portfolio listing on the new domain. At the time, I was also actively working and performing as a pianist, deriving about a third of my income from such, so this split between the content of the domains reflected what I was doing.

    Fast forward a few more years: music is no longer a part of my professional life, and if I’m being honest with myself, it’s relegated to a very very small corner of my personal life – the one where I play piano for my son because he enjoys it. I wish I could say that I don’t regret this, because it is the result of conscious decisions I have made and have achieved success with, but that would be a lie. I’m very sad to let go of something that I worked so hard to master and had earned success and respect in.

    It feels silly to talk about a change of domain name like this, and I’m already worried that I sound a bit “woe is me”. But the reality is that I’ve been sad about my professional musician identity slipping away for years now. I get huffy when my husband and his brother (who also happens to be a pianist) talk about performing together, even though I know that it’s a completely different rapport. I feel twinges of jealousy behind expressed pride and excitement when I see friends giving their Met Opera or Carnegie Hall debuts, or when Adrian gets to play ensemble concerts with music I’ve always wanted to be a part of (Knussen, swoon!).

    I know I could have kept on with being a musician – as much as I struggle with impostor syndrome, I am not afraid to say that I am a damn good pianist and collaborative musician. But to do it, I would have had to give up dreams of having a family and not moving every year or two. I chose stability and family over a career that often made me tired with having to play my own booking and debt collections agents. In making that choice, I found a place in which I’ve arguably become even more successful than I would have been as a pianist. Great pianists are innumerable in the NYC metro area – permanent core committers to WordPress are, well, just me (and Matt when he’s around). To be one of ten in the world to earn such a status on the software projects that powers over a fifth of the internet is not something I ever would have dreamed of, and it totally intimidates me, but I’m enjoying it and it fits into the big picture of what I want my life to be.

    In the next day or so, I’ll also be redirecting the whole of the site itself to pages here instead. I don’t want to completely take down things like performance audio or my repertoire lists, but it’s time I stop pretending that that side of me is still big enough to warrant its own presence. I’ll always identify as a musician first, and I married one, so I expect it will always be a part of my life, just maybe not a part of my work.

  • 28

    I suffer from imposter syndrome pretty much all the time. I sit around and wonder “Who the hell am I? Why should anybody listen to me? How mad are people going to be when they realize I’m not everything?” I always feel like I haven’t accomplished enough, and even though I’m pretty good at telling myself that’s what constitutes my drive, some days I feel it more keenly than others.

    I won’t let today be one of those days. I’m 28 today. I’ve reached the point where I have to stop and think when somebody asks how old I am. I own a house I thought I could only dream of. I have an amazing son and a wonderful spouse. I have a fantastic job that’s evolved along with me into being something that truly fits, and the best coworkers I could ask for. I have a car, a piano, my own home office, and a general overabundance of material things. I eat well, I find a reason to laugh hysterically just about every day, and I can honestly say that on the whole I’m happy as opposed to sad or angry.

    10 years ago, I was legally and functionally an adult. A sad and angry adult. I felt like I had been an adult for some time already, making adult decisions and having adult finances before I was really ready. But now I feel like a grown up, and you know what: I am an accomplished grown up and I am proud of that. It’s a good birthday.

  • Microaggressions and the one that got me

    I experience microaggressions constantly. Most of them are race-based, but occasionally I’ll get one that’s gender-based, like “why don’t you consult with your husband about what kind of windows to get”. (Of course, he gets his fair share of “men are domestically useless” microaggressions, which also sucks.) If you’re not hip to microaggressions, which is totally okay, they are the brief and common interactions with somebody who is Other to you that involve subtle and often unintentional but engrained bigotry. I found this paper to be good reading.

    In any case, while I’m generally not upset by individual occurrences, it is exhausting and painful on the whole, and I do find myself getting defensive about the “where are you from (no really where are you from ORIGINALLY)” questions. I’m aware of said defensiveness, and try to be good about giving people a chance to move past it, but I’ll admit that sometimes I end up just stopping cold and staring at the asker. As we hung out with other musician friends at our favorite little dive bar during our brief stint in Wichita, it happened. But it didn’t go as I expected, at all.

    White girl: “Hey, where are you from?”

    Me: *stares* “Uh….”

    Girl: (louder) “Where are you from?”

    Me: *still staring*

    Husband: (walks over to rescue me from being mean) Um… well, we are from the symphony orchestra.

    Girl: “Oh. Cool! I thought maybe you guys were with the Disney on Ice people. I’ve never seen such a big group of skinny attractive people together at a bar here.”

    So, microaggressions and aggressive racism aren’t going to stop happening, and I probably won’t stop bristling at THAT question, but I have to admit: she got me, and she made our night. For all the demoralizing and demeaning experiences, it’s nice to remember a positive one instead, even if she probably figured I was Mulan. 🙂


  • 2012–2013: The round-up post

    I have never done one of these round-up posts before, even mentally, and I suppose by the time I finish it, I’ll know whether or not I’ll do it again 🙂

    The Personal

    • I turned 27, but was still mistaken for a minor, most notably by the electrical inspector. I fully expect that this will continue to happen. My parents are both still seen as being in their 30s or early 40s quite often, especially with their respective younger children.
    • We decided to start our own family!
    • My husband got his Green Card on our second anniversary, and if you know things about Green Cards, you know that is extra wonderful. He also finished his doctoral comprehensive exams in March and can (should) be formally referred to as Dr. Adrián Sandí 😀
    • I got my first little tattoo. I’ll never have sleeves or anything super visible, as much as I love the idea, but I doubt it will be my only one.
    • I finished paying off my eye surgery (PRK for legally-disabling but stabilized astigmatic near-sightedness). I took a zero-interest health care loan because I needed to build credit – adult life, eh? Within the next 6 years or so, this will have paid itself off because I no longer have to go to the eye doctor, buy glasses, order contacts, or spend time doing any of the above. Worth it. Also, opening my eyes and being able to see clearly in the morning is nothing short of magical. If you have good vision, don’t ever take it for granted.
    • Not quite 11 months after moving there, we moved from Wichita, Kansas back to my homeland of the East Coast in a two-week whirlwind of activity, settling in a really awesome place in Jersey City at the end of June. I miss Boulevard Brewery beer, The Anchor, and The Alibi Room, but it’s not like I’d be doing any of that now, anyway. I am supremely happy to be near family and friends again.
    • I was a bridesmaid in a wedding, which I am quite hilariously bad at, but seeing two of my favorite people get married was worth it. As a bonus, they had kegs of Ommegang Hennepin at the reception, so my last beer for a while was a very, very good one.
    • I made some really amazing and inspiring friendships, mostly with various WordPress people I’ve managed to meet in person.
    • I now tweet all the freaking time, because that’s how the WordPress community works, and because I do consider my Facebook to be more of a non-public zone. My Facebook friend count has been decreasing, because I remove people. It is in no way mean or personal – I just find myself not wanting to share with not-so-close acquaintances so much, especially with more communication in a short-form public medium like Twitter and starting to feel like more of a public figure (whatever that means). Anticipating a baby while being pretty private about the details probably doesn’t help, either.
    • I traveled quite a bit in general:
      • February: Phoenix
      • March: Austin
      • May/June: Rochester, Boston, Richmond, Virginia Beach (home!), NYC before we moved back
      • July: Lake Placid, Albany
      • August: San Francisco, Chicago
      • September: Baltimore, Puerto Rico
      • October: Tybee Island
      • December: Costa Rica

    The WordPress: Maker and User

    • Without a doubt, WordPress has become an integral part of my daily life. It encompasses paid work, volunteer work, idle brainstorming, and some of the most interesting and close friendships I’ve ever made. No, we don’t talk about WordPress all the time when we chat or get together 🙂
    • I was given commit access to core as a guest committer on December 18. Woohoo!
    • I contributed to the 3.4 and 3.5 cycles, earning myself a spot as Contributing Developer in the credits for both after being a Recent Rockstar in 3.3 at the end of 2011. I was especially active in 3.5, with (I think) 45 patches committed and even more time put into administrative-y things like helping lead and shape the UI group.
    • I passed my one-year anniversary with 10up as the first full-time employee, and don’t have plans to go anywhere. I’m now the “Lead User Interface Engineer”, which means any number of things, but most importantly it means that I am a worthy and tested engineer of code, code reviews, interfaces, and workflows. I adore the team and also get to spend some of my time hopefully making work lives better all around.
    • I can’t share salary information (sorry-not-sorry, because who really cares beyond just being curious), but I’m making enough to comfortably live in the NYC metro area on my pay alone. Money only matters to me as much as I need it to get by and avoid that shallow type of unhappiness, but let’s face it: it feels nice to earn more toward the area of your own self-worth and survival without having to take on a part-time job or two, like I did when I worked for the university.
    • I spoke at WordCamps Phoenix, NYC, Chicago, and Baltimore, and attended WordCamp San Francisco and the WordPress Community Summit (along with the preceding Contributor Summit).
    • I was on WP Late Night twice as a guest, which was fun.
    • I wrote a blog post that spread farther than I anticipated, or would ever have anticipated. And another one. Both were wonderful experiences, especially since I’m not usually much of a long-form blogger, or even really much of a sharer of things that are actually personal.
    • I made this blog my photo-posting location of choice, and try to keep myself looking at the iOS app like a plain old user (because I am). I also finally hooked in some more IFTTT recipes, so it’s an ever-growing collection of things I find to be of interest.
    • I care exactly zero about page views, so you’re going to get none of that in this roundup, even though technically I track it. I think it’s probably pretty low, and probably exactly because I don’t care about it.

    The Music

    • I performed in January and April, and haven’t really played since. Though I am proud of those performances, I am not proud of this overall trend. However, I recognize it as a not-abnormal tip in balance as what I do and think about the majority of the time is ever-changing.


    I’m not one to extensively plan or set specific goals for a given time period, or to compare one time period to another as a measure of anything specific beyond just observation. My goal and primary motivator has been the same my entire life: to be better than I was before. I don’t compete with others or with external pressure. All that said, I suppose it doesn’t hurt to write down a few of my daydreams.

    • Become the best damn mom I know I can be. I know I share a bit about the normal pregnancy things, like the baby kicking (REALLY HARD) or feeling fatigued, but am pretty reticent about everything else outside of one-on-one or small group conversations. I won’t be sharing pregnant belly shots, or talking about names, or anything like that, but I will ease up on the hiding for a moment and just go ahead and write down that we are expecting a boy sometime around April 1. I still hold my breath about it, because I know how much can change in every moment, so this better not be a jinx. That also means that right at this moment I am 6 months pregnant and yes, I look it.
    • Be a better all-around WordPress-er. This means blogging more and being a user, blogging ABOUT WordPress more over on that blog, helping in the forums (even if just in Alpha/Beta), updating and writing plugins, continuing to push the front-end development of core forward, working on getting Trac under control, etc. I would also love to help lead a release (which is much more project management than writing code or pushing an agenda), since I was disqualified from possibly being co-pilot in 3.6 thanks to the impending baby 🙂
    • Take some long-developing and suffering ideas for personal web projects and use maternity leave time to make them happen.
    • Make music. I don’t know if I’ll be performing at any point during the year, but I need to at least decide on some personal projects and goals when it comes to learning and practicing at and away from the piano.
    • Be creative again. I’ve taken cake decorating and calligraphy classes in the past, and enjoyed them thoroughly. It ain’t cheap to indulge, but seeing as I have the equipment at least, I should use it. And maybe seek more classes. Also: bake more bread, because I have to admit that I am good at it, and it is delicious.
    • Travel somewhere new and enjoy it fully with my husband, not as a whirlwind WordCamp speaking trip. I actually want to travel less, and probably don’t have much of a choice in the matter, anyway.
    • Be a better and more active friend. I can make excuses about how it’s hard to maintain friendships once you’re outside the confines of school, and even harder when your work and hobbies involve a lot of alone time at a keyboard, but nobody cares. I should just be a better friend, because my friends are amazing.

    Happy New Year!