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The Road to Parenthood Turns into an Odyssey
A year ago, Emily Janda received a very special Christmas gift. On Dec. 26, she found out she was pregnant with her first child. Emily and her husband, Chad, had known they wanted to be parents—but neither imagined the road they would have to take to get there.
The complications started almost immediately. The new year brought multiple visits to the doctor. Then, less than four months into the pregnancy, Emily discovered she had “placenta previa”—a condition that can cause severe bleeding during pregnancy and delivery. In her job at Cisco’s Research Triangle Park campus, she was immersed in a major marketing project in her role on the Innovation and Content Team. For a while, she was able to keep working. But eight weeks after the bleeding started, she told her manager she had to go into the hospital—and she didn’t come out again.
Just like that, her life was on a new and frightening track, with uncertainties on all sides. The plan was for Emily to stay in the hospital until her baby was born, but no one knew when that would be, and whether the baby—or Emily—would be okay. There was a strong likelihood of the birth being premature, with associated defects.
To counter some of the effects of blood loss, doctors gave Emily steroid shots to boost lung development in the fetus, as well as magnesium to reduce chances of the baby having cerebral palsy. Fortunately, throughout this process, the baby remained healthy.
“She was always tracking great,” Emily says. “Even though I was bleeding, she was great.”
Less than seven months into the pregnancy, Emily’s water broke—which the doctors followed with more steroid shots and more magnesium. That was a Saturday. Two days later, on Monday, June 19, Juliette Belle Janda was born. At 2 pounds, 13 ounces in weight and 14.96 inches long, Juliette was small—but, amazingly, fine.
“She never needed a ventilator or additional oxygen,” Emily says. “And there was no brain bleeding, which is the other thing they worry about at that early gestation.”
Emily was ecstatic—she was finally about to hold the daughter she had waited for. But the looks on the doctors’ faces told her something was not right—the odyssey was not over. Further complications sent Emily into a syndrome known as DIC—as in disseminated intravascular coagulation. As in severe hemorrhage.
In fact, Emily lost all her blood, and had it replaced with donor blood and plasma. She spent much of the next three days unconscious, breathing through a tube, yet still managing to write endless notes to doctors, asking mainly when she could see her daughter. The doctors had to go through an artery in her heart to cauterize veins in her uterus to stop the bleeding. Throughout this time, Chad held Emily’s hand, pumped her breasts to make sure her milk still came in, and held and loved Juliette.
“My husband’s head was spinning,” Emily recalls. “He had a new baby but his wife was unconscious.”
Finally, after one more surgery, Emily got to see and hold Juliette on the Thursday of that week—three days after she was born.
Becoming a Parent
Throughout this odyssey, Emily says she received unwavering support from her managers and colleagues. After she went into the hospital, her manager sent a bouquet of flowers and checked in on her. Her team created a video in which they told jokes to keep her spirits up. The support continued after Emily returned to Cisco, working from home as a new parent. Her manager helped work out a schedule that allowed Emily to prioritize Juliette. If meetings ran late, her manager sent Emily home to be with her daughter.
“When you work for a company and have things like this happen, it will make or break how you feel about that company for the rest of time,” Emily says.
As of this past November, Cisco now offers more flexibility and support than ever before for new parents like Emily. We’ve introduced a new Becoming a Parent program that expands the minimum time U.S. employees can take off. The program is being rolled out in phases to the rest of the world.
We’re also replacing traditional maternity and paternity roles with main caregiver and supporting caregiver. You’re a main caregiver if you spend the majority of your time caring for your new child during those early days of bonding. Or you’re a supporting caregiver, being there when your family needs it most. These roles are open to any gender. And we’re giving three days off to grandparents so they can bond with a grandchild.
Lessons and Advice
Emily’s advice to other prospective parents: Take care of your family, don’t worry about work in these moments and always support your team members. Yes, there may be changes when you return (Emily has a different role today). But in many cases—including hers—strong teams can pull together to cover for a colleague in need. Emily also counsels kindness to oneself: “If you’re going through a situation where you need help and support, just say it. Try not to beat yourself up.”
Emily’s advice to managers? She says it’s imperative that they build relationships with employees that go deeper than just work—so that employees feel they can come to their manager when they’re going through a challenge or crisis.
Today, Juliette is a happy baby who weighs in at a healthy 13 pounds. Although she still needs a feeding tube, her survival is no longer touch and go. For Emily, the whole experience has been life changing. She finds herself being kinder and more understanding toward others. “I think twice now before I judge a situation or person,” she says. “You just don’t know what people are going through.”
She also has a renewed appreciation for the little things in life—and not just Juliette. “I want to enjoy every little moment of my life, because in the blink of an eye it was almost all taken away from me,” she says.
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