Mother, Pilot, Banker, Runner: Heather Burns' Powerful and Practical Outlook on Motherhood
We love getting to know our customers and hearing about their motherhood journey. For International Breastfeeding Week we're excited to feature Heather Burns, a former US Blackhawk pilot who now works in sales and trading at an investment bank.
Her banking career has taken her to Brazil where she had her first baby Chael. She's now based in NYC and a new mother to 5 month old baby Dash.
Read on as she shares what she's learned from her military days, her experience pumping in a predominantly male office and how running has helped her grieve after the loss of her second son Sage, just days after his birth due to Trisomy18.
1) Firstly, I want to tell you that I'm in awe that you were a blackhawk pilot for the US Army. How has that experience informed who you are today? I have so many fond memories of my time in the military. I think the military concept that most shapes my thinking today is that I never ask someone to do something that I wouldn't be willing to do myself. I think this has helped me significantly in my civilian career.
2) You're now in banking and have been for many years. What is it like being a mother and working in a predominantly male industry? Do the men you work with understand when you have to go on your pump breaks? I am a strong believer that your best work can only come if you show your authentic self, so I don't dilute my conversations about motherhood even when speaking with my male colleagues. I find that most of the men I deal with day-to-day can relate with my experiences since they have someone close to them (a partner or sibling) who has gone through what I am going through now.
With regard to pumping, yes, they definitely understand, and they always back me up. When I first returned to work from maternity leave, I found myself apologizing every time I left the desk to pump and asking everyone on my team if it I was ok that I stepped off the desk until one of my coworkers pulled me aside and said, "don't ask us, just tell us. You gotta do what you gotta do." That switch in mindset made a big difference for me. Honestly, in the span of an entire career, the amount of time I spend pumping is minimal.
3) Your job also took you to Brazil where you lived for several years. Is there something about the culture and lifestyle down there that you have taken with you to NYC? Farmers markets!! In Brazil, I went to the "feira" every Sunday to buy my fresh produce, and it was amazing to eat such fresh local food. Here in NYC, I try my best to get to the markets as often as I can.
4) Your first son Chael was born in Brazil. Is there anything about parenting that struck you/surprised you while there? There is a saying in Brazil that "pregnant bellies have no owners." So, when I was pregnant with my first child, it was kind of shocking that strangers wouldn't hesitate to touch my belly. I had to get over my American ideals of personal space, but once I did, I found it really quite sweet that strangers were so excited for me to grow my family. Once my baby did arrive, I found that people were also not shy about giving me parenting advice. I think it's more of a "it takes a village to raise a child" mindset.
5) You breastfed Chael for 16 months and you plan on pumping and nursing your 5 month old baby Dash for 2 years. What do you think you relied on most during your breastfeeding journey to help you reach your goal? My family is incredibly supportive, and I also leverage social media groups when I have questions or just need some encouragement. With pumping at work, I take things a day at a time and try not to be too hard on myself. Some days I have great production and other days, it can be a struggle, but overall, I am very fortunate because I have had very few issues.
6) Let's talk nursing wear and your transition back to work. What are you looking for when it comes to your work wardrobe now that you'll be pumping for the next 2 years? I am always looking for clothes that will minimize the amount of time that it takes to prepare to pump-- so the top of the dress or shirt has to be easy to lift or open. I love the idea of snaps or zippers instead of buttons. Also, I am still in the process of losing weight, so I look for things that don't look like maternity clothes, but still give me some extra room. Finally, since I do plan on nursing and pumping for quite a while, I want clothes that will last.
7) Outside of work & family, we found out you're a big runner. What do you love most about it? I really like the flexibility of running. I can do it pretty much anywhere and I can decide how hard I want to push myself. Some days I am really focused on beating my last run, but other days I just go at a pace that feels relaxed.
8) You mentioned that running helped you grieve after the loss of your 2nd son Sage. Can you tell us how you felt during this period and what running did for you? Early in my second pregnancy, the doctors suspected that my son, Sage, had Trisomy 18 also known as Edwards Syndrome, which is a life limiting condition. I believed that the best thing for all of us was to stay positive and start making memories while he was still safe in my belly, so I ran almost every day, and that was "our thing." I even had my photographer in Brazil shoot running maternity pictures to capture our time together. I was able to carry him full term and he lived for 2 days.
The grieving process was and honestly still is really tough, but as soon as I was cleared medically, I started running again. 6 months after his birth and passing, I ran the NYC Half-Marathon, which was really cathartic. I think of Sage every day, and I think running brings me even closer to him, which is so special since now I can usually be found running in Central Park pushing his little brother in the jogging stroller.
9) What would you tell other mothers who have had miscarriages or lost their babies at a very young age? I would have to say that it is ok to grieve and that process may not happen the way you expect it to. When I lost my son, I thought that the immediate pain would be the worst of it and then over time, I would feel progressively better, but that wasn't really how it has been for me. There are good days and bad days, and even after having my precious rainbow baby, I sometimes weep for the son I never really got to know.
For other moms out there who have had these experiences, don't be ashamed to feel that sadness, even if it hits you years later, it is what makes us human. I believe I am a better and more compassionate person having had such a painful experience.
Thanks Heather for sharing your beautiful story! xoxo, Peggy