A few months ago, I was laid off from my job. In the immediate hours following the news, I set out to process my feelings by writing about them here in my blog. In that first post I talked about the immense grief of losing my planned future. Later, I returned to talk about the uncertainty of charting a new path. I concluded that the best way forward was to try to make meaning out of something that felt meaningless. Though I had lost one future, maybe this was an opportunity for me to create something new.
But that wasn’t the full story. There was another feeling lurking below the surface. Try as I might to believe that I could be heading toward a new and better future for myself, deep down I felt an ever-growing sense of dread.
The dread wasn’t always there. No, it usually waited until about 7pm to rear it’s head. After a full day of informational calls, interviews, applications, and networking— at 7pm my brain would decide that whatever I was doing was not enough. That my assessment of my own capabilities was wildly off. That the recruiters who not-so-subtly suggested that I should reconsider my level, my comp expectations, even applying for the job — well, maybe they were right.
Maybe I was actually a fraud who had never been good at my job. Maybe I would never get another opportunity like the one I had. Maybe I’d become a burden on my family and let everyone down when they needed me most. Maybe I just sucked.
And it wasn’t just the feeling of inadequacy slowly eating away at me. No, this dread was steadily evolving into full blown panic. Because it wasn’t just that I didn’t think I was good enough. It wasn’t just that I doubted I would find another job. It was also that I was rapidly running out of time. The clock was ticking down.
I was (and still am at the time of writing) pregnant. And I only had a few months until the baby would be here.
When I got my layoff email I was three months pregnant. I’d just cleared 90 days of pregnancy, a milestone marking a transition out of a touch-and-go first trimester. But now, heading into the second trimester, I was finally breathing a sigh of relief. I looked forward to telling my manager and my teammates. I was starting to think ahead to my parental leave and getting excited about all the fun parts of planning for a new life.
Then, of course, everything changed.
When I called my parents the day of the layoffs, I sobbed into the phone: “I just wish I wasn’t pregnant.” I didn’t mean it. Even writing it now makes me feel guilty. But I was scared. I knew what the pregnancy could mean for our family now that I was jobless. Though my now-former company offered ongoing healthcare support, it would run out before my delivery: a medical event that can cost tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. And now I’d have to find a job, likely while visibly pregnant and racing a rapidly ticking clock before the baby arrived. Even if I did land a job before the baby came, there was no guarantee of paid leave, or benefits, or much of the support I’d relied on my previous job for.
So I set out to find a new job immediately, hoping I could find something while still in my second trimester. Pregnancy discrimination, while illegal, is still an undeniable reality of the job market. So I chose not to disclose my pregnancy status during interviews. But it came with some serious drawbacks — like hiding my pregnancy from former colleagues, privately asking friends about their company’s leave policies, and hoping with all my heart that my hiring managers would be supportive when I did tell them.
It also came at a personal cost. We didn’t celebrate the news beyond our immediate families. I didn’t tell any friends outside of those I’d already spilled the beans to. I avoided public gatherings where I might run into someone that worked for a company I was interviewing for. What should have been a joyful time for us instead felt like we were hiding a shameful secret.
It also meant proactively turning down or avoiding roles where parental leave was limited or unavailable for employees with less than a year of tenure. For me, that meant closing the door on contract work. And smaller companies. It’s also what led me to decide not to pursue starting my own business, a path I’ve considered for some time.
There was a lot of darkness.
But also… some bright spots. Or, rather, bright people — who carried me through.
The few friends I did choose to share my news with were universally understanding and supportive. Many of my mom (and dad!) friends checked in on me regularly to see how I was doing — in terms of my job search, my mental health, and physical health. They offered words of encouragement and support when I needed it most. They took me to coffee and went on walks with me. They listened when I needed a place to vent my fears and frustrations. To those friends, thank you — you kept me going even when the days seemed darkest.
Colleagues from both my recent and far past offered to connect me to their networks. But what surprised me most was how many people I hardly knew were willing to make an introduction, refer me for a role, or help me find the right people to talk to simply because I asked. To these colleagues and connections — thank you for taking the time to respond to my emails, offering to chat, and helping me build new bridges.
My Golden 12k companions (the cutesy nickname for our cohort of laid off colleagues) and similarly impacted Metamates provided critical information and sympathy during this time. Knowing others were going through the same thing — and that we could rely on each other to get through it — made it all feel a little less lonely and dehumanizing.
Then there were a special few friends and former colleagues — my champions, I’ll call them — who went above and beyond to help me find the right role. These friends made active connections for me, even when I wasn’t sure if I was ready or qualified. They evangelized my strengths to their network and convinced companies to talk to me, even if that company wasn’t actively looking for people like me. They built up my confidence when it was at its lowest and helped generate opportunities I didn’t know existed. To my champions — I owe you the world. Everyone deserves someone like you in their corner.
Thanks to the combined efforts of all of these people, after four months of grinding through the job search, I finally found a role that felt like it could truly be the one. The end was almost in sight.
But still, I couldn’t let myself relax. After months of failure and false starts, I didn’t want to get my hopes up. Even after I passed the on-site interview, I could only think “I’ll relax when I get the offer.” Then came the verbal offer. “I’ll relax when I get the written offer.” Then, the written offer. The background check. The final paperwork. And yet I still couldn’t relax.
There was still one thing hanging over my head. One giant elephant in the womb, if you will: how would they react when they found out I was pregnant.
I braced myself for the conversation. Would they be disappointed? Annoyed? Would this throw off their whole plan for me? Would they reduce my scope? Or would they throw me into the deep end, ignoring the unpredictable nature of pregnancy?
Finally, it came time for me to meet with my prospective manager. I broke the news, ready to be disappointed.
To my immense relief, my soon-to-be manager was entirely supportive. As far as I know, she didn’t even bat an eye when I told her. She congratulated me and helped me understand the parental leave policies. Then she worked with me on an onboarding plan where I’d get to start charting the path we’d agree on, while providing support and redundancies that would ensure I could easily step away if I needed to go on leave early.
Hanging up the phone felt a little like waking up from a bad dream. I finally relaxed… at least a little. Then, for the first time since that Friday where I got the email, I cried. But this time not out of dread. I cried out of relief.
It’s been just over a month since I started my new role. I’d like to say I’m finally fully relaxed, but truthfully I’m not.
The nagging panic doesn’t just go away. There’s still a voice (though much quieter now) that wonders if I’m any good at my job.
One of my mentors likened the whole layoff experience to getting in a car crash. It’s sudden and brutal and traumatic and senseless. And that’s one part of my journey. But the other part is that I immediately started looking for a new car to get into. Yes, I’m lucky I found a new car. But now I have to deal with the fact that I’m kind of afraid of driving? And I can’t help thinking about what I did wrong in the first place to get into that crash. Is it possible I’ll make the same mistake again?
Of course, it doesn’t help that, as with any new job, I’m not as fast or as knowledgeable or as proficient as I was on my previous teams. Tasks that I could have done in 2 days at my last job take me 2 weeks right now. I have no built-in social network to rely on. There are whole research areas I’m learning about for the very first time. Being new is already enough of a confidence hit. Being new *and recovering* from layoffs is a double dose of anxiety.
But being new is also a gift. I get to *discover* new areas of research I’ve never used before. I get to play the newbie card and ask stupid questions. I get to meet new people and learn about a new product and a new audience. Everything is fresh and shiny and novel.
So, no, the anxiety hasn’t gone away. But it’s joined by excitement now, not dread.
As I predicted in my first post, this whole process — however terrifying and draining — really did open me up to new possibilities. My new role marks a return to the gaming industry: a place I’d left over 5 years ago, not knowing if I’d ever return. If you’d asked me a year ago whether that would have been possible, I probably wouldn’t have thought so. It certainly wasn’t on my roadmap.
This isn’t the future I planned. And, I’ll be honest, it’s not necessarily what I would have chosen back in January. But it’s shaping up, maybe, to be something better than I could have imagined. A new beginning, in more ways than one.