For Julie Legrand, Global Procurement Category Manager, life is idyllic in the Swiss Alps, with a small, safe community, a hands-on partner, and beautiful surroundings. But Julie has faced immeasurable loss, which she bravely shares here, along with advice for anyone experiencing similar, and the realities of having a child with additional needs.
Can you tell us about your career journey to date and about your current role and responsibilities?
I think I made a good choice when I completed my studies with a Master’s degree in Procurement because 15 years later, I still really love my job and all things procurement!
I joined my employer over four years ago and am currently Global Procurement Category Manager, responsible for contractors and employee benefits, while also supporting inclusion and diversity.
We’d love to know a little bit about you and your family…
We are a happy family living in the Swiss Alps with our two daughters (aged 10 and 12) and cat.
I have always worked full time, and my partner stopped working to take care of our kids when they came along.
Our eldest daughter is hemiplegic and needed special care in the early days until she could go to her weekly treatments by herself. We are a modern family – my husband always wanted to take parental leave to spend time with our kids, while for me, I enjoy my work, and part-time working would not have been feasible with my responsibilities.
Now that the kids are older, my partner works full time. He found a great job in our village.
We all love skiing, which is why we settled down in a ski resort when we moved to Switzerland. Our daughters enjoy skiing and racing – my daughter Pauline has joined the youth regional handiski team sponsored by Swiss Paralympic!
And now that we have electric bikes, we enjoy our fantastic home, riding among the mountains as a family whenever we can.
Wow, you have a busy working parent life with two young girls to juggle plus a full-time role! What does a typical week look like for you and your family?
As our kids are now 10 and 12, I only help them prepare breakfast in the morning – they’re pretty self-sufficient and get to school on time with their dad driving.
It used to be different when I commuted to the office – I would wake them up, then leave early and return late. The pandemic has allowed me to see them more, and my husband is happy because now I am home to help with the cooking, even though I don’t like cooking at all. I rather enjoyed coming home to a lovely home-cooked dinner!
We are also fortunate to live in a small village and safe environment, where kids can safely get to their activities like dance class, ice skating, tennis, and skiing, even when we cannot drive them. Our life changed when we settled down in Switzerland, as kids are more independent here, take care of each other, and you can always find someone in the village who knows where your kid is!
I find navigating homework difficult as our older daughter has ADHD. I have a system in place with grandparents who live abroad but help with homework over FaceTime. They are happy to see their grandkids, and this helps us a lot.
What are your top two tips for managing the work/life week?
- Get support when feasible – grandparents can help even when they live abroad.
- Outsource what you can to save time: cleaning, online shopping, and delivery.
Having kids that are almost teenagers brings with it a whole new stage of parenting. What are the biggest changes you’ve noticed in your parenting compared to five years ago?
We can trust our kids, and they become more self-sufficient every day.
As we’ve placed greater emphasis on guiding them through their education so that they make good choices and learn for themselves, I’ve noticed that they take responsibility for what they need to do, and not simply because we’ve asked them to do it.
My older daughter is not a fan of school, although I appreciate this is a challenge for her compared to her sister. Still, she has to prepare for her future herself and not just to please us. None of us enjoys having her iPhone taken for a week because she has not done her homework!
What do you enjoy most about your workplace and what’s the biggest challenge with the juggle?
I appreciate the flexibility, as I have a kid with additional needs. I can handle medical appointments, even during working hours, and do my work later. I’m grateful to be able to take care of my kids when needed.
The biggest challenge is the guilt I feel when I am working long hours, although I felt it more when the kids were younger.
Many of your colleagues have young children with primary school and secondary school ahead of them. Is being a full-time working parent a little easier as the kids get older?
Yes and no. The youngest child does everything by herself and is very independent. My older daughter needs support – she is not independent and does not like to study.
What does ‘me time’ look like for you? What activities do you do to relax and recharge?
I am a ‘we’ person, so ‘me time’ means time with friends and family. I need ‘me time’ only when I wake up.
I love to ski, of course, and ride my e-bike.
Heartbreakingly, you lost your beautiful twins during pregnancy. What can you share with us about this devastating time?
I was lucky enough to have the support of my fantastic husband and friends.
I took my parental leave of 16 weeks which was helpful because losing a kid is heartbreaking, let’s face it. When I returned to work, they extended the contractors who replaced me during my parental leave to reduce some of the pressure.
It was devastating, but I have a fantastic support team. I had ups and downs a lot during the first year, and now every year for the twins’ anniversary. For ten years, I’ve taken the day off.
What was your experience returning to work after losing your children? How was your partner’s experience similar or different?
It was hard, but I had fantastic colleagues, some of whom were pregnant, but they ensured my workload was manageable. They sent flowers for the funerals and some sent me heartfelt letters. Through the experience, I also learned that I wasn’t the only person who had suffered infant loss, and I was a mum no matter what.
My partner’s experience was similar – his colleagues were also very supportive. They texted him when they learned the bad news and also sent us flowers and many kind words. Our doctor put him on sick leave as paternity leave was short.
What advice do you have for other parents who may be trying to process or accept the loss of a child?
In my experience, speaking about them made them feel alive for me, which helped me a lot. I found it difficult when people thought they couldn’t mention the babies or what happened in my presence.
I got support from a psychotherapist, too, as I needed to talk about it and was reluctant to take medication. This method worked for me, but get whatever help you need. We all react differently and have different needs.
My family, friends, and colleagues were smart enough to listen when I spoke about my twins: how beautiful they were, how beautiful the delivery was despite the context as we knew they had no chance to make it. I was lucky in my difficult time.
Accept that your partner will not have the same needs and also that they might process the loss differently to you.
Try not to feel guilty even though it is hard.
Find infant loss support groups online to join. I now have some very close friends I met this way. We have helped each other, cried a lot, and laughed a lot.
In what ways do you remember and celebrate your children?
We had our daughters after the twins, so we all celebrate their day; the four of us. I will never accept an invite on the 12th of July – it is our evening. We play music for the twins and we light a lantern if the weather allows it. Nothing big, but the ritual is essential for my healing.
Some final questions. Could you finish these sentences…
My favourite time of the day is… waking up to hugs with the kids
I’m inspired by… true leaders, which in my mind, are leaders taking care of their people, sharing their reality and challenges, no matter if they are a senior executive or an individual contributor.
I’m happiest when… my family is happy.
I’m addicted to… family, friends, and work.
Working parents are… good parents even if they are working!