Q+A with a Successful 'Early Mama' Pastry Chef


Today's Q+A comes from Maricela Munoz, a young woman whose sister encouraged her to get an abortion (in her second trimester) because her career would go nowhere. Yet now she's a successful pastry chef who works in 5-star restaurants, proving that common assumption wrong. It wasn't always easy, but Maricela proves it's possible:

1. How old were you when you first got pregnant? I actually got pregnant the first time at 19. This was a huge surprise to me because I was told I'd never have children because of my severe case of endometriosis, which I had from the age of 12. I miscarried at 8 weeks. I got pregnant again in February of 2010 and suffered an ectopic pregnancy that ruptured in March. In August of 2010 I got pregnant with my now 3-month-old daugter at the age of 21.

2. Was this a planned pregnancy?  My pregnancies were not planned, but not unwanted.

3. And how did your friends and family react? How did you react? My friends were mostly supportive. (I've always been considered the mother of the group, even though I was the youngest.) My mom was shocked yet excited to have a grandbaby on the way, but my dad told me he could not have been more disappointed. My boyfriend's mother was excited as well, yet his father wanted a paternity test. My oldest sister, a young mother herself, told me she knew I could do it. My other sister was not supportive at first. She asked me flat out if an abortion would be such a bad thing. (After losing two babies, I thought it was.) Of course I was in shock when I found out at only 4 weeks along. I decided not to tell my family until I'd made it to the "safe zone" and at 13 weeks along I ended up having emergency surgery to remove a 10cm cyst from my ovary, which caused my ovary to flip. My boyfriend was apprehensive of course, because he did not want to get excited until it was certain the pregnancy would go full term, and because we knew he would be deployed when our baby was born. (He's a U.S. Marine.)

4. I know that you’re a successful pastry chef and you graduated pastry school at 18 – which seems remarkable. How did that happen? Were you in an accelerated program? I graduated high school knowing what I wanted to do. I had been decorating wedding cakes from the time I was 15 years old. I enrolled in the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, a 7-month accelerated program, and graduated with high honors less then a year after graduating high school. But the degree is the easy part in the culinary world. A rough economy made it hard to find my first job, but a CCA alumnus gave me a shot in the restaurant she was opening with her husband in Granite Bay, CA.

5. So many young women feel like it’s impossible to have a successful, fulfilling job while also being a young mom. What advice do you have for those women? Having a job that you love is a blessing. My mother once told me to love my job, that way I'll never work a day in my life. I think having an idea of what you want is half the battle, the other half is having a will to do whatever it takes to get what you want.

6. Has there been any advantages in your career from being an “early” mom? There is actually still a lot of sexism in the culinary world, so working in a kitchen with 12 men and one other woman while pregnant, and at one point recovering from surgery, was hard. There was no time for morning sickness breaks, and during the holiday season I was working 60-hour weeks on my feet while making 100+ pound batches of bread or various other desserts for banquets of 300 people or more per day. The only advantage I can think of is that it earned me the respect of my male coworkers, because I never slowed down. And I believe that because I am young and relatively healthy, that was possible.

7. And what was/is your biggest challenge? My biggest challenge comes from being the mother of a Marine's daughter. Now that I'm living in our hometown, I have tons of family support from both of our families. But once my Marine is back, we will be moving to wherever he is stationed next, and I may not know anyone. So child care will be hard to find, but we cannot afford for me to not work because I actually make more then he does.

8. We’ve been talking a lot about judgments and stereotypes on Early Mama lately. What’s the biggest misconception about you? What do you wish people knew? I am angered most by people that assume I was not being "careful" about birth control. I wish people knew that NOTHING is 100%. And I was told I could not have kids, so I couldn't be more thankful for my little surprise. People also assumed I would not make it through labor unmedicated because I am young, therefore weak. I was committed to a natural birth and a green mothering approch (breastfeeding, cloth diapering). I wish more people knew young mothers can make good choices.

9. What about your relationship? Many people assume young relationships just can’t work. Relationships are hard work, no matter what age. Communication and respect are at the foundation of my relationship with my Marine. We met when we were 13 years old and we were friends, so we still put our friendship first. We've had our ups and downs, but growing up together has made us exceptionally close, and I believe it will make us better parents. In all the years we've known each other, we've watched one another grow and work to reach our goals. He motivates me and I support him in all of his decisions and deployments.

10. If you could go back and tell your pregnant self one thing, what would it be? I wish I could go back and tell my pregnant self that people would be so judgmental -- even my daughter's pediatrition would be somewhat cross with me because my baby wasn't gaining weight fast enough, assuming it was a young mother problem. Just so I could brace myself and reassure myself that it would be ok.

Thank you Maricela for sharing your story! If anyone else would like to be featured, email me at michelle@earlymama.com.