You know about the first three trimesters — how some people demarcate the 9 months babies spend in the womb. Some people refer to the “fourth trimester,” which would be the first 12 weeks when newborns are still adjusting to life on the outside. They become a lot more alert after that…but of course that’s when many women in the U.S. return to work.
Enter the “fifth trimester” — the first few months back on the job post-maternity leave. In today’s episode of Best of Both Worlds, Sarah and I interview Lauren Smith Brody, former executive editor of Glamour magazine, and author of The Fifth Trimester: The Working Mom’s Guide to Style, Sanity, and Big Success After Baby.
For many women, the “sanity” part is key. Especially after maternity leave #1, going back to work can be a rough transition. You might be adjusting to a hard-stop on your day (e.g. daycare pick-up or when a nanny needs to go home). If you work in the kind of place where people casually say “hey, let’s take another 30 minutes to work through this,” that can be a problem. If you’re pumping, that includes a whole different set of challenges. When can you fit it in? (“Where” has gotten slightly better in some workplaces, but still, there’s that too.) You may not be sleeping well yet. Your clothes might not fit! Kids can get sick, which will then introduce you to the fun of back-up care or quickly readjusting a schedule.
Lauren shared a lot of great tips for dealing with that — and I think we spent at least 10 minutes talking about pumping — but I’d like to throw out there that the “big success” part of her subtitle can happen as well. Many women have not ever taken a couple of months away from the day-to-day demands of a workplace before. Yes, there’s a newborn around, and newborns have many demands, but sometimes there can be mental space for thinking about other things too. Manoush Zomorodi’s book Bored and Brilliant discusses how she got new ideas for where she wanted her career to go during the long, phone-less walks she took with her newborn who would only sleep while in motion. I wrote the ebook What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast in the weeks after my daughter was born. I had consciously taken fewer immediate assignments because I was expecting the baby, and the lack of deadline pressure helped me find the space to try something new. If someone else has been handling some of the day-to-day responsibilities of your job while you’ve been gone, your return to work can give you the opportunity to continue delegating some of those while you choose which aspects of your job you’d most like to continue, and which you’d like to add on.
Lauren also pointed out that many wise new moms make new mom friends while on leave. These women might have little in common with you outside your new mom status, but they likely work in all sorts of different industries, and know people, and are members of various other community organizations you’ve not been part of. It’s an opportunity to massively expand your network.
If you’ve taken a maternity leave (or two, or six) and returned back to work, I’d love to hear your tips. What advice would you give a new mom who’s going through the “fifth trimester” for the first time? What helped you keep your sanity? And if you found any “big success” in the process, I would love to hear about that too!