Back-after-maternity-leave hacks, from an evening with Lauren Smith Brody

Regular blog readers/podcast listeners will recall that Sarah and I welcomed Lauren Smith Brody as a guest on Best of Both Worlds a few weeks ago. She is the former executive editor of Glamour magazine (where she was responsible for the Women of the Year awards), and is the author of the book The Fifth Trimester. The idea behind the Fifth Trimester is that the first three trimesters are the 9 months of pregnancy, and the fourth is the newborn phase combined with maternity leave. The fifth is when leave is over, and the “working mom” is born. It can be a rough first few months, as many babies still aren’t sleeping through the night, and they’re still only drinking milk (requiring much pumping for those choosing to breastfeed). The Fifth Trimester book is about what moms (and companies) can do to make the transition easier.

(One obvious answer is to offer six months of maternity leave for those who want it. But that is a larger matter, and pretty far from the current realities of the American workplace.)

Anyway, I found out that Brody was speaking at an Ellevate event downtown last night, so I decided to go and hear her.

In her talk, she offered a few very practical hacks that I thought I would pass along.

When you announce you’re pregnant, put dates on the calendar for discussing what your work situation will look like. Especially as a first time mom, you may not know what accommodations, if any, you’ll want. Maybe you won’t be interested in anything beyond maximizing hours with the baby. Or maybe you’ll decide “Now that I’ve had a baby, I can conquer the world!” and you’ll want all the new professional opportunities you can find. Either way, when you tell your boss and co-workers you’re pregnant, put some dates on the calendar for discussing how work is going. Maybe a call right before returning to work, a meeting a week or two later, another in a month or two. Having dates on the calendar magically makes things happen, and it also means that everyone knows decisions don’t have to be permanent scary things — because there’s another date on the calendar to discuss these decisions again.

Schedule something adrenaline-inducing for 2 p.m. This seems foolhardy. Everyone yawns around 2-3 p.m., and if you’re sleep deprived with a baby, you’ll be even more tired. Why schedule a presentation at 2 p.m.? The answer according to Brody is that your body will produce adrenaline for things you need to be really *on* for, and that energy can push you through the rest of the day. (Handle with care – if you think you’ll be nervous about this, better to stick to putting big stuff in the morning and trying to catch a nap in the afternoon if you can!)

Use your commute. Brody’s research found that new moms found their commutes measurably more stressful after having a baby than before. Maybe it’s a hard-stop to get to daycare pick-up, or the knowledge that this could have been time for yourself, or maybe just the feeling that you aren’t putting in enough hours at work or home and here you are sitting in this &%^$ traffic jam. In any case, try to repurpose it. She suggested using it to take hours off your work day — scheduling your first and last meetings as calls during your drive. I am not sure about this due to the safety factor, though I also know pretty much everyone does it. You can also carpool with people so that you can work every other (or two out of three, or three out of four) drives. Public transportation might make work possible. Or use it as me-time: favorite tunes, audio books, special scents to make your car an aromatherapy experience. Or… pump? I recently saw a time log where a woman was pumping during her morning and evening commutes by using a special set-up: car adapter, a cover, a hands-free nursing bra, etc. It certainly saves time!

13 thoughts on “Back-after-maternity-leave hacks, from an evening with Lauren Smith Brody

  1. One thing I’ve struggled with post-kid is the assumption many people have that I will want to back off my career. I’ve found it incredibly difficult to have these conversations with my supervisors because a) I don’t know what is reasonable to expect of myself, b) maybe backing off for a little while to recover is reasonable, but definitely not forever — but I’m worried if I do that I will be permanently mommy tracked, c) I worry about appearing excessively oppositional or anti-mom, and therefore off putting, d) I worry about being seen as a defective female who doesn’t want to spend as much time as possible with her kids. I think these were great suggestions, but underlying them are all these assumptions that your boss is interested and able to listen and be flexible. To a certain degree, Leaning in hard is necessary to convince everyone that you’re not one of “those moms” who’s just going to slack after the baby is born.

    1. @omdg – it is true that everything about mothers working, particularly in demanding jobs, winds up being complicated. Display great ambition, and people might judge you as a bad parent. Actively show you’re prioritizing your family, and people assume you’re slacking at work. And even moms who show a normal level of ambition might be seen as less serious because women in general are seen as less serious. I don’t know what the solution is to all this on a social level. I do think as individuals we just have to be as straightforward as possible, assume people can’t read our minds, and go through life telling ourselves that other people are paying less attention to us than we think. Or that if they are thinking about us, it may not matter that much in the grand scheme of things.

      1. Hmmm. I buy the idea that we should worry less about what we can’t control, but I’d argue that sometimes the *less* up front one is about doing things like sneaking out early and taking extra privileges, the more likely you are to get away with doing them. Your past posts on the subject suggest you agree with this. Maybe a mixture of asking and just doing? Probably the “right” balance is workplace specific.

      2. I appreciate how choices in work and motherhood are influenced by judgment; professional, social and personal. It’s also clear how varied everyone’s experiences are. It makes sense, ofcourse, we’re different going into being parents, so we’re different in what’s it’s like when we’re parenting and navigating what we want for the rest of our lives. How our employers think and behave represents the full spectrum. I think the key is recognizing the major transition we’re in as individuals, and as women in general. As we’re evolving, we can make the choices that feel right to us, learn from and connect with those who get us, respectfully live with those who don’t, and YES, be straightforward, helping us to be real about who we are.

  2. Pumping in the car was a life saver for me! With my oldest I had a 45 minute commute, so I would pump until about halfway, pull of in a parking lot to disconnect, then finish my drive. It was difficult to fit pumping in with a full patient schedule, so my commutes were my big sessions most days.

  3. There is no way I could pump while driving – I couldn’t even do it successfully while a passenger in a car. Awesome idea if you can make it work, but our bodies are all different, so just wanted to throw that out there in case anyone was stressing over it.

    My best tip is using commute and pumping time for ‘free’ time, because it’s likely all you are going to get. I listened to podcasts on my commute and read or knitted while I pumped.

    Also, I eventually realized that doing both drop-offs and pick-ups were making me nuts. I had the luxury of ‘letting’ my husband do drop-offs and it helped a lot.

    1. @Byrd- I’m with you. I can’t really even picture how this would work but if you can make it work, awesome! It turns two things that feel like unused/not-so-pleasant time into one time block.

      Now, on the other hand, I did manage to do all sorts of things while actually nursing a baby. Somehow that was easier than pumping.

    2. Yes — I didn’t realize it at the time we chose it, but having our first childcare (which we ended up using from ages 0 to 3) a mile from our home was GREAT. It made it equally convenient to both me and DH, and it also introduced wild and crazy possibilities, like dropping the kid at daycare and then coming home to take a shower before leaving for work, or dropping the kid at daycare and then picking up some groceries and dropping them at home before going to work. Bliss.

      1. @Alexicographer – yes, wild and crazy possibilities! When the daycare trip is short and not on the commute all sorts of things open up. I loved that my eldest’s daycare was a <10 minute walk from the house when we lived in NYC.

  4. I used to pump on my drive home from work! When my 2nd child was born I was teaching part time (80%, but I got to leave at lunch because I taught all my classes in the morning) and my ILs were watching our son. There wasn’t really anywhere at work to pump, and I had to leave right when lunch started to make it to the agreed upon pick-up time anyway. I was exclusively pumping, and lucky to have a generous supply, so I had attach the 8oz Medela bottles to my pump, use a handsfree bra to keep it on, and a car adapter to plug it in. I would drape a lightweight scarf over the whole apparatus to provide some privacy. (I only started this after I got stuck at a light with a really high truck next to me, and a man in the passenger seat looking down at me with the strangest look.) After 45 minutes in the car I had around 16ozs of milk ready to go. I would just drop it off at my ILs when I picked up my son so they had it ready for the next day. It was not only a great use of my time, but a necessity, since by the time I got in the car I hadn’t pumped in over 6 hours, and I wouldn’t have a chance for the next 1.5 hours. It ended up working great. I was quite pleased with my ingenuity.

  5. I’m finishing up my second week back after a five month leave – but only the fifth actual day, since I’m doing a phased return and the first week was thwarted by a baby who refused to take a bottle.

    I read Lauren’s book and found it really helpful in mentally prepping for my return. I’m also incredibly lucky in my circumstances – grandpa looking after the baby, flexible schedule, and supportive bosses.

    My first few days were very slow and I felt a bit grumpy about being away from my baby but not doing anything substantial. I had work to do but it wasn’t exciting or time sensitive.

    I haven’t mastered the art of working while pumping (beyond email) so I’ve been listening to podcasts.

    I’m taking a shorter than normal mat leave for the UK and have gotten some poor yous which made me feel a bit guilty. Or guilty for not feeling guilty, perhaps!

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