Like any good child of the ‘90s who’s now a working mom, I often find myself turning the events of my child’s day into Alanis Morissette lyrics: Isn’t it ironic… that you finally fell asleep right as the plane touched down? Isn’t it ironic... that you just spit up all of that milk that I missed a meeting to pump for you?
And my favorite, way back from the horror-filled night before I went back to work after maternity leave: Isn’t it ironic...that sleep training you was harder than labor but it worked (thanks to Daddy’s physically sitting on me to keep me from running in there), only now that you’re officially going seven straight hours in a row, I’m lying in bed. Wide awake. Panicked.
Please, new working mothers of America, if you are heading back to work soon, learn from my mistakes, and from the eternal wisdom that I gleaned (years too late, but oh, well) from the hundreds of moms I interviewed for my new book, The Fifth Trimester: The Working Mom’s Guide to Style, Sanity, and Big Success After Baby. These were CEO moms and police moms, and waitress moms, and lawyer moms, and while I don’t mean to competitive-complain on their behalf, many of these women had it far harder than I did: mere days of leave, clueless bosses, partners who were out of work, no partner at all. And yet: They made it through one of life’s hardest transitions still optimistic enough about overall human evolution to generously share what they’d learned. Behold, your bedtime reading so you sleep better on this, the night before the rest of your life:
Girl Scout The Heck Out Of This Situation
Eat a sleeve of Thin Mints if it helps, and then turn your front hall into a staging area a Red Cross team would be proud of. Diaper bag: packed; breast pump, also packed...with the pump, and extra baggies and bra pads, and extra tubing because that stuff will screw up your day faster than Julia from HR. Dig up all of the work essentials you haven’t wanted to think about since the moment you left (choking-hazard lanyard and fish-face ID, looking at you). And then throw some things onto the ready pile that actually aren’t essential, but that you know will help. A beautiful framed picture of your baby. A stupid-expensive brand of granola bar. Things that make you feel like you did something for yourself, because you did.
Grow A New Kind Of Umbilical Cord
Good news: Your phone will never shrivel up, fall off, and surprise you in your baby’s diaper one day. The other good news: It is your new lifeline to connect you to your offspring. If you were ever someone who let her battery dip down into the yellow or red zone, you are not her any more. Charge that puppy up and buy a backup battery, maybe two. One for the diaper bag, one for the pump bag. In your photos on your phone, set up a Safe For Work album of no-nip baby photos that you can pull out on a moment’s notice when everyone in the meeting wants to coo over your (admittedly uniquely gorgeous) baby. (Pro tip: Have a friend vet your selections so your hormones don’t trick you into thinking that the poop splash incident of 2017 is office-appropriate.) More phone must-dos: Establish realistic expectations with your caregiver (whether that’s daycare, a nanny, a family member, or your partner) about how much you want to know about what’s going on at home. Will getting a cute video of your baby doing that thing with her lips where she looks like she’s nursing in her sleep make you feel a) assured that she’s well cared for, or b) distracted and ravenous for her? Only you can know, and this might take some trial and error, but it’s well worth thinking through.
Prepare Yourself For Badass Negotiating
Okay, sure, in a perfect world you would have already had the conversation with your boss (and perhaps your boss’ boss) about how you want to work from home two days a week, or skip the annual company trip to Guam, or move into that other office that has a door that actually closes. But if you’re just now realizing that you want to ask for some “accommodations,” my best advice is this: Do not think of them as accommodations. They are workarounds that can—with the right research and spin, baby, spin—benefit not just you but the company too. So: Do that research. Figure out what workarounds other companies like yours offer, and show that by getting with the program your company will improve its reputation, recruiting, and retention. Make a case for how your deliverables (the things your job is paying you to do) will still get delivered, even more efficiently than they did before. Anticipate your supervisor’s worries, and have solutions pre-thought-out and ready. You know how you hold the new diaper over the naked penis while you’re changing the old diaper so that your baby doesn’t pee on his own face? Like that.
Put A Date On Your Calendar 3 Months From Now...
...because the Fifth Trimester is just another trimester. It’s a time of massive emotional and physical transition, and parts of it suck harder than a hospital-grade breast pump—especially if you’re going back before you feel ready. But it’s finite. Knowing that helps so much. You will put one foot in front of the other because you want to...or because you have to...or because of some combination of the two. And if you can manage to be honest along the way—to share with your colleagues both the stumbles and triumphs of new working parenthood—you will move mountains. Not just for your own career and family, but for everyone coming up under you. And isn’t that exactly what motherhood is all about?
Sleep tight. You’ve got this.
Lauren Smith Brody is the founder of The Fifth Trimester movement and the author of the new book, The Fifth Trimester: The Working Mom’s Guide to Style, Sanity, and Big Success After Baby. The former executive editor of Glamour magazine, she lives in NYC with her husband and two little boys.