Motherhood & the Traditional Workplace
You’ve probably heard all about the Fourth Trimester, which typically happens during your maternity leave, when you and your sweet new bundle of joy are wrapped up in each other and living in sync.
After the Fourth Trimester, when your baby is just 12 weeks old—or younger!—you return to work and enter the not-so-talked-about Fifth Trimester. (Author Lauren Brody coined this term, and I think it's a brilliant way to describe the transition back to work as a mother!)
It’s not easy, it’s not seamless, and you’re often expected to be back where you were before you left — in mind, body, and spirit.
Like you weren’t away and missing vital information for 3 months.
Like your life didn’t drastically turn upside down.
You’re expected to function like you’re getting a full night of sleep.
And don't even think of taking a day off when your newborn gets her first cold.
Going from maternity leave to a full-time career routine is a crazy expectation.
If you really sit down and think about it... your body, your hormones, and your baby are not ready for a full time work schedule 8-12 weeks after you’ve given birth. It takes 10 months to grow and give birth to a baby.
I chatted with some of my closest mama friends about this and we all agreed that we didn't feel like we had anything figured out until around the 9 month mark. That's about the time where we felt more comfortable in our new life as a mama (or mama to two/three/four.) Our bodies finally started to feel like our own again. The unfortunate reality is that most mamas aren’t able to wait 9 months to go back to work.
I was recently texting with a girlfriend—a first-time mom to the cutest 8 month old—and she was venting to me about how her workplace has been treating her differently since she returned from maternity leave. It seems like they are almost punishing her for having taken the time off. (And let’s remember she wasn’t on a 12 week tropical vacation!)
I experienced a similar situation at my corporate job before I decided not to return after maternity leave with my firstborn, Ryan. You can read more about that story here, but suffice to say, motherhood brings a whole new level of stress, logistical madness, and guilt.
Dad Gets Judged, Too
Even if you have a super supportive husband who is totally hands-on, their employer often expects the mother to be the one to drop everything and leave work if the baby has a fever, is throwing up and clearly unable to stay at daycare.
It doesn’t matter if Mom is the breadwinner of the family and in the middle of defending a litigation case in front of a judge (not to mention, Dad has accumulated weeks of unused vacation time)... Dad will still get grief when he needs to go and pick up a feverish baby.
And then there's the childcare dilemma...
You see articles like this about companies “redefining” maternity leave. Places that offer child care within the building, so you can nurse on demand. Places that provide access to sleep and overnight support… but the very fact that there are articles like these floating around shows that this isn’t reality for the majority of moms (and dads) out there.
If you're not lucky enough to have family nearby (or you don't feel comfortable having your child with extended family during the week) you get to start the arduous task of finding a good and affordable childcare provider.
All across the country (this definitely isn't an LA-only thing!) you need to call and put your name on a waitlist pretty much from the moment you pee and see two lines appear on your pregnancy test. Before you've even picked a name for your baby, you have to start the logistical planning of going back to work postpartum, and you’re not even showing yet!
Beyond the logistics of childcare... there's the guilt. I don’t want to call this mommy guilt because it's not. It's something that never leaves you and it has to do with more than just motherhood.
It's the guilt that takes over when you have a mini version of you living outside the womb.
When you’re at work, you miss them and feel guilty for leaving them for so many hours each day and week.
But when you’re not at work, you have guilt about not being focused on work 100% of the time, or guilt because you have to take time off for doctors appointments, or when your child is sick.
You are in a constant state of feeling like you are never enough.
So what do you do?
For so many new mamas, leaving the workforce is not an option... but that doesn’t mean they should just have to put up with the way corporate America functions. It seems like such a huge battle for women to take on: to change the way we view and treat mothers in the workforce.
I’ve seen many women dive down deep and start a side-hustle in hopes of one day letting that side business be their full-time income so they no longer will have to deal with the the stress of childcare issues and expectations and lack of support in corporate America.
A close colleague of mine was telling me how happy she was to have built her own business that gave her the freedom to attend field trips with her kiddos and not have to worry about taking time off for a doctor appointment.
After the 3rd sick day in just 2 weeks with the nasty flu lurking, she was relieved to have the flexibility of owning her own business, because her mama friends with sick littles were left scrambling because they still have to work but have no childcare. She reminded herself that this was exactly why she built her own business with margin, so she could absorb family time and sick days.
We both knew there was no way that would have flown in her corporate job!
So often when it comes to struggles in motherhood we forget that we are not alone.
We forget there are other women feeling the exact same pains and emotions we are.
We forget that other mamas have walked this journey too.
While I don’t yet have a solution on how to tackle the fifth trimester or how to make a change in corporate America I do know that we can be here for one another.
We can support each other through the trials and tribulations of motherhood.
We can share our own struggles to remind the mama sitting next to us, the mama who is 7 states away, and the mama who is breaking that we are not alone.
When we see or know that a woman is coming back from maternity leave we can extend more grace, we can see how we can support her, and as we transition out of the newborn and toddler phases we can remember the struggles of those early years so we can be an advocate and ally for future mamas.
This conversation is a major part of the mission behind the Happy Mom Conference. The struggle of returning to the workplace, of figuring out your new life, and finding a way to build your BEST life…
The Fifth Trimester with Lauren Brody
The first three trimesters (and the fourth—those blurry newborn days) are for the baby, but the Fifth Trimester is when the working mom is born. No matter what the job or how you define work, you’re going to have a lot of questions. When will I go back? How should I manage that initial “I want to quit” attack? Flex-time or full-time? How can I achieve 50/50 at home with my partner? What’s the best option for childcare? Is it possible to look like I slept for eight hours instead of three? Why is there never a convenient space to pump?
Whether you’re in the final stages of pregnancy or hitting the panic button on your last day of leave, The Fifth Trimester is your one-stop shop for the honest, funny, and comforting tips, to-do lists, and take-charge strategies you’ll need to embrace your new identity as a working parent and set yourself up for success.