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When I returned to work after having my first baby, I was a mess — whacked hormones, milk leaking through my blouse, and OMG-I-miss-him-so heartache. I had a busy job and leaving work on time was never easy. At the end of the day, you could find me making a mad dash down 7th Avenue in New York City to catch the train home.
I still have no idea how I survived that period of my life. Little did I know that I was under observation by a then-single colleague, Lauren Smith Brody. In fact, I was her “pump mentor.” I know this because Brody would go on to become a mother of two and the author of a phenomenal new book, The Fifth Trimester: The Working Mom’s Guide to Style, Sanity, and Big Success After Baby. And there I am — amidst all the spot-on childcare, career, relationship, style, and general sanity-saving advice — on page 154 talking about mastering the one-arm-across-the-boobs hold, so you can be covered should someone walk in on you mid-pump.
“Like so many American moms, I had to return to work before I was really 100 percent ready,” says Brody. “What helped the most was being surrounded by colleagues who were transparent about both the challenges and triumphs of new working motherhood. Yes, sometimes they looked like they struggled, but ultimately they just kept going, and that helped me see that the transition back to work — the Fifth Trimester, as I call it — is finite and surmountable.”
There’s a lesson for us all here: working moms, you never know who you will inspire. Moms-to-be and new moms: you can find invaluable inspiration in the office. Specifically, Brody suggests having these types of friends when you head back to work after maternity leave:
1. The work friend who’s one baby step ahead of you.
How are you going to handle it all? How are you not going to lose it when the daycare sends you a video of your baby gurgling into the camera? How are you going to focus at the meeting when all you can think about is what your baby is up to? (Likely napping once again, but still.) The answer: you are going to do it just like that other slightly-less-brand-new mom in your office does it — something Brody frequently heard from the 700 moms she interviewed for the book.
“So many moms told me they had a special bond with a colleague who was just a couple of months ahead of them and full of up-to-the-minute advice,” says Brody. “At my own office, there was a ‘magic bassinet’ that was passed down every three months or so … I remember looking at that cradle at 2 AM in my apartment and feeling the support of the three moms who’d come before me, and whose babies all (eventually) slept through the night! I knew mine would, too … one day.”
2. The friend you can wail to.
In the months after I returned to work, there were many times I felt completely and utterly overwhelmed. I was getting used to my new job (motherhood), doing my professional job on less sleep, and juggling them both. The only other woman in my office who’d recently had a baby was my boss, and I sure wasn’t going to commiserate with her! But my friend Wendy was always just a call away. “I think my head might explode!” I told her one particularly challenging day. “Careful, I’m pretty sure insurance won’t cover that,” she said, and it felt so good to laugh.
“On average, the women I interviewed told me that they went back to work three to four months before they felt emotionally back to normal,” Brody confirms. “Little ‘wit’s end’ outbursts are bound to happen, and the maternal mental health experts I talked to all advised having a self-care plan just in case. Everything from a quickie meditation app to a walk around the block while eating 10 M&Ms — yes, really, chocolate therapy. One of the easiest and most fulfilling plans, of course, is calling a friend.”
3. The work friend who’ll catch your eye at the meeting and let you know you’re leaking.
She’s the equivalent of the saintly person who informs you of the spinach in your teeth, only this situation’s a wee bit more embarrassing. Note: do not wear silk blouses when you are nursing. What was I thinking? “Patterns are good!” suggests Brody, laughing. “And breast pads in every bag!”
4. The work friend who’ll cover for you.
There will come a day when you might have to miss a morning meeting on account of a pediatrician appointment or need to dash out of work early to get home to a sick baby. This is why you need an “office wife” who will cover for you at a meeting or let people know they can direct your work her way. She will also be astute at playing defense should your boss ask where you are.
“In a perfect world, you wouldn’t have to be secretive about this stuff,” says Brody. “But these little moments give you practice for bigger times you might need to lean on each other, too, like vacation. I know, I know, vacation — what’s that? But you are going to take one again one day, promise.”
5. The work friend who’s an at-home mom now.
You can turn to this pal for perspective.
“It’s a really common fantasy to go back to work and dream of quitting,” Brody explains. “And that may well be what you want one day, but there’s nothing like a stay-at-home mom to help you see that being home is hard work, too. Plus, there are probably things she envies about your situation — your sense of identity, your paycheck, your ability to pee whenever you need — and those can be downright eye-opening and inspiring!”