Expect a military baby boom in exactly nine months

 Get it? Boom.

Get it? Boom.

You've probably heard the great news that Defense Secretary Ash Carter recently announced that all branches of the U.S. Military will now grant 12 weeks of paid maternity leave to mothers in the service. What you might not have heard is this big, huge, giant, ugly asterisk: 

*[big huge asterisk]

This actually downgrades the 18-week leave that was passed back in August for the Marines and the Navy. But, since it's the military, they're kind of regimented about the whole thing, and Navy/Marine mamas who become pregnant by the magical date of March 3 will still qualify for their 18 weeks. ("The date of pregnancy will be determined by a privileged medical care provider," according to this release from the Navy. Privileged? How?) Which means, I hope, that a whole lot of couples are doing their best to make it happen, and make it happen fast, so Thanksgiving can be extra thankful this year.

 Official U.S. Navy file photo

Official U.S. Navy file photo

The country's first uterine transplant (this one's not for the squeamish, but man is it cool)

 The groundbreaking team of surgeons at work. Photo courtesy of The Cleveland Clinic

The groundbreaking team of surgeons at work. Photo courtesy of The Cleveland Clinic

How completely amazing is this? Doctors at the Cleveland Clinic performed America's first uterus transplant this week, as part of clinical trial on patients with Uterine Factor Infertility (UFI). The surgery, which took nine hours, was performed on a 26 year old. UFI affects women who cannot carry a pregnancy either because they were born without a uterus, or theirs doesn't function.

That's all the Cleveland Clinic is saying at the moment, at least until the press conference next week, but I'm fascinated, and of course I can't help wondering: Who would volunteer to go first? Who is this 26 year old? You don't need a uterus to live, after all. But this woman...she must really want a baby, and she must really want to carry it herself.

A bunch of the women I interviewed for my book did IVF, or adopted, or tried for years to have a baby one way or another before succeeding. Those babies? They were really wanted. And those mothers? Their Fifth Trimester experiences were not markedly different than anyone else's—except for one thing: their expectations. They expected to be so happy, so on cloud nine, that when things got hard or felt uncomfortable, they were more likely to be upset with themselves for not loving the whole experience of motherhood. But babies are babies (they cry, they don't speak much English). And jobs are jobs (they require hard work, sometimes at annoying hours). And those realities have nothing to do with the road that got you to motherhood. 

So 26-year-old amazingly brave lady: Good for you. I hope it all goes well and you change the medical world and have the baby you must want so badly. And I hope when you are healed and back up and at 'em, and maybe even back at your job, you know this: It's okay not to love every single moment of being a working mother...and to still love your kid extraordinarily.

I have a theory about rough maternity leaves...

 Crustacean Will, at four months...

Crustacean Will, at four months...

 ...and Teddy, exactly 3 Halloweens later

...and Teddy, exactly 3 Halloweens later

Apparently, I'm fertile in late September. Both of my boys were June babies, with Teddy actually due on Will's third birthday. So, both of my maternity leaves were over the summer. And both of my guys fit into the same un-Kosher lobster costume for their first Halloween at age 4.5 months, about six weeks after I'd returned to work. That's where the similarities ended.

You know how they say that a bad dress rehearsal means you'll have a stellar opening night? And that rain on your wedding day (thank you, Alanis) predicts a happy marriage? I'm quite certain that the same algorithm applies to maternity leaves. Because one of mine was brutally hard, with a pretty okay work reentry. And the other was exactly the opposite: blissfully awesome leave, more challenging return to work.

Which is not to say that if you enjoy your leave, it's going to be all crap and hell when you go back. More like: If you have a hard leave, know that work might actually make you feel steadier and more like yourself. And if you loved your time at home with your dreamy easy baby, be careful to manage your expectations a bit returning to the workplace. And either way, definitely order the lobster. 

See it, be it, kids!

 Mom's ensemble could use a little work, but other than that, looking good! Photo via  City Dads Group

Mom's ensemble could use a little work, but other than that, looking good! Photo via City Dads Group

You know what's even better than curvy Barbie? The new Stay-at-home dad Lego! I know, I know, it's a long three years until your newborn is able to play with such a choking hazard, so in the meantime, might I suggest a soothing bedtime reading of my friend Cristina Alger's brand new (and totally delightful) novel, This Was Not the Plan, about Charlie, a workaholic single-dad lawyer who ends up—er, ah, um—deciding to stay home with his adorably quirky son. Trying not to give away plot points but you catch my drift:
Stay-at-home fathers are having a major moment.

A HuffPost analysis of 2014 Census data estimated that 16% of stay-at-home parents are fathers. A less official analysis of my own T5T surveys and interviews for my book found that that 16% isn't enough—yet—to bust the cultural stigma that many men feel about being home with their babies when their wives go back to work.

One father I interviewed spoke so soulfully about his time at home with his infant daughter—and then asked that I keep him anonymous, lest future employers peg him as someone who opted out and isn't serious about his career. I asked my friend Lance Somerfeld, co-founder of City Dads Group, a multi-city network of SAHDs, for his advice for the guy (which easily applies to any moms heading back to work too): "It's normal to feel uncertainty about reentering the workforce after years of being an at-home parent," says Lance. "But being an at-home parent actually prepares you better than you think. The important parenting skills of time-management, love for learning, multi-tasking, and finding your inner child all help unlock a creative side that would be a valuable asset to many potential employers."

My take? Let's all seize upon this cultural "moment," Legos and all, not just as some novelty, but as an opportunity to break down any remaining stigma. We can do that at home by inviting the "should one of us stay home?" conversation, certainly. And at work...well, at work, don't be afraid to hire a former stay-at-home dad who supported his wife's career!

Take a picture. It'll last longer.

Here's what I see when I look at this picture:
Foreground: My beautiful, glowing sister Blair, proud as heck to be an aunt to this adorably baby-acne'd little boy, my first son Will.
Background: Me, feeling and looking like I've been hit by a truck, with absolutely no clue that that feeling will not pass for three more months. Until right when it's time to go back to work.

Here's what my son, now age 7, sees:
"Oh, Mommy, is that me with Aunt B?! Can I frame it and have it in my room right on the window where I can look at it every day?"

Lesson: Take the picture. One day even the ones that remind you of the hard times will feel like a triumph.

How much did you know about your workplace's parental policies before you were pregnant?

If you mentor any young women in your life—at work or maybe just among your family or friends—undoubtedly they've asked you something about so-called work-life balance, or how to have the full life they envision for themselves, eventually. Maybe you've handed them a copy of Lean In or Bossypants or Why Not Me (always a good move), or maybe, like me, you've offered them some more concrete advice—things like, "don't wait until you feel 100% 'ready' to have kids," or, "make sure you take one great trip with your partner before you try to get pregnant."

Here's what I should have said but didn't: "Before you take any new job, find out about the maternity leave." (And now you can—check out List Your Leave and Fairygodboss!)

I stayed at my previous employer, a big magazine company, for almost 13 years. When I started, my boyfriend lived in a different city and was just beginning to think about going to medical school. Kids felt centuries away. Thankfully, there was a happy ending waiting for me when I needed it six years into the job: My company's policies were decent, and more than that, its culture was downright loving. 

But what I didn't know then that I do now is that these workplace policies matter long before you're in the market to buy burp cloths and read blogs like this one. When you are 22 or 28 (or 37 or 40) and haven't had a kid yet, you are still very impacted:

  • By the 9-months-along co-worker you know you'll be covering for (Is that expected? Is there a budget line for extra fill-in help? Is the general mood congenial, or will you feel taken advantage of?).
  • By the boss who paid his or her dues and thinks that's just how it should be. Or by the boss who changed the rules for the better.
  • By the sense of gender equality (or lack thereof) that's fostered by the similarities (or lack thereof) between the company's maternity and paternity leave policies. That trickles over, big-time, into the greater corporate culture.

You know what I'd tell someone now, after interviewing 100 women in wildly varied workplaces for my book? Look at the parental leave policies around adoption. Are they the same as for parents who conceive their own children? To me, that tells you everything you need to know.

Oh wow, shocker! Look what keeps babies healthy.

hand-palm-baby-medium.jpg

Years ago, when launching a new American magazine, my colleagues and I often flipped through a bunch of titles out of Australia for inspiration. Why? Those magazines were sexier and more rule-breaking, and did not give a shit, frankly, about being PC. Years later, American newsstands kind of caught up, but by then the Aussies were on to bigger and better things.

So I was completely un-shocked, when doing research my book The Fifth Trimester, I discovered that many of the best studies about the efficacy of paid parental leave came straight from our cooler cousins Down Under, where mothers get—wait for it—up to 18 weeks of paid leave after the birth or adoption of a child. (Reminder that here in the U.S., parents get zero (0) weeks of paid leave. And how on earth can you study the efficacy locally of something that doesn't exist?)

Here's the latest, an article that shows that moms who take parental leave are: 
More likely to...
...breastfeed longer
...keep their babies' immunizations up to date
And less likely to
...have babies with asthma
...have babies who have bronchiolitis.

Thank you, and g'day, mates.

Where do new moms go to think?

 Deep thoughts, rinse, repeat. The T5T equivalent of a spa vacation.

Deep thoughts, rinse, repeat. The T5T equivalent of a spa vacation.

This week's New Yorker features a longish-but-worth-it essay by a really fantastic writer I know, Ada Calhoun, who spends her days, like I do, library hopping. With peace, quiet, and a coterie of people my mom would call "straight out of Central Casting," libraries are a writing mother's dream. Most of The Fifth Trimester was written at two libraries I will now love forever, The Hampton Library in Bridgehampton, NY, and the quirky, uptight Society Library on East 79th Street in NYC. Here's the twist: At both, I sat just outside of the children's libraries because I found the background hum of little-kid voices inspiring. Where my own children would have been distracting, strangers' kids cued the Whitney Houston ballad "I Believe The Children Are Our Future" in me every time.
Anyway.
I wish I had known back in my own Fifth Trimester that there would, eventually, be spaces beyond my own bath toy-strewn shower where I would do actual creative thinking again. I wish I'd found mine sooner.
Keep your eyes open for yours.

If corporate America did this one thing more often, everything might change....

Bravo, Fox News. Three words I never ever thought my fingers would type, but I'll say it again: BRAVO, FOX NEWS. The network just announced that it's promoting anchor Ainsley Earhardt—while she's on maternity leave with her new daughter Hayden. When the 39 year old returns to the network on Feb. she'll take over from Elisabeth Hasselbeck as co-host of the top-rated Fox & Friends. Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes praised Earhardt's "relentless work ethic, congeniality, and enthusiasm."

Sure, it's a great PR move for the network, especially in an election year when family leave policies are front and center on the debate stage, but Earhardt's promotion sends a deeper message: Parental leave is not a break or a slow-down—it's but a blip in a larger career that will continue to grow.

Years ago, a colleague I looked up to who was about two years ahead of me on the having-babies track was promoted when she was 8 months pregnant.
Here's what that cost the company:
- eh, a couple of months of increased salary while she was on leave.
Here's what the company gained:
- a motivated, valued employee who came back happy, and,
- countless other future-mama employees like me who saw that if they stayed and worked hard, motherhood would never be penalized.

How much of the reason you work is because you want to set an example for your baby one day?

 We share some DNA. Work ethic? TBD.

We share some DNA. Work ethic? TBD.

This was always one of my default "why I work" reasons (aside from, you know, the paycheck and the free Keurig coffee). It reassured me, as I kissed my baby goodbye in the morning, to think: He'll do this himself one day. He'll see that hard work is good and worthwhile and fulfilling. I still believe all of that setting-a-good-example stuff, but my friend Allison—one of the hardest working and most fulfilled workers I know—made me do a bit of a re-think. I was reading back through the transcript of my interview with her for the book. Listen to this bit:

Lauren: What about the example that your working sets for your boys?
Allison: But I don't work because of the example it sets for my boys.
Lauren: Wait, really?
Allison: I don't think it sets any different an example whether you work or stay home. I work because it makes me happier every day. I think once you wrestle with that and make that realization and get comfortable with it, it is no longer a choice. I am a much happier person because I have the intellectual challenge of work. I know that this is the right choice for me. I have no idea if it's better for society, or better for kids, to have mothers who work full-time. But I know it's better for me, and for my family. We are all much happier because I work.

Huh. That was eye-opening to me. I think we're both right, actually. Like Allison, I work because it makes me happy and fulfilled. And that's the example I want to set for my children: Do the thing—even if it's hard—that makes you happy and fulfilled. Do the thing that makes you feel like your life is being used well.

 

Baby as intern. Good idea? Bad idea? Discuss

You've been out on maternity leave. You come back, and then, a couple of months in: #workfail. Your nanny calls in sick, or your daycare is (whoops) closed for the national holiday that your workplace doesn't necessarily observe. That's what happened to my endocrinologist friend Maria who sent me this picture of her brilliant daughter Olivia. "I was out sick last week, and had patients who needed to be seen, so when I arrived at daycare and found it closed, we just kept driving to the office," says Maria. "So, here's Liv, in her fort made out of styrofoam drug shipment containers. Her toys? Yeah, those would be a plush stuffed ovary and testicle and my orchidometer (an instrument to assess testicular volume)! She did great! Making it all work is not an optional choice. But we are smiling through it!"

The book is coming, the book is coming!

Yesterday was a big day. I spent $50 at Kinkos printing out The Entire First Draft of My Book. It's the first time I've actually killed trees in this whole writing process (bless the cloud), but man it felt great to hold this in my hands: 732 women surveyed, 100 moms (and a few dads) interviewed, 300+ pages written. In my survey was able to see that women who said they'd had a working mom mentor (WMM) had a much easier transition, both at work and at home. I hope the women in this book can be surrogate WMMs to millions of other new moms. 

Is there any camaraderie like pumping camaraderie?

Recently, my group chat and I celebrated the return of Ashley's hospital grade rental pump. "Adieu!" she texted victoriously. I was the first among the four of us to pump, and I indoctrinated poor Ash seven years ago, when she walked into my living room for a baby visit while I was on some hormonal high of immodesty, pumping away. Her kindness could not hide the horror on her face. Fast forward several years and eight babies among us four working-mom friends, and Ashley's own rental Symphony was a staple on our (child-free!!!) girls' trip this past fall. Ash boldly pumped everywhere we went, including on a hike, in the car, and on the plane. Goodbye, friend.

 Our fifth wheel

Our fifth wheel