The 8 things to pack in your back-to-work bag

Sadly, not your cat. (But how great is this  Loeffler Randall bag ? Founder Jessie Randall is in  my book !)

Sadly, not your cat. (But how great is this Loeffler Randall bag? Founder Jessie Randall is in my book!)

I don't know about you, but I spent an inordinate number of hours of my pregnancy thinking about what to pack in my hospital bag. Then, our baby was born and I spent an inordinate number of hours of my maternity leave thinking about what I needed in the diaper bag every time we left the apartment.

What I didn't think about was my back-to-work bag. But by the second baby, I had it down. Here's your checklist:

1) Pump stuff (if you're pumping). The machine, the tubing, the cooler, the flanges (maybe my least favorite word of all time).

2) Duplicate pump stuff. Yep, you're going to want extras. Because tubing cracks, but your sanity shouldn't have to.

3) Something from home. Pictures are awfully nice. You might imagine it's torture to have to look at your baby's sweet little face on your desk all day, but it will eventually become a comfort, and just part of the scenery, not a distraction. I am also a huge advocate of bringing your "whole self" to work, and this is one easy way to show everyone around you: "Hey, I'm a mom now. But I'm also here and working. I did it. I'm doing it. You can too."

4) Extra clothes. Even if you're not breastfeeding (and occasionally leaking), you will be shocked by how stealthily babies can spit up on you. At no other stage in your career would you find a random stain down your back—hours and hours after your goodbye hug.

5) All of your numbers. These will be in your phone, but unless you're a savant number memorizer, bring a print-out anyway to soothe your paranoia (and mine): Pediatrician, caregiver or daycare, your OB/Gyn, your spouse/partner's secondary number (you know, the one you don't have memorized).

6) Your hand-off memo from back before you left. Thankfully, much of what's on there will be long-ago-taken-care-of ancient history (and it will feel great to cross those things off). But I guarantee there will be something people decided to "wait for her" on. Going through your memo to check for these things will give you something to do right away, and it'll put your mind at ease, too.

7) Something sensory and relaxing. Think: some luxe-smelling lip balm, or a piece of good chocolate. The mindful use of one of your senses has been shown to halt anxious ruminations. 

8) And food, glorious food. I really recommend packing your lunch for at least your first few days back. A) It's a guarantee that you will have time to actually find food. B) If you're pumping you have to eat to make milk. And C) It's just a nice little way to take care of yourself—or, better yet, to have your partner take care of you. It's silly, but nothing makes you feel more together than a packed lunch. If you got out of the house, and got to work, and did it with a healthy, lovely lunch, you must have your act together, you capable woman! Yes, one turkey sandwich can do all that.

Lessons on working-mom anxiety from Zika (yes, from Zika)

While researching my book over the past many months, I've gotten to know the Seleni Institute, an absolutely one-of-kind resource for maternal mental wellness. I can't tell you how much I wish this place had opened its doors two years earlier when I really needed it. Seleni provides counseling for depression, anxiety, fertility struggles, and miscarriage, along with parenting help, breastfeeding support groups—and acupuncture and massage. Even its wallpaper is soothing. 

Recently, Seleni has fielded many calls from panic-stricken women about the Zika virus, which can have devastating effects on a developing fetus. This week, I sat in on a training session Seleni hosted for therapists on how to counsel these women, and I was struck that so much of what was suggested is just plain old good advice for anyone whose worrying is getting in the way of their work or their mothering. Things like:

Get out of your head and into your body: To stop the vicious cycle of rumination over a worry (which can make it worse), try distracting yourself with a mindful use of one of your five senses: a warm shower on your skin, a nice-smelling lotion for your hands. "These things sound very simple, but they distract in a healthy way," says Seleni psychologist Shara Marrero Brofman, PsyD.

Have an elevator speech ready for anxious family and friends: You know what makes anxiety worse? Having other people anxious for you. To give yourself some reassuring control, realize that most people's nosiness comes from a place of kindness and concern, and formulate a little response you can have ready. You might want a one-liner for people you aren't that close to ("Thank you for your concern") as well as a longer version for people like your mom, who might just need to be told that you've thought things through in an informed way. 

And most of all, worry well. "It's not realistic to tell people not to worry, but we can help them contain that worry," says Seleni clinical director Christiane Manzella, PhD. Worrying can become a compulsion, but so can reassurance. One suggestion: Set aside a time to worry. "Tell yourself, okay, I'm going to use part of my lunchtime at work to go online and look at only these two websites," says Dr. Manzella. By giving the worrying some boundaries you'll keep it from creeping into every moment of your day.