first day back

Have you seen the awesome lady with the breast-milk bag dress?

image via  Kasey Jones

image via Kasey Jones

image via  Kasey Jones

image via Kasey Jones

image via  Kasey Jones

image via Kasey Jones

image via  Kasey Jones

image via Kasey Jones

As reported by ScaryMommy, artist and mom and two Kasey Jones (<--- click through to see more of her gorgeous work) has released a series of images of herself at the office in what she dubs a "working mother suit," an outfit covered entirely in breast-milk bags. "I created this series to bring awareness to the harsh realities of what it takes to be a working mother," she writes in her artist statement. "Our system does not support new mothers or families during this transitional phase. It was my duty as a social artist to shed light on how taxing it is on our physical and mental health." 

Kasey is heroic. Both for shining this light and for creating such feminist pieces in an art world that's still very often a boys' club.

And -- this is what I hope everyone seeing these pictures takes away from the experience: 

We all have a duty to "wear" our motherhood at work.

Perhaps not in the form of sterile zippy bags, but in more quotidien ways:
- By being un-shy about needing to schedule in pumping.
- By welcoming questions about motherhood from colleagues (especially more junior ones) who are curious.
- By being open about your new-working-mom challenges (the exhaustion, the unhealed scars, the daycare that charges you extra for every minute you're late)...and then also being open about your successes big and small. The stuff you got accomplished simply by showing up. That's what moves the needle on workplace culture for all of us. One ounce and one parent at a time.

How do you wear your motherhood?

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.

5 perfect things to say to a friend just back from maternity leave

I rediscovered this note recently, sent to me on my first day back at work by a dear girlfriend who knew just what I needed to hear—and she hadn't even had kids yet! I am not similarly blessed in the perfect-words-on-demand department, but my research for The Fifth Trimester has taught me several more....

"Don't worry about calling me back!" Call, email, text, do it all to show her that you're thinking of her—but always include the clarification that this is a message of love, not one meant to be added to her to-call-back list.

"Can I give you a ride?" I surveyed hundreds of new moms and found out that their commutes were measurably more stressful during their first few months back at work. If you can give your friend a ride, offering her found time so she can pump in the passenger seat, or do a work call so she can leave a bit early, or grab a nap, or just talk? That's lifesaver territory.

"There's no one 'right' way to feel right now." Some new working moms are wracked with guilt about working. Others feel guilty for loving the (very adult, nicely clothed, actually-hot coffee-sipping) escape that work provides. However your friend feels, help her know that it's normal.

"I blame America." Here's how this one goes: She complains about her boss, or her husband, or her mother. You listen, of course—these can be really fraught relationships during the Fifth Trimester. It's tempting at this moment to fuel her boss-bashing with a rising chorus of "hell yeahs." But if that just makes her angrier, are you really helping? After all, she has to face this person tomorrow—and do good work for him/her. So instead do what one reproductive psychiatrist I interviewed suggests: Listen, tell her she's right to feel the way that she does, and then go macro. Help your friend see that the inequities she's dealing with are not normal out there in the rest of the universe, where paid parental leave and nursing in public are standard. She's the sane one. American culture is to blame. (And by making it through the Fifth Trimester, she can help change that culture from within.)