the fifth trimester

What about when Mommy cries? (What about when it's AT WORK?)

Photo via  Flickr  user raruschel (Raissa Ruschel)

Photo via Flickr user raruschel (Raissa Ruschel)

A funny thing happens when you return to work before you feel like you're on solid ground, emotionally: You get emotional at work. I go into this in a lot more detail in my book, but I'll sum it up here: The 700+ women I surveyed said that they felt "back to normal" emotionally right around six months after giving birth, on average. You know where I'm going with this. By then, maternity leave was a distant speck in the rear view mirror.

It's the worst! The last thing you want to look like at work is a mess (and really, you're not a mess...think about all of the executive functioning skills it took just to get out of the house). And yet, there you are, crying at the office Keurig.

What helps (besides longer, paid maternity leave)? The experts I interviewed offered up wonderful ideas for self-care plans, little escape hatches for when you need to get your shit together, and fast. But, as you know, I'm also a fan of bringing your whole self to work and displaying some of those vulnerabilities. Can that include tears? If part of the point of The Fifth Trimester is showing your coworkers that they can get through this transition too (and still succeed at work), is it acceptable to cry?

"I'm by no means an advocate of being a leaky, sobby, out-of-control employee," Anne Kreamer, author of It's Always Personal: Navigating Emotions in the New Workplace told the audience of female lawyers at a lunch hosted by Law & Reorder that I attended this week. "But if you shed an occasional tear, it's okay." I hung on her every word—as a longtime big-media executive and mother of two, Kreamer knows her stuff—and learned these three things about crying at work:

1) Women cry differently than men do: "Women's tear ducts are anatomically different than men's," Kreamer told us. The result: Women have a higher volume of tears, and those tears are more likely to fall down their cheeks and be visible. So this is not a matter of women being hysterical and men being withholders. It's just how we're built.

2) Some crying requires managing up: "If you're facing a significant stressor," says Kreamer—and I will pause here to note that returning from maternity leave counts—"it's actually incumbent on you to mention that to your employer. Be clear and get ahead of it."

3) Crying actually does make you feel better: Cue that old song from Free to Be You and Me (which really holds up, by the way). "No one wants to cry at work, but you can take it as a helpful signal that you need to sit down and figure out what's really going on," says Kreamer. "Women report crying at work most often because they feel angry, not sad, and that can be a catalyst for hormone release in the body." Huh. I flipped to the index of Kreamer's (excellent, really recommend it) book to learn more. She writes: "Crying stimulates the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps us feel better—and that also reduces prolactin production, which eventually helps curb the flow of tears, resetting our emotional equilibrium."

So cry! Like every other little bit of The Fifth Trimester, it's temporary and surmountable. I leave you with this gem.

5 hidden ways motherhood impacts your career choices

Because, whether we like to admit it or not, it does. So let's own that.

When the Harvard Business Review released this story and an accompanying ICEDR report on Millennial women in the workplace, several news outlets latched on to its primary finding: Women don't leave their jobs because they want better work/life balance. They leave, first and foremost, for better pay. And indeed, the wage gap is real and persistent, with women making about 7% less than men—only about half of which can be accounted for by the old "she doesn't want to work as hard because she has kids" argument.

But, you guys. Check out this chart (the top five reasons baby-making-age women leave their companies) and let's give it the old fortune cookie treatment, but instead of adding "in bed" to each option, add "because as a mother...." Go ahead, try it. You'll see that motherhood infiltrates all of the reasons.

Taking it point by point....

1) "I found a job elsewhere that pays more money" because as a mother, I need to support my family and pay for childcare. 

2) "There are not enough opportunities for learning and development for me here" because as a mother, I need to know I can eventually advance to a leadership role and create a workplace that works for my life—and my peers'.

3) "The work here is not as interesting and as meaningful as I would like" because as a mother, if I'm going to spend my time away from my baby, you'd better believe I want to be doing work that feels worthwhile!

4) "There is not a fair balance between how hard I work and the compensation I receive" because as a mother that feels especially crappy for the exact reasons described above.

5) "We are starting a family, and I would like to spend more time with them" because as a mother, time is fleeting, and while I know I won't get these baby years back, I also don't want to lose years of my career.

The subtext all boils down to workplace culture and motherhood—two things that aren't at all easy to separate. You aren't only a worker at work and only a mother at home. Being a parent affects your outlook on nearly everything. So yes, by all means, look for a job that pays more. But let's all be open about why: More money, more passion, more interesting work makes us more satisfied as working mothers.


The strange backstory behind the military's new paid parental leave policies

"Daddy's Uniform" via  flikr user Patrick Malone

"Daddy's Uniform" via flikr user Patrick Malone

Last month, I wrote gleefully here about how the military had expanded maternity leave to 12 weeks for women in all branches (a boon for most—but a cutback for the Navy and Marines, which had previously approved 18 weeks). Men would receive 10 days of paternity leave. Not equitable, but an improvement, nonetheless.

Well, the architect of that modernization, acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, Brad Carson, has resigned under pressure from lawmakers after what the Military Times called his "disastrous" confirmation hearing. (There, Sen. John McCain called Carson's efforts around personnel reform, "an outrageous waste of time and resources." Various reports note that McCain was mostly peeved that Carson had overstepped his boundaries before being officially confirmed. But, still, man.) Carson's last day is April 8.

That's a loss, it seems, but Carson's vision will live on, allowing thousands of military families to humanely transition into parenthood. He even helped pass a provision to help service members freeze their eggs and sperm in case of injuries during combat. And his proposals for longer paternity leave (14 days instead of 10), longer hours for military daycares, and expanded access to mothers' lactation rooms (imagine!) are still on the table.

Lots of days here on the T5T blog, I'll write quippy lists or share my own kids' cute artwork about breastfeeding. But let's not forget the more serious stories, and the allies we've got in the Fifth Trimester, too—the people who stick their necks out to make more sensible policies around new working parenthood, sometimes even risking their careers. Mr. Carson, thank you.

"Mommy, I made a picture. It's you and your...."

"...compooter, Mommy. Look! Let's frame it!"

This weekend, my adorable jumping bean of a four-year-old little boy drew me his very first portrait of me. And there I am. Not making cookies with him, or reading to him, or playing time machine with him. But just standing there smiling next to what is, apparently, the one true talisman of my happiness: my compooter.

I was, of course, actually on my laptop finishing something up for the day when he presented the drawing to me. I stopped, said thank you, told him I loved that he used my favorite color. Then I proceeded to have some feelings about the picture, not all of which were particularly self-assured. I'm in a big work month at the moment, finishing up edits on my book. Thanks to bad timing, the boys are on spring break and around for lots of playtime...with our awesome caregiver, not with me.

As I often do in such times, I turned to my Francesca/Allison/Ashley group text:

Me: I give you: portrait of my mommy and her computer. Sigh.
Ashley: Much better than with a bottle of wine, no?
Me: True. But he gave it to me while I was working!
Allison: If you weren't working what would you be doing? When I am not working, I am not spending 100% of my time doing kid-picture-worthy things. This is fine. Frame it.
Francesca: [Francesca was a few minutes behind, probably because she actually was doing kid-picture worthy things, but that's okay because she was the hero of yesterday's post.]

And just like that I let it go, except for one thing: I got a haircut today. Because that length does look nicer on me. Thanks, sweet boy.

The un-rude way to ask a new mom if she works

One of the hidden benefits of being in the trenches of Newbornland on maternity leave is that in your new latte-drinking, up-all-night social life, you're likely to make other new mom friends. Whether you two hit it off at a breastfeeding support group or just while jiggling your strollers next to each other in line at Starbucks, you bond fast when you've got an itty bitty baby in common.

Pretty soon, you'll each know details the other's birth, and nipple cream preference, and even aunt-in-law dramas. And then suddenly it'll dawn on you: I have no idea if this lady is also on maternity leave. Does she have a job she's going back to? Like a job outside of the home...which is probably the wrong way to put it because, as maternity leave has more than proven, a job inside the home is certainly a job too. And then there are moms who work from home....

So how do you get clarification on this issue without sounding like a jerk? 

My friend Francesca recently taught me the coolest move. Here's what you ask: 
"So, do you work really hard for a paycheck, or do you work really hard for no paycheck?"

Smooth, right? I adopted it immediately.


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.

Coolest parental leave policy yet: The double dip

When it comes to ketchup or hummus in our house, the rule is very firm: NO double-dipping. Especially when there's strep and flu going around (it's been a germy week chez Brody). But that's exactly the brilliant tactic that an Austral-asian company has just come up with for parental leave. My Food Bag, which is similar in concept to Blue Apron here in the U.S. (scheduled deliveries of pre-measured ingredients for at-home meals), will expand upon the New Zealand government's 18 paid weeks in a really cool way: New moms and dads will be allotted an extra 18 weeks—if they want to take them at any point in their child's first two years of life. Should they choose to forgo the additional leave, they will be paid 160% of their salary for that time. How smart is that? (And how loyalty inducing is that?) Because the message sent to employees is three-fold:

1) We get it. You really might need this time. And we don't want you feeling pressure to come back to work before you're ready. And:
2) Your work is so valuable to us that we will pay you significantly more for it. But:
3) This is, essentially, temporary combat pay, to acknowledge that your working right now is a detriment to other parts of your life.

My Food Bag's co-founders, both 30 years old and both pregnant, declined to tell The New Zealand Herald, which reported on the new policy, how much it would end up costing, saying only, "The costs will be significant, but nothing in comparison to the rewards."

The only legit way to conquer "Mom Brain" (which is real, BTW)

photo by Ryan McGuire

photo by Ryan McGuire

Holly Madison is E! News' latest celebrity blogger. Admittedly, I had to Google her to remind myself what exactly she was celebrated for (dating Hugh Hefner, and having a couple of reality shows). One of her first posts is about her embarrassment from having so-called Mom Brain following the birth of her daughter (she's now pregnant with her second baby). Quite eloquently and honestly, she describes how disruptive and upsetting it was to be obviously forgetful, especially at work.

The research is split on Mom Brain, with some studies suggesting that mothers actually have enhanced cognitive abilities post-partum, especially when it comes to protecting themselves and their babies. But anyone who's returned to work—hormonal, lactating, and with a darling bundle of up-all-night—is likely to side with the opposite research camp, which confirms: Your memory while postpartum, especially for words and phrases, sucks. That's the technical term, by the way.

So, let that be a comfort to you while you struggle to remember where you put your coffee cup (it's in the washing machine, with the burp cloths, naturally). But also stop and pinch yourself so that, like Holly, you can remember and share this particular struggle. Don't let it fade away into the sweet cotton candy haze of memory like your "really not that painful" birth. Other new moms at work are counting on you to warn them about this stuff. Pay it forward. Tell them about Mom Brain, before you forget yours.

Paid grandparental leave is now a real thing

Grandma and Grandpa and baby me

Grandma and Grandpa and baby me

Not here in the U.S., obviously. We have to get our heads on straight about maternity and paternity leave first. But Santander, a financial firm with 20,000 employees in the U.K. just announced it's offering grandparents paid leave following the birth of a grandchild.

Now, hang on. Because if you're like me, your thought process is going something like this: "Hmm...well, I think that's great. Could be helpful for new parents, and sure, Grandma and Gramps want to bond with the baby too. But, wait a minute. If every family has 2.2 children, then each grandparent has 4.84 grandkids. Let's call that 5 grandkids, at 16 paid weeks per, and how is this going to work?"

Here's how: The grandparents don't get their own separate leave. They're entitled to share a portion of the parent's leave (as is the co-parent). Which is amazing news for single moms, or single dads, or families in which both parents can't be away from work at the same time. There are countless circumstances in which this arrangement could be helpful—as usual, the most helpful thing for new families is having choices. 

Coincidentally, on the same day this week that Santander's policy was announced, my cousin, a school teacher in North Carolina, who is a dad to adorable twin baby boys, posted on Facebook thanking his mother for saving the day. Aunt Peggy—awesome, intrepid Aunt Peggy—was on the road from Ohio, headed down to help out my cousin and his wife so they wouldn't have to miss work; one of their boys had a fever that prevented him from going to daycare. Aunt Peggy is retired, which is why she could pull this off. But imagine if working grandparents could step in like this without worrying about career repercussions. 

Grandparental leave may sound like an extravagance, but really, it's an acknowledgment that dual income families are now the norm—and that people are working well into their golden years. This next generation leave isn't cushy. It's just an extension of the other cultural realities of our time.

Would you spend $2.19 a week to guarantee paid parental leave?

Photo courtesy of Pond's End Productions

Photo courtesy of Pond's End Productions

That's exactly 0.2% of the average American annual salary of $57,000. And that's how much it would cost to fund paid parental leave for all parents for 12 weeks following the birth or adoption of a baby. Seriously, two bucks. That's what Rep. Rose DeLauro (D — Conn.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D — N.Y.) proposed as part of their FAMILY Act—so far, to no avail. In the meantime, private companies are doing their best to stay competitive by offering their own versions of paid leave.

The latest and greatest is Etsy, which announced yesterday that it will offer all new moms and dads 26 weeks of paid parental leave, to be taken over the first two years of a baby's life—along with lots of new support programs. That is awesome, obviously, and part of a trend of one-upmanship among tech companies that I'm happy to cheer on. But here's what's especially cool: Fred Wilson, a venture capitalist at USV, who sits on the board of Etsy, gave his blog readers a glimpse at the thinking behind the new policy. It was fueled, Wilson writes, by the need to stay competitive in recruiting and retention (no surprise there), but also because, he explains:

"Etsy is a marketplace where creative entrepreneurs, many of whom are women, can create a more fulfilling and flexible way to support their families. An important goal of this policy change was to align the internal company values with the marketplace values."

Makes a ton of sense. But Fred, wisely, also points out that Etsy is able to make this change because it's a large company, with the scale to support these policies. He writes:

"It's easier to do this sort of thing when you have a workforce in the thousands or tens of thousands than when you have a team of four people working from a co-working space."

Or how about a team of one, like the lovely Etsy vendors I buy from when I need a sweet, unique baby gift, or "homemade" Phineas and Ferb Halloween costumes (homemade by some other far-more-fabulously skilled mom than me)? What about those individual entrepreneurs? Where is their leave—paid or unpaid? Non-existant. Which brings me back to two dollars. Because I would happily spend that, many times over, if it meant we could catapult the U.S. into the present and in line with the rest of the civilized world.

Got (extra) milk?

Back at holiday time, stringing up lights in my son's school lobby, I found myself entangled, literally, with a mom I'd never met before, Dr. Katie Kelter. Turns out, we had lots to talk about: A pediatrician and lactation consultant, she's one of the founders of the just-launched New York Milk Bank, a nonprofit that collects and pasteurizes donor breastmilk for premature or critically ill babies. I got all kinds of great advice from her for my book, T5T and when I followed up with her recently, she told me how easy it is to donate—money, obviously (the program helps underserved communities), but also surplus milk. "If any of your readers are lucky enough to have a freezer bursting at the seams with extra milk, they can go to the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (  to find out if they're eligible to become a donor," says Dr. Kelter. All it takes is a medical screening and a blood test. Then you drop the milk off at a local depot or mail it (for free) via Fed-Ex. "Your milk is pasteurized and given to premature infants whose own mothers' milk is unavailable," says Dr. K. "You can actually save lives."