Returning to Work After Having a Baby: An Interview with Lauren Brody

Lauren Brody- if you’re not already familiar with her name, you will be soon enough.

Intelligent, candid, bold, and charismatic- she ceaselessly works toward changing policy and modifying office culture to support working mothers. Brody worked in magazine publishing for 16 years, and eventually became the executive editor of Glamour Magazine at Condé Nast (1).  This mom of two recently founded The Fifth Trimester movement, along with the publication of her book: The Fifth Trimester: The Working Mom’s Guide to Style, Sanity, and Big Success After Baby. The Fifth Trimester, or T5T, embodies the transitional period in which a woman re-enters the workforce after having a baby. Brody's goal is to empower women to take charge of their future, and to find a balance between their career and motherhood.

 

BINTO: You’ve had an incredibly successful career, which many women aspire to have as well. For all of the new moms out there- What made you decide to return to work after having a baby?

Brody: Well, for most women it's not a choice. Most families are dual income these days and that was my story, too. But I like to say that I had the privilege of not having a choice about whether to work or not. My husband and I were living in New York City at the time, and he was in the process of completing his residency after med school. I was further along in my career and we needed my income - and I loved my career. So, while the return to work was very, very hard, I didn't experience “mom guilt" about my decision to keep working. That helped.

I had 12 weeks of parental leave, which is short compared to what women and men receive in other countries, and long compared to what most women in America can take. Though I openly struggled going back, it helped me find meaning in this transition. Working in middle-upper management allowed me to act as a role model and mentor- someone capable of changing the culture and policies of the workforce. After a few years and a second son, I realized this was my next big calling. I want women to feel like, even if they're back at work before they're ready to be, they have the agency to ask for what they need to make it work...and to make cultural changes from the inside of their workplaces.

BINTO: Have you always categorized pregnancy in terms of five trimesters, or was this something that arose from experience?

Brody: Like most women, I originally thought of pregnancy in terms of three trimesters. It wasn’t until I read Dr. Harvey Karp’s The Happiest Baby on the Block that I recognized a fourth trimester even existed. He has this theory that it takes a newborn 12 weeks to wake up to the world. The irony was, by the twelfth week my maternity leave would be over so it felt like a ticking time bomb of going back to work.

The Fifth Trimester became another developmental phase for me, but for the mom instead of the baby. After a couple of months I’d have these momentary highs where I was like: holy cow- I just did all of this! This personal growth gave me the muscles to help with other career changes I would make after the birth of my first son.

BINTO: What is your biggest piece of advice for new moms who feel the urge to quit their job?

Brody: Doing research for my book, I interviewed hundreds of women from every background I could, every approach to motherhood and career. Almost everyone I spoke to talked about guilt, or a moment in which they felt the need to quit their job. I chose look at this feeling of guilt from a scientific lens, which resulted in two things I tell every woman who is considering quitting their job after having a baby:

The first is to make a list to figure out what you get out of your job. Things like your paycheck, or the sense of identity that you derive from your career. Studies demonstrated that this helps a new mother focus, which means they’re more likely to stay and get stuff done. The second list explains what your workplace gets out of you. Are you a good worker, teammate, or member of this community? A commensurate list helps you become more comfortable with your compromises, and at the end of the day, we’re all making compromises. You’re not a failure-own them- it puts you in a position of authority over your own life.

BINTO: Any recommendations for balancing work and a new baby while also maintaining a healthy relationship with your partner?

Brody: If a partnership is strong, it benefits the child. That said, during the fifth trimester, date night can feel like one more thing you aren’t doing well. My survey data showed that there was a subset -- a pretty big one -- of women who said that during their fifth trimester they argued more with their partner than ever before AND that they got closer to them as well. I looked at what factors those women had in common -- because clearly if they were working through stuff with their partners and ending up closer, they were doing something right. What they had in common was time spent alone with their partners, but it didn't have to be a lot of time. It didn't have to be a dinner out, hiring a babysitter, and worrying about pumping milk and spending a lot of money. Sitting on the couch together, deliberately, watching a TV show for one hour a week of together time really was enough. It was protective.

Let your partner team up on child care even if it means them doing it in a way that’s a bit different than your own. Dad may not get to learn during the day, especially if he is at work while you’re home with the baby. This is also a symptom of a much larger social issue in which childcare is often viewed as a “women’s problem.” We see it reflected in paternity leave policies in which fathers are allowed much less time at home, or feel like they can't take what they've got. Behaviors and policies such as these reinforce this inaccurate idea that men’s work is worth more in the workplace than women's.

BINTO: How do you navigate the challenges that come with balancing such massive responsibilities?

Brody: You have to take everything a day at a time but also not expect things to be in balance at any given hour. After a couple of months ask yourself: Have I prioritized things over these months in a way that feels right for our family and my career? It may feel like one day you’re slacking on work or not spending enough time with your kids, but over the course of a week or month it tends to balance out.

"I want women to feel like, even if they're back at work before they're ready to be, they have the agency to ask for what they need to make it work...and to make cultural changes from inside of their workplaces."

-Lauren Brody

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Resources:

1. http://www.thefifthtrimester.com/founder/

Black and white headshot by Nancy Borowick

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