How to Return to Work After Maternity Leave
Corporate bond trader and fashion blogger Emily Farren Wieczorek has been there, done that.
Emily Farren Wieczorek went into labor at her desk. While pregnant with her second son, she worked until the last moment she physically could. As a corporate bond trader at a predominately male firm, her day started like any other—following the financial markets behind six computer screens. “I was drinking water and my cramps started to get more rhythmic,” Emily recalls. “I thought they could be contractions and started timing them at my desk. When they were five minutes apart, I told my team and they said, “Get out of here! What are you doing? Go!” Thus began her eight-week stint of paid maternity leave. When she had her first son two years earlier, she took only six weeks off and worked from a home trading terminal for most of that time. It didn't work for her. “I was trying to breastfeed and trade at the same time, and it was not a conducive environment to be with my baby, or work,” she says. This time around, she negotiated a better setup to make her break as productive as possible. Now the Greenwich, Connecticut native is getting back into the swing of her three jobs—trading, motherhood and blogging. (Her blog, Two Peas in a Prada, which she started with her high-school best friend, Ashley, chronicles the pair’s love of fitness, parenting and fashion.) “The beginning is the hardest because you’re just coming off of this blissful time holding your newborn every day and gazing at them, then, you get thrust back into the workplace and it’s jarring, for sure,” Emily says. “Slowly but surely, each month gets easier and easier and you’ll begin to find your professional self again. In those moments, you have to breathe and realize it will pass.” Here's how she made her transition as smooth as possible.
1. Be upfront about how much time you need
Try and ask for more than what you’d expect and leave yourself negotiating room. If you’re not ready to go back when the time comes, ask for the time you need because it’s a healing process both physically and emotionally. With my first pregnancy, I thought I could be so tough and go back after six weeks, so I lost that leverage when I negotiated my leave the second time—I showed I was capable of doing that, which made it harder to argue that I needed more time.
2. Ensure your team has its bases covered
A few weeks before I went into labor, I gave my team and my boss a huge spreadsheet for the two men who would be covering my post while I was gone. I put in details about my clients, people they could turn to if they had questions and a list of all
3. Prepare for pumping
Find out if your office has a pumping room, and consider in advance how you'll bring your pump and all its parts to work. I asked to commandeer one of our office's quiet rooms for pumping. I just put a little sign on it that says, “pumping in progress,” and my colleagues respect that. I brought a cooler in to store breast milk so I didn't have to keep it in plain sight in the fridge. Finally, I told my boss what to expect—I need to pump three to four times during the day, so if I’m working eight to nine hours, that means every three hours I’m going to be taking at least 20 minutes to pump.
4. Check in a week before your return
Ask if there are any new projects that you’ll need to work on and if there are updates that will affect you. See if there is anything you need to be abreast of before you come back. Slowly phasing yourself back into the environment is important. Check in with your boss to remind them of your return date and discuss any concerns you have about returning to work. For example, set expectations about what will happen if you need to leave and take care of your child.
5. Rally a support system
My husband and I have three nannies on call that we trust with everything and will help us if we need. My mom is also around and we both have family in town. You need to set up a support system so that, if you can’t get away from the office, you have people you know you can call.
6. Make it 50-50 at home
My husband and I work equally, both professionally and at home. There’s no “I change all the diapers” or “I make all the food.” It’s not tit for tat. Whoever’s hands are free at the moment takes the initiative. If my husband has a conference call at 8pm, I’ll put our son to sleep. We both really want to be involved in raising our kids.
7. Aim for a practical beauty and style routine
Stock up on dry shampoo and a good moisturizer so you can skip washing your hair and replenish the moisture that's lost when you have a baby and breastfeed. When it comes to your body, go easy on yourself with long, flowy tops. For nursing, wear tops that you can pull down or unbutton, like men’s button-down dress shirts. They’re longer, a bit boxier and you can wear them over leggings or skinny jeans. Also, I love that banker stripe look right now.
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Image courtesy of Ivanka Trump Illustration by Jonny Ruzzo