EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third and final post in the blog series Diary of a Pregnant Lawyer – Pregnancy in the Professional Workplace. The first blogmester is here, and the second is here. Mallory wrote all three installments before she had her baby on December 22.
Welcome to the Third Blogmester! This blogmester feels very near and dear to my heart, because as I am writing this one I am about as preggo as a preggo can be. I am very uncomfortable, owing to the giant baby mushing all of my innards, and writing in between contractions. Don’t worry – they are not timeable (I don’t think?).
But remember at the very beginning of my blog series when I said practicing law while being pregnant is hard? Well, that sentiment stems mostly from the third trimester, during which the difficulty of working in a professional atmosphere correlates with the growing of the baby bump. Heels, suits, pantyhose – HECK NO to all of these things, I say! I am now proudly rocking the “frumpy” professional look because it is truly the best I can do short of showing up in my pajamas.
Keeping up your professional life during the third trimester and beyond is the stuff of legends. Literally, because I know of no one who has actually delivered closing arguments to a jury while in the early stages of labor, run marathons in her final weeks, and given three-hour professional presentations while wearing stiletto heels.
Tips for new moms-to-be
Most professional women plan and plan and plan their maternity leave to a T. As I suggested in the first post in this series, coming up with a plan early on is highly recommended. Early in the third trimester, it is a good idea to keep a running list of tasks you are working on in case labor starts early. Make sure someone you know and trust has access to this list if you are out of commission. Also, get your voicemails and auto “out of office” messages ready ahead of time. If you have clients or contacts, personally let them know you may be out on leave soon and provide them with the contact information of the person who will be handling your work while you are away. Once you have all your ducks in a row, or about as row-like as they’re ever going to be, try to relax and enjoy getting ready for baby!
Tips for employers of moms-to-be
So, what about on the employer’s end? It also helps to have a plan and know how long your employee will be gone and arrange who will be handling that employee’s duties while on leave. Then, you will have to deal with the logistics of the leave. Typically, maternity leave involves a short period of short-term disability leave, followed by an additional period of paid time off. If not, at the very least, employers covered under the Family Medical Leave Act must offer eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for childbirth (also adoption or foster placement of a child) or to “bond” with the child.
This is totally going to be 12 weeks of vacation for you, right? Wrong! But it will be fun in a different sort of way.
Returning to work — now what?
Just when you thought the hard stuff was behind you (you know, the whole act of giving birth and then bringing your beautiful bundle home with you, and adjusting to all that), you have to leave your cute, sweet little baby with a nanny, at a daycare, or with a relative while you go back to conquering the world at the office. This can be especially complicated if you are breastfeeding. Things definitely don’t seem to get any easier when baby gets here do they? Take it from this practicing attorney:
After I came back from maternity leave, I traveled several times a month for a large case I was handling in another state. I was still pumping at the time. We were in the middle of a heavy deposition schedule at our local counsel’s office. I thought about making an excuse as to why I needed to take long breaks at random times, but in the end, I just told them all I needed to pump. Since I was not embarrassed about it, it wasn’t awkward. Until this happened. I already had an office at our local’s counsel’s firm that I was using to prepare for the depositions, so I pumped in there. One day, an older (male) partner was looking for me to pass along some information about our case. He knocked on the door while I was pumping. I panicked and said, “I need 10 minutes.” He apparently didn’t hear me and just walked right in – shirt off, boobs hooked up to the pump, and (of course), facing the door. He looked at me, tucked tail, and ran away. We communicated by email a lot more after that.
This may be every new professional mother’s worst fear, apart from not getting to see the baby enough and the millions of other things that mothers in general worry about. In its 2015 guidelines on pregnancy, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has made clear that discrimination against an employee who is lactating or breastfeeding is a big no-no. In fact, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has said that “lactation discrimination” violates Title VII.
In addition, the Nursing Mothers Act amended the Fair Labor Standards Act to require that employers provide suitable space for nursing mothers to express milk. And one of the requirements is that the space be “free from intrusion by co-workers and the public.” Now you know why.
Not trying to get political here, but do you recall the story about President-Elect Donald Trump allegedly making inappropriate comments to an attorney who needed to express milk? (He denies it, and says the attorney indicated that she was going to pump in front of him. And she denies that.) Whether true or not, stories like this can give you real anxiety about going places. I think what works best is to talk to other professional moms who have been there and can serve as a sounding board, like this practicing attorney did:
I have never been an overly emotional person and am usually extremely rational and reasonable. But when I went back to work for the first time and left my baby behind, it was extremely difficult. Let’s be honest, I was on the verge of tears for a few straight days. I was reluctant at first to admit it and wondered if all working moms felt the same way. So I reached out to a female client who I admire very much and just sent her a quick note letting her know how much I admired her ability to excel at her job, support her legal team, and also be such a great mom. I hinted that it was harder coming back to work than I expected. She replied almost immediately and shared a story that was almost identical to my own. She told me that the first week was the hardest, and it got better after the first week, once she fell into a routine. I must have read her email ten times over the next week. After about a week, I found my routine, and now feel like I do a better job separating work from home, and like I made the choice that was right for me and my family.
What I will leave you with is this: being pregnant is hard, working while pregnant is really hard, and coming back to work after giving birth can be really hard, and more. But with a good support network, it can be done. Employers and employees can both excel at being a part of a working environment that encourages personal success, which in turn fosters professional success.