Dear LiL – I just found out I am pregnant. Any suggestions on how to announce the news to my firm or general tips on navigating my new lawyer/mom role? Signed ~ Mom to be
Dear Mom to be:
I took my maternity leave about four and a half years ago following the birth of my son. I was a senior associate at the time, on the partnership track. I will share here some of the things I think helped me navigate this time in my life.
As I write this, I am acutely aware of the fact that there are few things in life more hotly debated than mothering – how we do it, how much of it we do, what we sacrifice in turn, and where our career fits into the picture. I hope what I share below will not be taken as advice, because that is not how I intend it. There are so many variables, so many factors at play, and so many ways of balancing a legal career with a family, that it is impossible to offer advice. So, what follows is simply an account of some of the things that worked for me and might resonate with you. Know there are also plenty of things I did that did not work at all, but that’s for another post.
I did not apologize for getting pregnant. To say I was pretty excited when I learned of my pregnancy would be a huge understatement. It happened rather quickly, and from the moment I found out … I wanted to tell everyone. And, I did. I told the partners I worked closely with right away. When I shared my news, I was not sheepish. I did not do it in a worrisome, “what will happen to my career” whisper. I did not for one second suggest that I was concerned about their reaction or my career. I did not apologize for my inevitable leave. To have a baby and the timing of it was my choice, the firm had no say in the matter, and the impact it would have on my career did not cross my mind – because there should be none. At least that is what I told myself. I found that with this approach, almost everyone (from partners to clients), responded in kind.
I did not make the pregnancy a ‘thing’ at work. After the excited disclosure, I made it a point not to talk about my pregnancy or leave at work unless directly relevant to my job. I was lucky I could make that choice, since I felt very well during my pregnancy. Men generally do not talk about their pregnant partners, and I took the same approach. I wanted my clients and colleagues to know I was as focused on my work as before and this, I think, helped with that messaging.
I worked hard and demanded good work. I worked throughout my pregnancy on a full-time basis, and up until the day of my scheduled C section. I would not have done so if I had not felt really well. But, since I did, I worked hard and, in turn, asked for great work. There was no “stepping aside” in anticipation of my leave. I wanted to go on my leave on a high note. Clients and colleagues really appreciated these efforts (sometimes I think, ironically, because I was pregnant). Some said they would keep certain pieces of work aside for me, for when I returned from my leave. This set up a good foundation for my eventual return to full-time practice.
I stayed in touch. While I did not actively manage any of my files during my maternity leave, I did log on remotely at least twice per week to review key correspondence, answer a few emails and stay in contact with my clients and colleagues. This relatively minimal effort gave me tremendous comfort and confidence that my practice would still be there when I returned.
I let go of superstar status. When I did return to work, I made a conscious decision to do the best I could, both at work and at home, but give myself a break every now and then for any real or perceived shortfalls. I accepted I would not be the perfect lawyer, perfect partner or perfect mother, but I could still have a fulfilling career and life and be a good parent.
I asked for and accepted help. Since I went back to work about three months after my son was born, I had to rely on others to help take care of him early on. My husband, parents, relatives and friends – all of them were essential to my ability to return to work. While I did not expect help from anyone other my husband, I was not afraid to ask for it and I always welcomed it. I set very few, key rules for those who had my son in their care and let them do their thing without nitpicking. I embraced the whole ‘it takes a village’ notion wholeheartedly.
I did not let go of fun. I chose to not make my job and child my entire life. Some days, they are. Some days, one of them is. But, most days, there is time, if I choose to take it, to do something just for myself. I tried to seize those opportunities both in the early days of motherhood and still do now. I try not to feel guilty about them. And if I do end up feeling a little guilty, I try not to feel bad about that!
Now, almost five years after my son was born, I am really enjoying both him and my career. I have long let go of the notion that each day should be perfectly balanced between family and work. I take things as they come and give priority to that which requires it most. Some days, my son is my priority and I will pull him out of daycare for no reason at all other than to spend some time together. But, there are also days of all-consuming out-of-town hearings when I will see my son for only a few minutes a day, on face-time, and that is okay too.