Returning to law practice after having a baby is one of the most difficult times in the work-life challenge that women lawyers experience. It is a confusing and sleep-deprived time for these women, and they could use a little understanding of their situations.
To help them through it, I have enlisted the help of Lori Mihalich-Levin, a Georgetown Law grad, the Director of Hospital and GME Payment Policies at the Association of American Medical Colleges, and the founder of Mindful Return, a blog and e-course designed to help new mother-lawyers returning to work after maternity leave feel present and empowered. Here is what Lori has to say:
Helping New Mother-Lawyers Return to Work After Maternity Leave
I thought I had done some pretty challenging things in life. I wrote a senior thesis in college…moved to a foreign country where I didn’t know anyone …passed the bar exam…worked at a few huge law firms…But none of these experiences held a candle to the challenges I faced going back to work after maternity leave. After having my body turned upside down and inside out, becoming completely and utterly responsible for another human being, and not sleeping for months on end (all while being mesmerized by a beautiful baby I adored), I headed back to a job I really liked. My initial approach? “Catch up” on everything I had missed as quickly as possible, and pretty much carry on as though life hadn’t changed. It didn’t work. And I crumbled.
After I picked myself up out of my puddle of sleep-deprived tears (many times) and learned a thing or two about how to cope with overwhelm, I became passionate about helping other new mothers in the same boat I was in. I am convinced that there are LOTS of conversations missing from our workplace dialogs about how to go back to work after maternity leave in a calm and empowered way — including tips new mothers needed to know and information about communities of new working moms that needed to be created.
Chances are, many of you reading this are not currently pregnant (but, if you are pregnant, please check out my e-course designed just for you!). But chances also are that you have a friend, colleague, associate, business partner, mentee, or mentor who currently is pregnant and could use this information. To you, I offer a few pieces of advice, on how to help the new mothers in your life feel strong at a time when their worlds likely have been turned upside down:
- Believe in her for the long haul, and remind her of her strengths. The chaos of the first few months after coming back to work is completely discombobulating. Dare I say, a new mother-lawyer might feel she’s lost her brains. Her edge. Her mind. Her ability to function. All this of course gets better as the months go on, and she may need a reminder that she still has those bright, passionate, and creative juices she’s been proud of in the past;
- Encourage her to take credit at work for a well-planned maternity leave and return. Whether she is currently pregnant or just coming back from leave, encourage her to build her leave into the annual goals and review process at her workplace. Can she set a goal around going on leave in an organized, responsible way, with good hand-offs and solid communication with her colleagues? At evaluation time, can she take credit for all the work she did to make the transition a success when she comes back? Help her see her leave experience as something she can be proud of and as a normal part of human existence, rather than time she “missed” being able to excel at work; and
- Help her connect with other returning mother-lawyers. Sometimes, “me too” can be the most powerful words in the English language. But many new working mothers get isolated. For good reason, they put their heads down, work their tails off, and just try to get through the day. I’ll speak for myself in saying I felt pretty alone in my return to work, even though there were other women I could have connected with. So I’d ask you to help her find other mothers she can talk to about this experience. And help convince her that connecting doesn’t have to be a huge time commitment. But that it can be a huge sanity saver.
New mothers, especially new mother-lawyers, need all the help they can get, and your encouragement, engagement, and support at this critical time will make a huge world of difference.
Thank you, Lori. This is great advice. As Lori suggests, pass it on to all the new mother-lawyers in your life. You will be doing them a favor.
Lori Mihalich-Levin, JD, is the founder of Mindful Return, a blog and e-course designed to help new mothers returning to work after maternity leave feel present and empowered – both with their babies and in their careers. By day, she is also the Director of Hospital and GME Payment Policies at the Association of American Medical Colleges. She is a graduate of the Georgetown University Law Center and proud mom to one-year-old and three-year-old redheaded boys.