Lessons Learned from Maternity Leave
April 12, 2019
Leslie Lasher is an employment law attorney with the Forrest Firm. Earlier this year, she had her second child and took 12 weeks of maternity leave.
In April, Leslie returned to the firm with an eagerness to educate business owners on the importance of supporting employees with clearly outlined family-friendly benefits. This post is Leslie’s personal story and the motivation for her passion to partner with employers.
Over the last twelve weeks, I have grown as a person, family member, and mom – in ways I never expected. I’ve learned a lot, (and am still learning) in my effort to embrace recent maternity leave, but these three lessons stand out:
- Affect your own change.
I had a lot of ill-conceived expectations for my recent maternity leave – primarily based on my experience with my first. I expected I would spend my twelve weeks at home mommy-ing all day long. In reality, I spent plenty of time trying to keep our daughter alive, panicking about things that didn’t warrant panic, and napping while my daughter napped, but I also found myself bored, frustrated, and wanting something different.
So, I stopped believing that history had to repeat itself. In fact, I didn’t like my history. My first birth and maternity leave experience was less than stellar. Plus, I am in a different place in my family and professional life now, so why would I want it to be the same way again?
When I would get stuck with the mindset of “I should …” or “I need to do …” my husband would say “According to who?” or “Who says you have to do it that way?” And it hit me — the only expectations I was not meeting were the ones I had created for myself. Who says you can’t take a four-week-old golfing on a 70-degree day in February? I did. I wanted to go. So, I went and awkwardly figured out how to breastfeed on a golf cart.
Maybe it’s just the “second child” thing, but somewhere along the way, I decided to shift my mindset from “we can’t do that unless X, X and X happen” to: “if it makes us happy, we will figure out how to do it.” I have found that this approach gets us a lot further towards being the happy, healthy family we desire, and it has enabled me to surround myself with community and dream new dreams.
- Make present tense decisions.
Speaking of change….by the time I had “figured out” my baby’s sleep habits – they changed. My threenager changes her mind every hour. My husband’s work trips change last minute. My hormones — you got it — they change constantly; and I may or may not have gotten any sleep last night. All of this is more than enough to send a routine-driven over-analyzer into full-blown stress mode.
But, decisions still have to be made.
Anyone who knows me well will tell you that I like to seek the counsel of others when making big (or small) decisions, and I like to take my time. But, you can’t do that when you’ve got to decide about what to do in the next hour, or even in the next minute. As a parent, you must be quick and confident. Most important, you have to be able to try something different if it does not work. The latter does not always sit well with me because I like to get things right the first time.
In any event, I am learning that, while a scenario may look the same from the outside, my family has different needs on different days and what worked yesterday may not work today. So, I am trying to make decisions in present tense, and accept that decisions can change when circumstances change. When those decisions change every hour and start to look more like troubleshooting – I attempt to relax and try again, which is easier said than done.
- Ask for — and accept — support.
Despite a traumatic birth experience and significant post-partum anxiety, I failed to seek support after my oldest was born. It was not until eight months postpartum that I reached out for counseling through BarCares – and even then – it was to discuss a potential career change, not for my anxiety.
My anxiety resurfaced after a miscarriage in 2017, which is when I finally sought counseling. I thought I was “fine” and could manage it all last time, but this time I knew better. This time, I knew I needed support for my mind, body, soul, and career. So, I re-centered myself spiritually, found a counselor that specialized in pregnancy and postpartum concerns at Kayce Hodos, LPC, enrolled in a BirthFit class, and accepted and asked for things I needed. I called friends often, met new friends for coffee, and asked family to babysit so that I could have time for myself and my spouse.
My co-workers also graciously backed me up at work and checked in on me so that my career did not hit pause. Our family gratefully receives support through benefits like health insurance, and heavily subsidized health savings accounts, dependent care accounts, and maternity leave. I have been able to enjoy the Forrest Firm’s corporate YMCA membership while on leave, and our firm care team has been thoughtful with things I really needed like services from The Raleigh Cleaning Company. The firm’s “Work From Anywhere” platform also gives me a sense of ease with returning to work.
It is not easy to ask for or to accept help. In fact, I still hate the word “help” because asking for help makes me feel incapable – so, I will just call it “support.” Whatever you want to call it, it’s important.
I am so grateful for the community that has supported me and enabled an enjoyable maternity leave. I am excited to return to work and put these lessons into practice by supporting my colleagues and clients in building their work family, and in positively affecting the lives of their employees.
The conversation isn’t ending here!
Are you a business owner trying to create a family-friendly workspace?
Leslie is launching an education series for business leaders on how-to create a family-friendly workplace, complete with practical and legal considerations. If you’re interested in finding out dates and times of these in-person events, please email email@example.com.