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Preparing for Maternity Leave


The Ups, Downs and Sideways of Working Motherhood

Preparing for Maternity Leave

Alex Steinman

If you're lucky enough to have maternity leave, preparing to be out of the office can be just as stressful as the thought of going back to work afterwards. With a little planning, you might find the end of your third trimester more manageable. I thought of a few things I've done or seen other people do that help make the transition a bit smoother.

Teach a Person to Fish

You might be the type of person who gets things done by doing it yourself. Unfortunately, that mentality doesn't work when you're out of the office for an extended period of time. It takes a village. If there's a personnel solution while you're gone, take the time to train them in. If there's not, raise a flag and push for support. Sometimes it takes a business reasoning to bring on temporary help. While management should know, a reminder of how your role keeps the business afloat may help nudge things along.  It's not easy, and a temporary replacement will never be as amazing as a permanent you, but hopefully it will give you peace of mind while you're out there slaying motherhood.

You're likely not the first person to go on maternity leave; though if you are, maybe you have an advantage and can write your own rules. Perhaps there's a new policy or program you can suggest and implement. A super strong mama friend of mine negotiated for six weeks paid maternity leave at a company that offered next-to-nothing, and I recently helped build a return-to-work program to help transition parents back into the workplace after parental leave. It takes a bit of extra work and courage, but nothing changes if no one speaks up. Your co-workers will thank you.

Keep a Status Report

Updating a status report every few days will help you check things off your list, track your progress, and leave a breadcrumb trail for whoever is covering for you while you're gone. It can add another thing to your plate, but you'll avoid people bugging you while you're out. Keep calendars of events, daily task lists and directions to where you store files easily accessible for your people. Slack is a great place to store your breadcrumbs if you're looking for an easier way to communicate than email. If you were to go into labor last thing on your mind should be updating a document. If you're on top of it every few days, hopefully you can shut off that part of your brain for a bit while you concentrate on getting that human out. 

Meet Often

No one likes meetings, but I certainly articulate and learn things better by talking it out. I love a good status report, but I often prefer to have both the brief written update and the detailed discussion. It might help to have weekly meetings with your teammates to keep them up to speed on your progress (I'm talking about work progress, but if you care to share how much you've dilated, go for it).

Get Your Shit Together

You may have HR paperwork you're putting off (guilty), or you may have insurance stuff to take care of (snore). Set aside some time to check off the boring crap from your list early in your third trimester, so you're not so manic in the last few weeks. Unless your due date is planned, you never know when that slimy potato will come shooting out of you. 

Have a list of people to contact or a visitor plan for after the baby is born? Give the instructions to your partner, so they can manage those logistics while your laid up, drugged up and/or snuggled up.

To those of you looking to do a nice thing for an expecting family, don't ask, just do. Pregnant people don't want to coordinate or decide anything else, so just go for it. Bring a meal or wash a dish, but don't stay long unless asked.

Tell People What You Need

We're often so concerned about preparing everyone around us, we forget self-care during what is likely the most miserable time in your pregnancy. Between the internal crotch punches and the occasional (or frequent) Braxton Hicks contractions, you're likely feeling like a total dreamboat.

Sheryl Sandberg says, "don't leave before you leave." But I'll tell you, it's hard not to leave when you piss your pants every time you sneeze. Pregnancy is physically and emotionally draining, and sometimes a little extra support goes a long way.

It takes 3 pillows to support this diva.

It takes 3 pillows to support this diva.

It's likely people will assume you're doing fine unless you raise your hand. Remember to tell people what would make a transition to motherhood easier for you. Maybe it's a few work from home days leading up to your due date, reduced workload if your job requires strenuous activities, or no fly list status because traveling takes it out of you. You may not get everything you ask for, but at least you've put it out there. If there's a negative reaction to this assertiveness and control over your career, is this really the place you want to work?

P.S. You might also like 5 Tips to Make Working From Home Work For You  and Lean In, Lean On, Lean Out