There are some conversations you have to have before going on maternity leave, like telling HR and your boss that you’re pregnant. But in my experience, there are a lot of other important conversations that we don’t talk about as much, but can help your leave go much more smoothly. Check them out, below:
1. Yourself: How long will you take? Will you work up until your due date, or start your leave early? Do you want colleagues to keep you up on the latest office happenings or do you want to be totally unplugged? There’s a lot to think about before you step away from your job for a couple of months and bring a new human into the world. I felt overwhelmed, but sitting down and putting my thoughts on paper (okay, Google doc), and getting organized really helped. I also thought about the moments where, even though I was on leave, I would want to be involved or updated on things (like board calls, hiring, and budget process). This led to Carly Zakin, my co-founder and co-ceo sending me a weekly email to keep me up to speed so I didn’t feel like I’d been living under a rock when I returned.
1A. [or 1… Continued]. Yourself… again. This is my biggest tip from what I have learned on mat leave. Most of what you wrote down in the paragraph above is not up to you.
You probably have a plan. I did: work until my due date in October. Aaaaand Gabe was born on September 13. There’s only so much you can control, and Gabe’s early (and healthy) arrival was definitely a happy surprise. Fortunately, Carly and I had really drilled down on my mat leave plan earlier in the summer, so we were in good shape, but I’ve had plenty of friends go into early labor and on top of everything have to deal with scrambling to sort out their work situation.
As someone who is a bit Type A…and used to operating on a schedule, this is very hard. You can’t control when you are going to have your baby (there are caveats here but that’s for a conversation with your doctor and not for the purposes here). You can’t control how your labor will go physically. And that can affect your timeline too. You can’t control what your hormones are going to do. I went through a ton of ups and downs emotionally which made trying to connect with work almost impossible until a certain point in time.
Basically, you make a plan and your baby laughs.
2. Your Work Wife: We all have one. Since the day we started theSkimm in 2012, Carly’s been mine. This is the person who’s not just your colleague, they’re a friend. And you probably still want to hear from them while you’re out on leave! So set expectations—do you want actual work-related updates? Or just to be tagged in Instagram memes? A weekly zoom coffee to catch up on all of the above? As co-founders and friends, Carly and I have worked hard to find a good balance between work-time and friend-time, and we wanted to maintain those boundaries while I was out. Good news: my first week home with Gabe, we took a walk to meet Aunt Carly and just talk about this brand new addition to our team.
3. Your Partner: My husband is also a business owner and his three person company doesn’t have a solidified parental leave plan. We weren’t sure how much leave he would take or what would be most helpful for both of us and the baby. Because of Covid-19, we were both already working from home, but establishing that time period we’d both be away from work and focused on our new family made us both feel good. Also, he cooked a lot and froze meals that we could eat later which was key to helping me get back to feeling like a person.
4. Your BFFs: I was so excited to be pregnant, and also slightly terrified. About being someone’s parent, about going through this during COVID, about whether I needed a Snoo or not (yes, they are definitely super expensive), and about stepping away from my company for a few months…. Unloading my fears and anxieties to my text chain of friends from home who had all recently had babies really lightened my mental load. It helped me stay focused in those last weeks before having the baby, and feel more confident once I was on leave (or at least I knew I always had someone to text who wouldn’t judge me for not knowing what a dream feed was). Also, I felt really isolated as a new mom, in a pandemic, not being able to see friends and family. Connecting with other new moms, especially women I have grown up with and I know have my back, made a huge difference.
5. Your “Working Mom Goals” Mentor: To all of the amazing women who came before me, I am just starting to realize what some of the advice you were giving to me really meant. Reaching out to my network of women who have mentored me over the years, asking for help navigating maternity leave and then getting back to work, was one of the smartest things I did. They were honest about how hard being a mom and an exec can be and they didn’t sugar coat things to make it look easy.
6. Your Family: This is especially important as we are all still living in a pandemic atmosphere. Set expectations early on who you feel comfortable seeing you and the baby and when. We weren’t sure whether or not our hospital would allow visitors but ultimately decided that we didn’t feel comfortable with the potential Covid risk anyway. It’s very hard to tell family, and for them to hear, that you aren’t comfortable with them meeting your newborn or what you will be comfortable with—but it’s very helpful to have those conversations upfront. My advice is to think through the risk you feel comfortable with ahead of time so that you’re not making decisions once your baby is born.
7. The Person Filling in for You: Carly and I started theSkimm together, and while I’m grateful I already had a partner I trusted to cover for me, I knew she would be taking on a lot (in the most stressful year we’ve had since launch), so we had a really honest talk about what would work best for us. It was important to me that I do everything I possibly could to make the transition as seamless as possible, which meant detailing everything in a doc for her. Whether you already know who will be taking on your responsibilities, or the company will hire or outsource the work, I would also highly recommend starting this process early, and not when your 8-month pregnancy brain has kicked in.
8. Your Childcare Situation: This one is probably a convo for during maternity leave, but it’s a big one. It’s such a personal decision for each parent what will work for you, whether it’s help from your family, daycare, a full-time nanny, a nanny-share… But for me, this is such an important part of the puzzle for me to head back to work with peace of mind. It’s a process to decide which route you want to go, when to start interviewing nannies or touring daycare centers, and talking to friends about their experiences. Knowing myself, and what I need to be focused at work and the best mom I can be at home, I hired a nanny before Gabe was even born. This is insane, I know, but I met someone who was great and decided to go for it.
9. Your Dog: Medford has been our only (fur) child for six years, so we knew this would be a big adjustment for her. Adam and I were already working from home due to Covid, but having me home all the time during mat leave instead of commuting to work was something she was pretty excited about. We had to break it to her that this would also involve bringing a new baby into the house, and less attention for her, but fortunately she’s adapted to the big sis role with only mild depression.