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WAHM Reviews: The Fifth Trimester (Part 1)

I work remotely for a publisher part-time, but I also have been teaching one or two courses at the university where I earned my PhD. I return to teaching in a couple weeks, and quite honestly, I’m kind of freaking out about it. I was lucky enough to be able to be home with my daughter for more than year after she was born because I was dissertating and on fellowship. But now, only a few months after giving birth, I’ll be leaving my new baby to teach. I’ll have to navigate the pumping/bottle feeding routine, which is new to me; I’ll have to locate and find the energy to put on reasonably professional attire that will fit my squishy postpartum body; and I’ll have to deal with all the mom guilt. Yes, I’m incredibly lucky to be working mostly from home, and yes, I support all women in their choices regarding working and childcare. I understand that not all women are able or want to find work-at-home situations, and I make no judgments regarding work and motherhood. To be perfectly candid, I often flip between wanting to work full-time outside the home and wanting to stay home full-time with my children. BUT, right now I am working remotely part-time and teaching at a university part-time. That is my reality, and so I am working through all the logistics and emotions that such a juggling act brings.

To help with this, I purchased Lauren Smith Brody’s The Fifth Trimester: The Working Mom’s Guide to Style, Sanity, & Big Success After Baby (Doubleday, 2017). Although I have read only a few sections of it so far, I am LOVING all the practical wisdom, insight, and emotional support it offers. It contains advice on everything from how to pump on an airplane, to how to ask for a raise after being on maternity leave, to how to work at home and actually get stuff done—and it’s not just from Brody; much of the insight comes from the 700+ women who answered a 50-question survey she posted online (some of whom she then followed up with). The Fifth Trimester is for all moms, whether they work in an office, at home, or don’t work at all and just need some help finding confidence and feeling more like themselves again after giving birth and while taking care of a tiny human while running on fumes. I won’t detail all the techniques for being more productive while working at home with minimal childcare—you should definitely pick up a copy of this book yourself—but I do want to highlight some of the advice Brody offers about navigating the emotional terrain of working at home after baby.

“Do not let working for yourself rob you of the very freedom you sought when you decided to become your own boss.”

This line really hit me hard—like, it walked up to me, slapped me in the face, and walked away while giving me major shade. Brody had my number before I even bought this book: I have what she calls “Superwoman Syndrome.” Brody notes that when you work at home, it’s really easy to take on too much of everything: too many work projects, too many home projects, too many social projects, etc. etc. And is it ever! A light bulb lit up in my head: “Hello?! You wonder why you feel so frazzled post baby? It’s not just the newborn phase; it’s your inability to say NO.” It’s okay (and even important) to be choosy about the projects you take on post baby. I’ve even found myself asking for extensions on unpaid assignments, which is something I never imagined I’d do. But my emotional well-being has to come first right now, because it’s crucial for my baby’s well-being, as well as the rest of the family’s.

“You need to know how to have difficult conversations that mix personal and professional in ways you might not always find comfortable.”

This line was not in the section geared specifically toward work-at-home moms, but I found it incredibly relatable. Being a remote employee, I was able to continue working after giving birth without taking a maternity leave. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is up for debate, but it was the best financial decision for us. It can be easy for coworkers, authors, and clients with whom I work to forget (or just not know) that I’m on my own sort of reduced-workload maternity leave-ish thing (a.k.a. regularly without a sitter for the baby, working at weird hours, and not always reachable by phone). I find myself having to justify my availability and remind people that I’ve just had a baby, but while a reminder might be okay and necessary, Brody alerted me to the fact that I don’t need to make justifications. I’m still working the hours I said I would, I’m getting my work done, and I made this arrangement in advance. If I don’t get enough of a heads-up about a call scheduled for a day I don’t usually have childcare to be able to arrange for someone to watch my kids, that’s not my fault because I’ve been transparent about my childcare situation and the need for advance notice about times that require a noise-free work environment. Brody also says that it’s easy for any remote employee to feel the need to overcompensate or overexplain when she is not available at the exact moment an in-office employee needs her; you can’t be “on(line)” 24/7, nor should you be. She recommends setting daily work-time limits to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

A few other very helpful recommendations relevant to work-at-home moms include the following:

  • Don’t feel the need to get everything done in one day—you can’t; that’s the nature of being self-employed or working remotely.

  • Just like you should schedule in time to work, you should block off mommy-and-me time during the week. Brody notes that this will help enforce boundaries during work times, and I agree. I find that when I carve out time to be fully present with my daughter, say, when I take her to music class, she generally respects my work time at home.

  • It’s okay to use some traditional work hours for personal things, if you’ve worked more hours outside of the traditional work day (and if it’s okay with your boss). I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I read this. I often will take a break mid-day to go for a run or do some meal prep, and sometimes I feel guilty about this, but then again…I usually get up at 5 a.m. to start work, and I often work late into the night.

I’m loving everything Brody has to say about finding peace (and hopefully fulfillment) while working post baby. The Fifth Trimester (so far) seems to meet moms where they’re at and offer them genuine solidarity, regardless of their work situations. I appreciate how Brody notes the ambivalence of working motherhood, addressing things like how oftentimes you feel like you’re “just getting by” on a good day. I’m excited to read more of this book!

Stay tuned for a review of the entire book after I finish reading it!


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