Having done the work-travel-as-a-new-mama thing a few times, I can related to the jumble of emotions that comes along with such a trip.
My very first work trip after becoming a mom was from Washington, DC, where I live, to Chicago. My son was 6 months old, and I did a whirlwind 36-hour trip to give a talk at a conference. My heart and body physically ached at leaving him longer than an 8-hour work day. I was undeniably a hot mess.
I remember staring longingly at any airplane-bound baby…sobbing uncontrollably in the airport bathroom…and pumping while sitting in my airplane seat. Yes, that was incredibly awkward, but I couldn’t figure out where else to do it, and I was leaking. (How I wish something like the Freemie had existed back then!)
At that point, my son wasn’t interested in taking a bottle from anyone but his daycare teachers, so I wasn’t even sure he would eat while I was away. And while everyone told me “at least you’ll sleep the night!”, that simply wasn’t true, as I needed to interrupt my sleep at some crazy hour to pump. When my talk at the conference was over, I literally ran to a taxi, feeling that sense of “must be with my heartthrob NOW” urgency one feels in the first few months of falling in love.
My first little work trip was just that – little. But it felt like a huge deal at the time. I couldn’t even fathom how some of my friends with small babies had gone away longer – for days or weeks – and further – some traveling internationally with coolers of dry ice to bring home their pumped milk. When I went away on longer trips that first year, I was lucky enough to be able to bring my little guy with me (my husband has a flexible schedule so could watch him during my conferences). And while bringing the baby has its own set of challenges, they don’t include missing him desperately or pumping gallons of milk.
Things change as our kiddos grow, of course. Mine are now 4 and 6, and now that (a) I’m past the hormonal issues associated with giving birth and breastfeeding; and (b) have been sleep-deprived for going on 6 years now, I have a very different perspective on work travel.
Now I CAN sleep the night in a gloriously comfortable hotel bed. Now I CAN enjoy a nice, long, meeting-free, mommy-request-free airplane ride. And now I CAN leave my children cards and notes and do FaceTime with them in a way that’s meaningful. When I left for my most recent trip, they waved and blew kisses to me as I got into my taxi. And while I missed them, I did revel in a night of cocktails with colleagues followed by 8+ hours of uninterrupted sleep.
So, if you’re planning to take a business trip without baby after your return to work, here’s what I recommend:
1. Focus on the good things. If your baby is tiny, the best thing about your trip may be that your baby gets to bond with someone else. And that someone else may get to learn a few things about caring for baby and holding down the fort that they didn’t know. (These are things you can and should continue to rely on them for even after you get home!)
2. Breathe in deeply the change of scenery and sneak in self-care. Been sitting in your house with baby for a few months while on leave? Tired of the stacks of paper in your office? Focus on the work trip as a way to awaken your senses to something new, and to breathe in some new and different air and sights. Make some time for YOU, too. On various trips, I’ve managed to do things including getting a pedicure, walking on the beach, taking a nap, taking a yoga class, going shopping, and seeing a Broadway show. I also like to bring my journal with me – nearly all my journal entries since having children have been written from airports.
3. Be present to your feelings. No use fighting them. Just feel. Take them in. And keep moving through them. I’ve been at airports where I’ve wanted to scoop up a little toddler strangers and kiss them, which told me yes, I missed my boys. It’s okay to acknowledge the missing. And then when that feeling has passed, it’s okay to feel good about taking time for yourself and your career.
4. Know that baby will be FINE. Just fine. On that first trip I took, it turns out my son didn’t drink anything for about 12+ hours. And then he caved, of course, and guzzled a few bottles of milk when he got desperate. You’ve inevitably left the baby with a competent caregiver – so trust that all will be well.
And on the flip side, if you’re thinking about bringing your baby with you on the trip, and you can swing it…my advice is to go for it now! Before she can run and raise hell on an airplane. Or before he reaches an age where routine is absolutely king. Or before you have a second kid, making the whole prospect of traveling with both children make you crave a blissfully quiet trip alone.
Lori K. Mihalich-Levin, JD, is the founder of Mindful Return, author of Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave, and creator of the Mindful Return E-Course. A partner in the health care practice of a global law firm, she also is mama to two beautiful red-headed boys. Lori holds a law degree from the Georgetown University Law Center and completed her undergraduate studies at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.
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