Returning to work after maternity leave can throw even the strongest of women into emotional upheaval. Yes, there is the pain of leaving your baby, but there is also the joy in engaging that part of your identity again. For every milestone missed, consider the professional goals achieved.
The push and pull of working motherhood, much like the sleep deprivation, gets more manageable with time. There are periods when you feel like a rock star, ready to shout at anyone who would listen how in control you are of it all. And, then, there are those days when you can barely see through the smoke from one fire to the next. Sharing your experiences with others can be both educational and cathartic.
Octavia Martinez, a civil defense attorney in Weslaco, Texas, knows first-hand the triumphs and travesties of being a working professional raising children. After staying home for the first 11 months of her son’s life, Martinez returned to full-time work this past January as an attorney. She said her employer, Jones, Galligan, Key, & Lozano, “understood my need for flexibility as a mother.” Recognizing the importance of talking about these issues from a compassionate perspective, Martinez was eager to chat with Fairygodboss about her work, motherhood, and the interplay between the two.
What is the best part of your day?
There are a few best parts of my day! I love going into my son's room when he first wakes up and singing good morning to him. I also love when I get to work and am able to sit quietly at my desk and drink my coffee or tea in peace.
What is the hardest part of being a working mom?
One of the hardest things about being a working mom is dealing with the guilt. I love my job; I love having a career, and I sometimes feel guilty for having those feelings because they seem to go against what society expects moms to feel or say once they have children.
What is the most rewarding part of being a working mom?
Having something for myself. When I had my son I suffered from postpartum depression. I moved across the country when I was pregnant and walked away from a job that I considered to be my dream job. When I had my son I felt really out of sorts and out of place. I was in a new state with no professional network. I worried that I wouldn't be able to have a career or ever feel like myself again. Of course I now know that this isn’t true. The most rewarding part about being a working mom is appreciating that although I had a child, I am still me. The career I worked so hard for was still there and, more importantly, I was still there despite my new role as a mother. Motherhood didn't take anything from me as I had feared; instead, it added to my life.
What’s your best piece of advice for someone returning from maternity leave?
You and the baby are going to be great! It is hard at first and may feel daunting and overwhelming but soon enough you will both be in a routine. You can do this!
Describe a typical workday:
5:45-6:30 am: wake time range (largely depends on whether we are in a sleep regression). If I am lucky, it is my alarm beeping that rouses me from sleep. If I am unlucky, it is the dog flapping his ears, my husband leaving early for work, or my son yelling from his room and startling me from a deep sleep.
6:30-7:45 am: I get ready for work while simultaneously preparing my son to spend the day at his grandmother's. The goal is to leave at 7:45. However, given how the morning goes, we are lucky if we can get out of the house before 8.
Getting ready consists of my son handing me toys and books to read him and getting upset if I ignore him - all while I am trying to apply foundation, run a comb through my hair and his, brush our teeth, and find something suitable and unwrinkled to wear. On a good day I will only need to put on one outfit, but there have been days where I have to change because my son's diaper leaked onto the front of my suit or I had to crawl under the bed to fish the dog out from his hiding space to place him in his crate.
Once we are dressed and clean, I take my son downstairs and get him situated in his high chair with milk and plain cheerios on his tray. He is happy this way for about 12 minutes. If he is in a good mood, we can both happily watch/listen to Good Morning America while I pack my lunch, make my breakfast, pack the diaper bag, pack his lunch, pack my purse, and load the car. If he is crankier, I put on an episode of Bubble Guppies to buy me time. After happily eating all the cheerios my son threw on the ground for him, the dog goes out one more time before I put him away. My son and I head off to his grandmother’s home.
8-8:20 am: I drop my son off at his grandmother’s and unpack his bags for the day from the car. Sometimes he will want me to play a quick game with him before I say goodbye. Thankfully, my mother-in-law is really good at distracting him so I can head out the door.
8:40-9:10 am: I arrive at the office. I usually spend the first 10 minutes making my tea or coffee and inputting my billing from the previous day and going over the schedule for the day.
If I have a hearing or deposition scheduled in the morning, my husband will usually drop my son off at his mother's house or my mother-in-law will pick him up if my husband has to get to the hospital at 6am for his residency rounds.
9-5:30 pm: I handle all manner of civil defense litigation, meaning I represent companies that are being sued —whether they are personal injury claims, property damage claims, disputes involving utility easements, real estate contracts gone south, employment disputes, or other contract claims. I love being a lawyer and am so grateful that my new employer provides such challenging work in a family-friendly environment.
5:30-6 pm: I pick up my son from work. My husband will feed our son and bring him upstairs to take a bath so I can get started on cooking. We alternate feeding the dog and letting the dog out — depends on who gets to the crate first.
While the oven is pre-heating and my son is in the bath, I jump in the shower. I take two showers a day just so I have the opportunity to take at least one shower in peace given that my morning shower includes an audience (dog and baby).
6:30-7:30 pm: We play with our son. My husband and I begin his bedtime routine. Most days he will go down okay around 7:30, although lately he has been teething (molars) so bedtime is hit or miss.
7:30-8:20 pm: My husband and I alternate trying and failing to get our son to bed.
8:20-9:30 pm: We lay down with our son in our bed until he falls asleep and move him to his crib. Then, we head downstairs to finally eat or watch the news or catch up on our shows.
10:30-11 pm: pass out to start all over again the next day.
Elana Konstant is a career coach and consultant focusing on professional women in career transition. A former lawyer, she founded Konstant Change Coaching to empower women to create the career they want. Change is good. Elana will help you find out why. Her career advice has been featured on Glamour.com, Babble, Motherly, and other outlets. You can learn more by visiting her website, konstantchangecoaching.com.