Creating a Mindful Return to Work after Maternity Leave

This month’s Mama Story packs a double punch. Not only does lawyer and entrepreneur Lori Mihalich-Levin share her personal experience in balancing her postpartum needs with her professional career, but she goes into detail about how the gap in maternity leave resources actually led her to design her business, Mindful Return.

If you are a Type A, hyper organized, and highly productive mama-to-be, Lori’s description of her planning for postpartum will probably resonate with you – I know I found myself laughing at the similarities. But despite all the planning, there is still so much uncharted territory in this transition to motherhood. Especially around what it means for our professional trajectory.

So, tune in to what Lori has to say about the topic. Enjoy and don’t forget to share with a friend who may be thinking about their postpartum needs and maternity leave.


I’m a planner by nature.

And when I was pregnant, WOW did I nest.

I had name lists ready to go the day we learned the baby’s sex.

I visited a daycare per month

I took a weekly prenatal yoga class

I soaked in a few pages of Mama Zen each night before bed

I ordered and set up the crib before I got too big

And read Happiest Baby on the Block on the beach on our “babymoon”.

I also did the requisite nesting cleaning, managing to find and remove dirt from every slat in our bathroom window blinds.

 

Pregnancy does strange things to the mind.

 

So it was only natural I would give some thought to my maternity leave and my ultimate return to the office.

During my first pregnancy, I had a vague notion of how long I wanted to be out, a boss who was

flexible about my return, and a few thoughts about not wanting to check my work e-mail until I came back.

But I really didn’t think much about going back to work – how my return would go, how I wanted it to look and feel, or how I could plan a meaningful, calm, and successful return.

 

I did some web searching for advice on returning to work after a maternity leave, and I didn’t turn up much that I found helpful.

 

There were endless lists, of course.

“5 Top Tips” here, “10 Survival Strategies” there

But nothing that actually helped me plan my return.

Some helpful practical advice? (Bring extra breastpads, you might leak) Yes.

Funny stories about inabilities to carry on adult conversation? Yes.

Snarky advice I couldn’t relate to? (Don’t show your baby pictures to anyone lest they never take you seriously…really?!) Absolutely.

But nothing that truly spoke to me.

 

I concluded from this dearth of intel on what it’s really like to go back to work and how to make it go more smoothly that (a) this must be something people don’t think too much about; (b) it can’t possibly be all that bad; and (c) I’ll just figure something out.

 

And for the most part, I muddled through.

When I returned to work after having my first baby, things were hard.

When I went back to work after my second maternity leave, though, things were dire.

 

1 child + 1 child felt like 85 children

 

Nobody was sleeping and I really didn’t know how to hold it all together.

This return to work was a real low point for me personally and emotionally, full or more mommy meltdowns than I’d care to admit.

 

I became fixated on the idea that there were courses for everything for new moms and babies except how to navigate the return to work after maternity leave, and I got VERY fired up about creating such a resource.

 

So I started taking baby steps.

I founded a “Returning to Work Community” at my office to provide some in-person support for my colleagues.

And for 30 minutes a few times a week, at night, after the kids were in bed and lunches were made, I began writing an online course to help new moms with this transition.

I decided there were four key themes every new working mama should work through with

thoughtfulness and intention, and I designed the course around them:

(1) creating a mindful mindset for returning to work (a.k.a. getting your head in a better place); (2) mastering the logistics;

(3) finding ways to be a leader in the space of your return; and

(4) the importance of staying in community with others and not isolating yourself as you make the transition.

 

The concept grew not only into an online course that I taught to 100+ women in 2015, but also into a blog, a Facebook page, and a business.

 

This all happened teeny bit by teeny bit, though.

I was working full time then and had a 1 year old and a 3 year old, so things just had to happen slowly.

I decided to call this project “Mindful Return”, because to me, mindfulness means two things:

(1) truly being where you are when you’re there (with your baby when you’re with your baby; at work when you’re at work); and

(2) doing the serious planning-ahead required to free up your brain to be in the present.

I’m a healthcare lawyer by day, and last year I transitioned into a new role where am able to spend more time on Mindful Return.

Through this process of starting a new business, I’ve learned a lot about myself.

That I actually LOVE being an entrepreneur.

And LOVE helping new mamas with this transition by creating a support network for them I didn’t have.

 

Returning from leave shouldn’t be something you have to “get through” but something you get to create.

 

You’ll return to work a different person you than when you left, with new skills that are – yes indeed – useful at the office.

You’ll have different priorities.

Different goals.

And likely you’ll be sleep deprived those first few months and just trying to figure things out.

But it’s a new, exciting phase of life worth being thoughtful, intentional, and not terrified about.

 

As you give birth to that beautiful baby and plan to head back to work, I urge you to take time to think about how you, too, can create a mindful return.


Lori K. Mihalich-Levin, JD, is the founder of Mindful Return and creator of the Mindful Return E-Course. A health care lawyer, she also is mama to two beautiful red-headed boys (ages 2 and 4). 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. You can connect with Lori and Mindful Return on her website, Facebook, or Twitter.

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