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Leaving Maternity Leave

Jump back into the working world with a little help from Baby Caravan.

Leaving Maternity Leave

The business of making a baby is about nothing if not preparedness. A birth plan? I’d made one. A hospital bag? Mine was packed a good month in advance of my due date. When my husband and I returned home with our two-day-old daughter, our apartment was filled with all manner of bottle systems and stroller contraptions and handkerchief-sized items of girlie clothing.

For a while there, everything was more or less under control: the baby was still alive. Her older brother had given up his campaign to rename her "City Bus" and was all about the hugs and kisses. Just as my maternity leave was nearing its end, though, I had a new army of scenarios to fret about.

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Which is why I summoned Emily Crocker and Jennifer Mayer, two of Brooklyn’s finest doulas, to my doorstep some three months after the birth of my daughter. They’d come over to walk me through the rather fraught business of jumping back into the working world.

Emily and Jen, along with doula London King, are co-founders of Baby Caravan, a band of six baby workers that focus on birth and postpartum doula’ing. To round out the continuum, the company has just launched its back-to-work program, which entails a mix of private sessions and group classes aimed at providing support for mothers returning to the grind. Clients typically receive one private session, a follow-up written plan, and phone, text and email support after they report to the office.

“Women make up more than 50% of the workforce and are responsible for 100% of the baby making in this world, and yet we have no support when we go back to work. It’s utterly astounding,” says Emily, a postpartum doula and mother of two. “We have worked with and spoken to women in all types of fields including OB/GYNs, heads of PR of large advertising firms and small business owners—and they are all extremely anxious about leaving their babies at home.”

Jen has been a birth doula for a decade, is a certified holistic health coach and is expecting her first baby this winter. “This program was inspired after I followed up with my clients a year or more after their births,” she says. “Many had amazing maternity leaves and really enjoyed that time with their little ones. Then they went back to work, and the rug was pulled out from beneath them. It’s something people don't talk about—you’re supposed to ‘just pump and get on with it.’ But it’s a big deal. And it's okay to feel ambivalent.”

A few days before our visit, Emily and Jen emailed me an intake form with some lay-of-the-land questions. I was asked to share my childcare plans, the names of my family members and where I stood on the issues of exercise and take-out’s role at the family dinner table. I was also asked to rank in order of concern six aspects of returning to work, including sleep, my pumping plans and sharing duties with my husband.

Once we were seated in my living room, Emily and Jen used my answers as jumping off points for what would become one of the fastest two and a half hour conversations in history. We talked about why I love my job, and why it's important to me that my kids see their mother thriving out of the house. Then we moved on to the logistics and unpacked each aspect of my return to work, discussing my plans and nifty little ways to tweak them.

“There’s no one size fits all answer, we can help moms make their decisions about pumping strategies or getting dinner on the table every night,” says Emily.

I wasn’t too concerned about pumping, but preserving family dinner was preying on my mind. “It would be easy if I could just make pasta every night and never have to think about it,” I said. Emily and Jen actually thought that was a brilliant idea, and soon we were in agreement that I should put aside any Ottolenghi-esque ambitions and my household would eat the same quartet of super-easy meals Monday through Thursday. “We did that when I was a kid,” Emily said. “Taco Tuesday was everybody’s favorite.”

Another thing I’d been worrying about—handling all the family-related emails that I can never seem to stay on top of —didn’t faze Emily and Jen. “That’s an important part of parenting,” said Jen. “I call it ‘kinkeeping.’ Women tend to do the bulk of it. If you’re the main kinkeeper, it’s important to remember all the work your partner does that makes your life easier.” Telling them about all the things my kids’ father takes care of made me feel grateful, and less overwhelmed. Emily had a practical suggestion. “Why don’t you allow yourself to forget about these things except when you’re pumping? That can be your time to deal with any kinkeeping.” This seemed eminently doable.

When I voiced what might be my biggest concern—that I will sorely miss my children—Emily had these words: “You’ll see them for dinner, and that’s the sweetest part of the day. There’s so much less aggravation than when you're on your own with the kids in the middle of the day.” My mind flashed to a particularly messy scene from the previous afternoon, and I smiled.

A few days after our meeting, Jen and Emily emailed me my plan. It ticked off the things that I seem to have in good order, and offered a few suggestions for ways to make the trickier parts of my transition easier. They urged me to call another new mom at my office to chat about the mothers' rooms before my first day back, and to set aside a couple nights a month for post-work drinks or a yoga class. They even gave me homework, asking me to come up with a list of dinner "musts" (e.g. Must get vegetables on the table more nights than not) and "must nots" (e.g. Must not serve bagels for dinner... twice in a row), aimed at helping me establish a low bar for what counts as success.

Of course, there are limits to what Emily and Jen can do. Were they able to assure me that I'll never get an emergency call informing me that my toddler had locked himself in the bathroom? Could they guarantee that every morning I’d wake up fresh-faced and my work dresses would emerge from the closet unrumpled? If only. But it felt bizarrely comforting to give voice to the stress that had been building up within, and remember why I’m so excited to top up my Metrocard.

Baby Caravan's back-to-work program costs $300 and includes the one 2 hour private session, a follow-up written plan, and phone, text and email support after a mom reports to the office. Additional hours are available.

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