Contributed by Lauren Smith Brody, founder of The Fifth Trimester movement, which helps new parents and businesses work together to revolutionize workplace culture, and author of the new book, The Fifth Trimester: The Working Mom’s Guide to Style, Sanity, and Big Success After Baby

You know all about the first three trimesters, and probably even about the fourth (those bleary-eyed newborn days), but I’m convinced that there’s actually a Fifth Trimester, too. It’s  when you head back to work after having a baby; it’s when the new working mom is born.

I’ve been through The Fifth Trimester myself twice, so I know firsthand what a head-spinning, identity-morphing time it is, especially if -- like most American moms -- you’re returning to the workplace before you feel physically and emotionally ready to be there. In the meantime, I’ve written a book to help new moms through the transition. In The Fifth Trimester: The Working Mom’s Guide to Style, Sanity, and Big Success After Baby, I surveyed 700+ moms, interviewed 100+ more, and did a deep dive into scientific research about the postpartum phase and your career. Collectively, the women who shared their hard-earned wisdom–police officers, teachers, lawyers, doctors, independent contractors, CEOs, tech geniuses, nurses, Fortune 500 execs–make up one giant working mom mentor...

...A mentor with perspective and weak moments, too! In my research, I found that nearly every mom I talked to had had at least one “I need to quit” attack in her first few weeks back on the job. That’s an awful feeling -- particularly if quitting really isn’t an option for your family. What helps? I lay out several scientifically proven antidotes in the book, my favorite of which is really simple:

Realize what you get out of work.

In the spirit of full disclosure, here’s my own, very personal, list of what I got out of work when I had a newborn at home:

1) A paycheck. I’d be lying if I didn’t say this was high on my list. But that direct deposit every other Friday at midnight wasn’t just about financial was a reminder of how hard I’d worked and of the faith I’d had in myself jumping into a risky career right out of college when I couldn’t even afford “fancy” Starbucks coffee. If I’d had that confidence back then, with no work experience at all, surely I could find some now, too.

2) A sense of identity entirely my own. How many times in your life have you been asked, “What do you do?” I never get tired of the little thrill of being able to answer that question with pride.

3) A team. I’m the oldest of four kids, and the wife of my college sweetheart–clearly, I love being part of a team. At work, I always know that doing my task helps the whole.

4) Ants in my pants. Specifically about the next step in my career. Coming back to work after my babies, I didn’t have it in me in those first few months to really gun for a promotion, but I did know that the higher I moved up, the more influence I’d have over my own benefits and those of my colleagues. That was motivating.

5) Peace, quiet, coffee, gossip, bathroom breaks. All of the things I’d barely noticed before having a baby suddenly felt like gifts. You mean I could drink boiling hot coffee with my headphones on or have actual adult conversations about something other than keeping a 10-pound human alive? That was revelatory.

What’s on your list? It’s worth making one, so you, too, can stay in the game and show your colleagues–and our greater culture–that the Fifth Trimester is simply a transition. It’s hard, but it’s finite, and it makes you stronger.

photo credit: Nancy Borowick


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