Thursday, April 19, 2012

Your Turn - "Alice's" Story

"Your Turn" is a series of posts where readers share their stories of parenthood, work, the struggle for a balance, or just life generally.  If you are interested in contributing a story, please email me at, or click here.

So a lot of people have asked me what it’s like to be a working mom.

Actually, that’s not true.  No one has asked me that.

But you know, I bet people are somewhat curious.  Because when I was considering whether to go back to work after maternity leave, I desperately wanted to know. 

What is it like to leave your baby for hours at a time in a stranger’s care?  Will you feel sad for missing all the ‘firsts’?  Will it weaken the bond between the two of you?  Will you be replaced as the most important person in your baby’s eyes?

I especially wanted to know what it would be like for a corporate attorney working mom.  My job is notoriously unplannable.  We are on-call 24-7, 365 days a year, resulting in many cancelled vacations and telling my family every year--I might have to miss Christmas, start without me!  When a deal is on, it is ON and you work night and day like kids in a sweatshop until the deal is done.  If you need to fly out to another coast 3 weekends in a row to bash it out, you do it.  Heck, if you need to fly to another continent to bash it out, you do that too.
How could I possibly be a somewhat present mom with a job like that?!  On top of it all, I was a nursing Nazi.  For some reason, I was fervently attached to the idea that my baby MUST DRINK MY MILK for at least one year.  Anything less would feel utterly demoralizing.  But let’s just say that high-stress and lactation do not mix.  Making milk requires as much psychological conditioning as anything else.  And who is going to let you take a pump-break in the middle of a 7 hour client meeting?!

The more I considered these obstacles looming ahead of me, the more I wanted to just throw in the towel and not go back to work.  But the ever level-headed spouse reminded me that we really needed my income and it just might not be so bad.  Why don’t we give it a try?  If it’s really all that bad, I can quit.  Anytime.

I looked at my $300 breast pump and thought, that’s going to be the dumbest investment I ever made.  I’ll use it for 2 weeks and then quit.  Well, it’s been more than a year since I’ve returned to work from maternity leave, so shut my mouth and color me surprised!

So what has it been like?

In a word: exhausting.

If ever in my life I have felt tested and stretched, it was laughably ridiculous compared to the unrelenting strain of working a high-stress corporate job and trying to be as present as possible with a high-need insatiably curious baby.

Being a working mom is like having 2 jobs.  No, it IS having 2 jobs.  You work all day with the stress and pressures of various project deadlines and then you come home and instead of winding down with a bowl of ice-cream and some Netflix, you jump right into the fire of your second job.

In my second job, the client was much more demanding and unreasonable than any in my corporate job.  This client would scream and wail every time I tried to change his diapers, leaving trails of his poop everywhere as he wriggled and writhed.  He refused to eat the nutritious food I slaved to make and screamed for crackers and chips.  He threw his food on the floor repeatedly.  He wanted you to carry his 23 lb body on long walks and screamed and wailed if you so much as hinted that you were going to drop him in a stroller.  In fact he wanted to be carried all the time.  Hoisted up so he could see the world from a different vantage point.  And gesture that he wanted this and that PRONTO.

And finally, after you’ve engaged this little client in an epic bedtime battle and WON, you don’t even get to relish that sweet victory with some ice-cream and Netflix.  Nope.  You tiptoe out of his room and right to your desk and continue grinding out the mind-numbing draft for your other job.  After working the night away, you brush your teeth and hop into bed, hoping and praying that insomnia does not rear its ugly head.

What about the weekends?  You don’t get weekends as a corporate lawyer.

So where in this narrative is exercise?  Where is meeting up with friends?  Where is going out with your hubby?  Where are your hobbies?  Where is your freaking bowl of ice-cream and next episode of Big Love?

It’s as poignantly absent as your sanity.

After living this kind of “so-called” life for a while, I had an epiphany--a beam of sunlight amidst the foggy clouds.  Why don’t I just hire a babysitter and give myself some ME time?  It’s worth spending a little cash to get back a little sanity.

And you know what?  I can’t.

When I need a break the most, that’s the time I can’t do it the most.

I can’t spend any more time away from my baby.

Maybe everyone has a different equilibrium point after which they are happy to spend time away from their kid.  In a given week, I don’t want to spend any more than 30 hours away from my baby.  That’s why I work a 70% schedule.

But if work is killing me that week and making me put in 50+ hours, there’s no way in heck I’m going to take precious baby time away and do something for myself.

But I want so desperately to have some me time.

So there you have it.  The catch-22 of working moms.  Damned (by guilt) if you do make time for yourself.  And damned if you don’t.  Eventually I start to feel like a rubber band getting stretched way too thin.  It seems like only a matter of time before the inevitable snap.

Of course not every working mom is going to feel this beleaguered.  Hopefully your job is not as hellacious and/or your child is not so demanding.  And I imagine it’s probably a lot easier if you’re one of the lucky gals with loving parents in the vicinity.

But that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it…for now anyway.

This post was written by "Alice in Wonderland."  You can read her blog at


  1. You're on a 70 percent schedule or work 50+ hours a week? I don't get it...

  2. Hi Anon--Good question. My work schedule is puzzling and unfortunate. I'm SUPPOSED to only work 28 hours a week, but when a deal is on, my schedule goes out the window and I work at the pleasure and whim of the clients.

  3. I'm not a lawyer, so admittedly I don't really get it. But why anyone would put up with working such a schedule - no matter the pay - is beyond me. I can't imagine how hard that must be with a child.

  4. Anon @ 1:18--I 100% agree with you. It is insane for any human. But it's doubly insane when you factor in having to find childcare. I think that's why most young moms in my practice have quit within a year of having their babies. And why I was prepared to bid the practice farewell as well. BUT, I have a pretty understanding partner who tries to make sure I only logon back to work only after the baby goes to sleep and no other job will let me work 28 hours a week with full benefits, etc. But certainly there is a lot of "revaluation" that goes on in my head.

  5. As a fellow corporate lawyer, I can only imagine the type of balancing act necessary to do the job and also be a mom. I'm curious about how you split up your 28 hours per week. Also, when you have closings and put in more hours, do you then lighten up the next week to make up for it? Are you getting paid the same salary regardless of how many hours you bill? Maybe some of these questions are too personal, so feel free to not answer, but I'm just curious as I'll be facing similar demands in the near future:)

  6. Anon @ 4:36--I work 4 days a week, 7 hours each day. When work gets crazy, I luckily get to "save up" my hours that I'm owed and take them off later when the workload thins out. I'm not sure if this is typical for firms as my office is pretty small (and our corporate practice is even smaller--just about 10 lawyers total). And yes, I get the same salary no matter how many hours I work (but I think I would get a bonus if I worked more than my billables). Technically, working 70% refers to my billable requirements, not my hours in the office (although proportional face-time in the office is expected), but didn't want to get too technical in my post. Good luck with your near future juggling!

  7. Two of my mom friends used to work at BigLaw. After the baby, when they took the 75% billable track and corresponding 25% pay cut, their partners still expected the same face time. They ended up working the same hours for less pay. Both of them recently went in-house and are so far loving it. Life really does change when you don't have to bill hours (I felt that way even coming out of a small law firm). Maybe in-house is something that could be on your horizon one day. Good luck!

  8. It gets SO MUCH EASIER when as they get older. The one-on-one time pays off more, minute for minute. And half the time you are there, they are doing there own thing, so time at home becomes more relaxing.


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