Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Your Turn - Annie's Story: How Being a Lawyer Prepared Me For Mamahood

"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 butidohavealawdegree@gmail.com, or click here.

I knew I wanted to be a lawyer for as long as I can remember. (Don’t even get me started on the fallout I experienced by following an uninformed childhood dream.)  I also knew that I wanted to be a mama.  And as I got older, I became more aware of the challenges that being both presented.

I told myself I could handle the challenges of doing each well, but deep down I didn’t want to do both. I’m one of those people who just doesn’t half-ass anything.  And I knew that if I could have things my way, I’d be whole-assing the mama thing.

That being said, I assumed that being a 24/7 mama wouldn’t be an option for me.  You know, six-figure law school debt and all.  While that didn’t stop me from developing an exit strategy -- namely starting my own life coaching business for attorneys during my pregnancy -- I wasn’t sure if I’d have the ladyballs to quit.

Fast forward to the summer of 2013 when our Gwyneth Paige was born with an obstruction in her lung.  I didn’t even get to hold her before watching them intubate her in preparation for transport to a higher level NICU... in a neighboring state.

Happily, G was breathing on her own by the end of her birthday and has never stopped being the feisty babe who fought for her life that day.  But before the end of our weeklong stay in the NICU, I knew I would be quitting my job.  (After my paid personal leave was up, of course!)

Not only did I end up not returning from my maternity leave, but I was surprised by how much my legal career had prepared me for my new mama job.  In particular, the sheer unreasonableness of it all.

Here are the highlights:

1. Enough with the yelling already

Even though I was a transactional attorney for my seven year career, I endured a fair amount of screaming from opposing counsel, clients and even partners in my firms (super classy, right?).  I employed several techniques when trying to stop the yelling -- lowering my voice, raising my voice, apologizing, empathizing, sympathizing, reasoning, explaining, scolding, swearing -- yet the result was generally the same: continued yelling.

And wouldn’t you know, our little family suffered through almost four months of colic with our sweet Gwyneth.  I tried singing, shushing, bouncing, rocking, nursing, burping, walking, crying, laughing, storytelling, swaddling, swinging, strolling, babywearing.  Of course, nothing worked.

I’m not saying I breezed through colic without issue (oh hi, PPD!), but I took solace in the fact that even grown men rarely respond to my quieting techniques.  At least Gwyneth was excusably incapable of employing basic reason or manners.

2. Unpredictability

So that feeling of dread when a partner calls you into his/her office at 6:00 on a Friday evening? You know, the one that tells you to kiss your weekend plans goodbye?  Totally sucks.  But you rally because you have no other option.

We’ve all been there.

Silver lining? The familiar sensation and ability to roll with the punches when Gwyneth:

- Has a poo-splosion mid diaper change

- Wakes up for the fifth time in an eight-hour period

- Screams bloody murder because she hates being in her car seat

Again, these scenarios suck.  Hard.  But what else am I going to do?

Baby poo is so disgusting. But at least cleaning it up doesn’t take all weekend.

Catching up on sleep, on the other hand, often does steal most of my weekend.  But I know it’s temporary.  And those naps I take with G are oh-so-delicious.

While having a colicky baby who has never tolerated a car seat is unspeakably cruel (damn you, baby gods!), I’ve learned to keep our car trips to no more than ten minutes and to sing lots of Raffi.  And OMG, you guys, I’ve only bought gas once since the child was born nine months ago.

3. Consistently inconsistent

If I could count on one thing as an associate, it was that my assigning partner would inevitably mark up an agreement to which I had incorporated his specific language/comments/formatting/bullshit.  There was no stopping it, only preparing for and accepting it.

I feel like this behavior is the cornerstone of infancy.

One day a stroller ride in the sun makes for a calm, happy and ready-for-sleep baby.  The next day I may as well have strapped Gwyneth to the rack.  Lest the neighbors call family services, I’ll throw G into the Moby Wrap and lug her eighteen pounds all over the neighborhood...while she kicks my gut and blows raspberries in my face.  Obviously.

And don’t even get me started on the sleep factor.  For weeks, she’ll wake up every two hours around the clock, then sleep ten straight hours for a couple days.  But like the perfectly drafted contract, I know that this sleep pattern will not stand.  The next night we’ll be back to 15 million wakings. Le sigh...

Law Firm Era Redux

I still can’t believe I’m actually grateful to my former bosses, colleagues and clients for their erratic and unprofessional behavior, but dealing with them has definitely helped shape my expectations as a mama.  Especially since Gwyneth is a “delightfully” high-need, insatiably curious, sleep-hating child.

Again, it’s not like these unsavory associate experiences outfitted me with impenetrable mama armor.  I’m honestly a hot mess in sweatpants on any given day.  But being an attorney did enhance my ability to deal with complete and utter nonsense on the regular.

And while I’ll never return to law firm life, I suspect that my experiences there will follow and guide me into each new stage of Gwyneth’s life.  I mean, isn’t that the life-coachy bullshit you’re expecting me to say here?

Annie Little is a former attorney, trained life coach and founder of JD Nation.  She provides coaching and resources for JDs who want to regain a sense of control, curb burnout and start enjoying their lives again.  Because there's more to life than being a lawyer.  Really.


  1. Love this, spot on! I am a mother-attorney to a 19 month old and the legal training does help me handle motherhood stresses better. That law degree, which if for very little other reason, has helped me be a more reasonable, calm mother. And deal with DC traffic a little better.

    1. Yes! If someone had told me in law school that my law degree would serve me better in motherhood than in my career, I'd tell them to shut the hell up. But I have yet to find anything that makes me less than an insane person in any kind of traffic. You all can thank me when my daughter teaches your toddlers every cuss word ever created.


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