Is it possible to be a bread winner and a bread baker too? Majorie Greenfield, M.D. shares her bold and honest assessment of working pregnancy — how to live a balanced life, while honoring both personal and professional aspirations.
MA: What advice do you give to mothers who are returning to work soon after having a baby?
MG: It’s hard! It’s hard to go back to work right after you have a baby—especially in the beginning – and different people go back at different times. I stayed home for seven-weeks when I had my son 20-years ago, but a lot of people can still only get six-weeks of maternity leave (or even less than that).
Mothers need enough time to bond with their baby at home and to establish breastfeeding if that’s what they choose to do. But everyone is different. Going back to work for some people is really satisfying. I have had lots of people say “I’m just not a newborn person” or “I was so happy to have adult conversations again.” I think for some of us, work is such a big part of our lives that the adjustment to being a mom is actually pretty hard.
When I went back to work, people said to me “you’re going to be so sad – your heart’s going to be broken going back to work”. I didn’t feel that way. I missed him, but I was really still very glad to be at work.
Most women in the United States have living situations that are incredibly good compared to what women around the world experience – or what women over the centuries have experienced. We have a lot of luxuries in our lives and I personally believe that happiness has much more to do with our attitude than it does with the circumstances. We have a lot of power now that we didn’t have before (for the most part). We have the power to create our own lives. It may not be perfect every minute along the way, but we’re making choices!
MA: How can moms ensure a successful transition back to work?
MG: Part of where people get stuck is not asking for help, or expecting that they’re going to do every “mom” thing that their own mother did, PLUS every “work” thing that everybody else at work does – as if that is somehow humanly possible. It’s crazy.
One of the things that came out in the interviews I did for The Working Woman’s Pregnancy Book was that a lot of moms still want to be that primary parent. They assumed that they would be the same kind of mom their mother was, or that they would be the primary parent — that they would always take their child to the doctor, or be the one to interact with school or day care. Granted, some dad’s don’t contribute as much as they could, but sometimes it was the mom becoming the expert so quickly that dad got left out of that learning curve. If mom is jumping in there too often, then the dad can begin to feel left behind. You really have to let him become the expert too.
MA: Do you have any recommendations for ways to find that balance?
MG: The last chapter in my book is all about balance. We conducted free-form interviews and looked for common trends. “Taking time for myself” as a general theme came up over and over again. Solutions to this common parenting delimma may look different for each mom – one interviewee said that she likes to “take a bath”, another recommended “yoga stretches while the coffee is brewing in the morning.”
Things like this, where you’re just carving out a little bit of time for yourself, can go a long way. Sometimes moms don’t feel like they deserve that. They feel that everything should be for the children, which leads them to feel deprived.
I like to challenge people to think about what kind of role model you want to be as a mom and as an adult. Are adults people who deprive themselves of things in order to do for everybody else and are miserable all the time? Or do you want to show your kids an adult who has a balanced life and who feels good – even if that means that you work full time and you get a babysitter on Saturday?
Marjorie Greenfield is a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist and fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG). She has practiced and taught obstetrics and gynecology since 1987, and is currently associate professor on the full-time faculty at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. Her writing career started in 2000, when she became director of obstetrics and gynecology for the Dr. Spock Company, a health and parenting multimedia enterprise. In 2002, drspock.com was one of only five Internet health sites nominated for a Webby Award, the oscars of cyberspace. While working with the Dr. Spock team, Marjorie wrote Dr. Spock’s Pregnancy Guide, published in 2003 by Simon and Schuster and subsequently translated into Bulgarian, Romanian, Lithuanian, Estonian, Russian, Italian, Chinese, and for the UK edition, the Queen’s English. Marjorie practices general obstetrics and gynecology with a specialty of pediatric and adolescent gynecology, but loves obstetrics and have a large adult OB practice.