In “The Fifth Trimester,” Lauren Smith Brody Helps Working Moms Stay Sane After Baby

When Lauren Smith Brody was on maternity leave from her job as Executive Editor at Glamour magazine, she had no idea what the experience of going back to work would be like after twelve weeks at home with her new baby boy. She was the primary breadwinner and her husband was in medical residency. Going back to work was a no-brainer for her in so many ways, but it wasn’t easy.

Brody always loved her job and the people she worked with, but she found herself dreading going back after her first son was born. “I felt like I didn’t recognize myself,” she said during a phone interview with New York Family.

The sleep deprivation was intense and she was utterly exhausted. Each day felt like she was “just getting by,” which had never, ever been her norm. But with U.S. maternity leave policies being what they are (not good) and in need of a steady income stream, Brody went back and struggled through until she finally got her sea legs a few months into it.

Many parents who’ve dealt with fussy newborns are familiar with Dr. Harvey Karp’s concept of the fourth trimester – the idea that babies are born a trimester too early and therefore need to be made to feel like they’re in the womb again to feel secure. It’s these three months that the baby cries the most and is the incredibly needy of the parents. This is the period of time when women are typically at home on their maternity leave, and they usually return to work right as the fourth trimester is ending, if not beforehand. The fifth trimester, then, is all about the working mom’s return to the office, when she is likely not quite physically, psychologically, or emotionally ready. After all, many women are still breastfeeding when they go back to work and their babies may still be sleeping irregularly and waking up throughout the night. The idea behind Brody’s new book, The Fifth Trimester: The Working Mom’s Guide to Style, Sanity, and Big Success After Baby, is that women in this deeply challenging phase of life are looking for ideas, solutions, and the knowledge that other women have been in their shoes and made it to the other side, with family and career intact.

For Brody, realizing that this was just a transitional period, something that would pass along with the sleepless nights and spit-up, was transformative. It helped her adjust to her new role as working mom in a way that made sense for her, and inspired her to start talking to other moms (more than 700!) and experts for their ideas regarding not just the mental and physical logistics but the emotional evolution of making “mom” part of your work identity. The result is her book – an easy-to-read guide that’s essential for navigating the uncertain waters of balancing a new baby and a career. Pregnant women and new moms who are short on time will easily find themselves swept up by the friendly yet matter-of-fact manner in which Brody presents a litany of information and advice. From getting out the door in the morning looking like you actually got some sleep to what to ask your nanny during the interview. There’s even a quick reference page at the front of the book so readers can go directly to the topic and page they’re seeking.

Coming from a women’s magazine, Brody has a plethora of advice when it comes to making moms look and feel their best. One key piece is to make a miniature wardrobe within your closet. “Don’t let your closet torture you in the morning,” she says. Put everything that fits and is work-appropriate front and center so you can pick from there and make your morning a little easier.

When it comes to negotiating just about anything with your boss or a family member, have a plan and not just a complaint, and show how what you’re asking for isn’t selfish but actually good for everyone. If it’s flex time, then point out how working from home will save on commute time when you can get extra work done instead of waiting for the 6 train. If your company has never offered this benefit to anyone then you could be paving the path and making the company a more desirable place to work. Then just be sure to have a back-pocket plan when you feel out of control (think: exhausted or seriously sad or something that you would normally deal with hits you hard). This should be something that will soothe you. If nature gives you a sense of peace and calm find a park close to your office where you can walk when you’re feeling down. For Brody, she would call home because her dad would always say “I love you” when they hung up the phone and that was what she really needed to hear.

Brody’s book is packed with actionable tips, but one thing she wishes she’d mentioned as a resource for moms looking to network and connect with newborns is Mindr. “It’s a series of really awesome affordable events (conversations and talks) to which parents can bring their babies and come and learn about everything from flower arranging to public policy,” she says. There’s also lots to be said for moms who left the workforce after having babies but are now looking to jump back in. Brody points to the returnship program at Goldman Sachs and career placement company Werk that posts many part-time or work-from-home positions. “The future of work is flexible, and that’s great news for working parents,” Brody adds.

Speaking of good news for working parents, Brody is now doing more speaking engagements and some consulting to spread the word about the Fifth Trimester and how important it is to set up women for success when they get back to their desks. She’s helping companies improve their policies and, as a result, employee retention, along with boosting recruitment and reputation, not to mention their bottom line.

“There is just this burning desire to nurture and mentor that seems to light up for many women after having a baby,” Brody says. “It’s surprising because you’d think there’s no energy left to take care of anyone else, but it’s just the opposite.” Herself being a prime example, Brody hopes to make a real difference in workplace culture and build a movement that will pay it forward for generations to come.

So what does such a busy working mom do in her free time? As far as “me time” goes, Brody always liked walking the three miles to her office when she was an editor, especially the part where she strolled through Central Park. “I would walk by the sea lions at the zoo and just enjoy the fact that I was looking at the sea lions,” she says. These days, she likes to do bar classes at Exhale whenever she can.

Raising kids in Manhattan for her means frequent visits to the little boat pond in Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Biscuits & Bath pet daycare not far from their place on the Upper East Side with Will (in third grade) and Teddy (in kindergarten). These days, they love the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum and the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum with its cool graphic design exhibits, the Upper East Side location of the Brooklyn Robot Foundry, the annual Maker Faire in Queens, Tinkersphere in the East Village (where her son Will made his own Raspberry Pi computer!), Dave & Buster’s, and birthday parties at Chelsea Piers. They can frequently be found eating dim sum in Chinatown or Momofoku Ssam Bar on Second Avenue.

“They are both fairly picky eaters (we are working on that right now) and would rather eat a buttered carbohydrate than anything, but they both love tobiko sushi,” Brody says. “Yes, the weird little crunchy red fish eggs. I heart NY.”

To learn more about Lauren Smith Brody, visit thefifthtrimester.com!