After her son was born 14 months ago, Denise C. Lane-White returned to her job as a patent attorney with a bit of trepidation, like many mothers who return from maternity leave.
But also like many moms, she was looking forward to getting back to work, although she knew the transition would not be simple after 12 paid weeks of maternity leave and two weeks of vacation time.
"It was actually a little easier than I expected," she said. "I missed the intellectual stimulation of my job. I maybe also prepared myself for being totally devastated. I was sad, and I missed my baby during the day. But it wasn't the [all]-encompassing devastation I expected."
Lane-White returned to work on a Thursday. That way, she didn't have to dive into a full workweek without her baby.
Her firm, Blank Rome LLPin Washington, offered her a quiet, private room to pump her breast milk during the day. But instead, she used her office so she could continue to work. Co-workers knew to stay clear when the "meeting in progress" sign was taped to her closed door. She bought a mini refrigerator so she "didn't have to put my breast milk next to people's moldy lunches," she said.
As for those colleague lunches she used to join in on every day? A thing of the past, she said. She eats at her desk in the Watergate office building so she can take care of work and personal tasks. That way, she can pick up Ryan at day care at 6 p.m. -- earlier than she left work before she had the baby -- and she is able to spend a good amount of time with him in the evening.
But once Ryan is in bed, Lane-White gets back to work at home to make sure she's caught up on everything.
Lane-White wants to be a partner someday, so she needs to bill her hours, attend firm events and generate clients. "I'm trying to juggle all that. Some days are better than others," she said. "And some days you think if you get one more e-mail, things will unravel."
But as time has moved on, this working mother has learned how to squeeze many things into a single day.
With high-speed Internet service at home, she can easily complete many tasks, she said, such as research, writing, analysis and e-mail. She commutes from Rockville, so she spends her almost hour-long drive each way on telephone conferences.
She said the transition to life as a working mom was made simpler because she is "a high-paid lawyer." That makes it easier to hire someone to clean the house every two weeks.
She and her husband found themselves ordering out most nights, but she has cut back on that by subscribing to Thescramble.com, a Web site with recipes that take less than a half-hour to make.
Her husband, Neil White, who is also an attorney, takes Ryan to day care, and the two work together to complete errands on the weekends. They trade off staying home from work when Ryan is sick. That partnership, she said, made her transition much easier.
Returning to work after maternity leave opens a world of worries and conflicts for many women. It's such a hot topic that when Meagan Jeronimo visited a listserv for D.C. moms and mentioned that she would love to see a similar one for working moms, she was flooded with e-mails from other mothers asking her to start one. So she did.
Jeronimo, a legal secretary for a law firm in the District, had baby Brian Alexander one year ago. She took off six weeks of short-term disability, two weeks that were unpaid and four weeks at 60 percent of her regular salary. She had so many questions about how to transition back to work, and how to keep working while being a good parent, that she thought the D.C. Working Moms Yahoo group would be a popular one.
She had no idea.
In less than a day, Jeronimo received 89 e-mails from women asking to join. Just six weeks in, 197 people had signed up. This month, a long thread of comments and questions went out from women discussing how they transitioned back to work.
"Starting work . . . and figuring out how much they eat" was the subject of a dozen posts. "Advice on starting back to work" was another. And two other popular topics were: "Guilt, guilt, guilt!" and "Pumping at work."
The way Michele Kremen Bolton, career counselor and author of "The Third Shift: Managing Hard Choices in Our Careers, Homes, and Lives as Women," sees it, women go back to work for two main reasons: Either they have no choice because their income is vital to the family's well-being, or they simply want to go back. And there is a lot of guilt associated with both situations, but more with women who have an economic choice.
"There's a faint little worry in there that they're placing themselves over their child and work is an intellectual indulgence," Bolton said. "Any way you slice it, it's new emotions. And some proportion of those emotions will be negative."
To cut back on time spent on little errands, Jeronimo orders groceries from Peapod, the grocery delivery service, and buys formula in bulk through eBay. She also has a cleaning lady twice a month. But her biggest savior, she says, is that her husband, Edvin, is a chef, so he is home with Brian all day before she gets home.
Jeronimo, like Lane-White, said her employer made life a little easier than it might have been. Close to the end of her pregnancy, an attorney she works for suggested they find things she could do from home. The office set her up with a private network so she could work at home, and she uses it now if Brian is sick. Like Lane-White, Jeronimo takes work home so she can spend the evening with her baby.
She also returned to work on a Thursday, easing into her new life. She pumped breast milk in a windowless meeting room reserved for her. She made sure to let people know when she would be away from her desk, so they wouldn't think she lost any verve for her job because of the baby. "It was important to maintain consistency. The biggest thing is being accountable," she said. "I feel like I've found ways still to get everything done."
Like the time she was on vacation with her son and mother in Texas. Brian got an ear infection and was unable for fly for several days. Jeronimo's bosses had a trial, and she was desperately needed. So she packed up her family, rented a car and drove home. She had a laptop and stopped along the way to work.
"My bosses are so great. As long as I give back," she said.
As for that guilt thing? She tries not to let herself feel it. "I don't want to stay home. Working makes me a better person, and a better mom," she said.
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