the realities of my return

Make Work Suck Less

New this week from the home office

Hey Reader,

Part of my ongoing fight to stave off burnout is remembering to acknowledge big and small wins.

So before we dive into the heavy, and deeply personal stuff, I'd love to share a few really fun wins from last week...

🌶️ We won my husband's work chili cookoff with our "Shaken not stirred" cowboy chili. It's got three types of pork and is both sweet and spicy. This will be our 3rd competitive win with this recipe (though the 2nd was contested).

🇬🇧 I went to my first British Afternoon Tea at the Ritz with my bestie of 25 years. It was delicious and fancy.

🍾 I hit 2,000 followers on LinkedIn! Which is both bizarre and awesome. Let's connect if we're not already friends over there.

I'd love to hear the personal or professional wins you're celebrating this week! Hit reply or tag me on Instagram @cassandrababilya.

Did someone forward you this edition of

Make Work Suck Less?

the realities of the return

I’m going to start this edition of Make Work Suck Less with a content warning: If you are an expecting mom and are not ready to hear about other mom’s birth and postpartum stories, please feel free to bookmark this email and come back to it when you are. It’s totally ok to want to experience all this for yourself first without being influenced by others.

This week, I was going to spend on navigating the return to work after parental leave. Resources, best practices to set boundaries, you know, the usual MWSL.

Instead, I found myself really wanting to recount my own experiences in detail as compared to the typical postpartum experience in the States.

I'm officially eight months pregnant and I think this may be my version of nesting.

let’s set the stage with some data:

  • The World Health Organization recommends a minimum of 18 weeks maternity leave
  • The U.S. is 1 of 7 global countries without federally guaranteed paid parental leave
  • 1 in 4 moms in the U.S. return to work at just two weeks postpartum
  • Only 60% of U.S. moms have access to FMLA: 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave
  • On average, these moms take 36 business days of unpaid FMLA (about 7 weeks)
  • Only 27% of working parents in the U.S. have access to paid parental leave

Why the data deluge?

I want to share what my first postpartum experience looked like at 2, 7, 12, and 18 weeks for two reasons: to humanize this data, and to highlight how ridiculous it is that we find that status quo at all acceptable.

two weeks

I gave birth to my first son in April 2021 (hello, pandemic baby). One day before my due date, he was a content little giant at an estimated 10+ pounds with zero intentions of making an appearance anytime soon. Thus, we scheduled a C-section. By that point, I’d been on paid leave for 4+ weeks. And good thing, because I could barely walk. Sitting was impossible. Laying down was uncomfortable. I was getting up to pee 8-9 times a night. Sleep was hard to come by.

At two weeks postpartum, I still needed my husband’s help to use the bathroom. My C-section wound was nowhere near healed and I was dealing with significant nerve pain in my abdomen. For those of you who’ve never seen me IRL, I’m 5’0 tall and likely would not have been able to deliver my son naturally. So they sliced through seven layers of skin, muscle, and viscera to pull him out.

Oh, and I wasn’t allowed to pick up anything heavier than my 10-pound baby. The furthest I moved was from our apartment down to the front yard for 30 minutes of sunshine. I needed help to get up and down that flight of stairs.

Thankfully, I had no trouble breastfeeding. However, my son had a voracious appetite and nursed every 60 minutes around the clock. I can only compare the exhaustion to what I felt after working 18-20 hour days for a year straight in Afghanistan. This was worse.

seven weeks

By seven weeks postpartum, the bleeding had finally stopped and my incision was an angry red scar. I was still experiencing nerve pain that made walking, and moving from a sitting to standing position difficult.

But the anxiety was horrendous. They warn women about “unwanted thoughts.” What they don’t warn you is what that can actually look and feel like. My unwanted thoughts took the shape of imagined freak accidents befalling my son. Like if motherhood was a constant viewing of Final Destination. I imagined tripping while holding him next to a fence with spiky tops. You get the picture.

1 in 7 mothers experience postpartum depression. 10% of mothers experience postpartum anxiety like I did.

It is debilitating, and because I was breastfeeding, my medication options were limited. So I pushed through.

I figured out how to produce enough extra milk overnight while nursing for a morning bottle. My husband was getting up at 5am every morning to give me a few hours of uninterrupted sleep. It helped.

twelve weeks

My postpartum anxiety had shifted into postpartum rage. That’s another one I wasn’t warned about. It’s related to other postpartum mood disorders and is characterized by intense feelings of anger and frustration. There is a hormone cliff we drop off of immediately following childbirth. The cliff is real, especially for women like myself who have a history of anxiety and depression.

My husband went back to work when our son was about four weeks old. I felt the entire weight of my new responsibilities as a mom. And particularly because we were deep into the pandemic (and my anxiety), I was pretty isolated. My days were cycles of nursing, pumping, tummy time, and watching my baby sleep. We binged quite a lot of TV during this time.

I was trying to get my strength back. We enjoyed daily summer walks around the neighborhood and to the park. Working out on the stationary bike while breastfeeding. Yes, I did that. Pre-pregnancy, I was an avid climber and I grieved for what my body could no longer do (despite the incredible thing it did).

You could still stick a whole fist between what used to be my six-pack abs. Thank you, diastasis recti.

eighteen weeks

I consider myself SO LUCKY to have received 20 weeks of employer-provided paid parental leave. Four weeks before my due date and 16 after. I also took advantage of my company’s ramp back program. I chose to return at 50% time for 50% pay for 2 months when my parental leave ended.

By 18 weeks postpartum, I’d been back to work part-time for 2 weeks. I spent the entire first two days back on the phone with IT trying to get my laptop working again. It had been bricked while I was on leave.

My son was finally sleeping eight hours straight every night in his own crib. This meant I was finally sleeping so much better. However, I still needed to wake up around midnight every night to pump milk to keep my supply up. 35-40 minutes of pumping plus another 10 minutes of storage and washing pump parts.

The baby had also got into a pretty great napping pattern which is when I got my work done. Couple of solid hours where I could focus on figuring out my new role and diving into the small projects my manager had outlined for me. She did a phenomenal job of covering for me and preventing the team and our stakeholders from overwhelming my time. I truly worked 4 hours per day. Not everyone is so lucky.

When needed, my son attended my meetings as the unpaid intern. Usually attached to my boob.

nine months in, nine months out

It takes nine months (really 10, let’s be honest) to grow and birth a human. It takes at least that long for our bodies and minds to fully heal from the experience.

And for those of us who are trying to grow our families even more, we jump from one pregnancy to the next. Between my first son, our lost boy, and this girl joining us here very soon, my body has not been my own for four years. And it will be at least another year before it is. In that time, I’m still learning, growing my career, building a network, and maturing as a human. In addition to my first priority: being a mom. That comes before everything else, always.

paid leave is a necessity

Looking back now, there is absolutely no way that I could have safely returned to work at 2, 7, or 12 weeks postpartum. I was not physically or emotionally ready for it. Going back at 16 weeks postpartum was definitely challenging, but I had the support systems in place and flexible working setup I needed to make it work.

I’m grateful for the paid leave that I received. I’m also grateful that I would have qualified for 12 weeks of unpaid FMLA, and that I could have afforded to take it.

Not every parent can.

Paid parental leave leads to:

  • Better health outcomes. 47% decrease in the odds of infant and maternal re-hospitalization
  • Women staying in the workforce. 1 in 4 moms leaves the workforce within the first year, and five years later, 17% are still gone. Moms with access to paid leave have only a 2.6% likelihood of quitting their job compared to 34.3% when paid leave isn’t an option.
  • No increased cost for employers. 87% of employers said paid parental leave did not increase their cost. In fact, 9% said their costs decreased through decreased attrition and hiring.

It’s time we band together to fight for paid parental leave for all and stop listening to the naysayers who insist it can’t be done.

Here are some data sources if you're curious...

cool people doing cool shit

Moms First

Founded by a women I admire the f*ck out of, Reshma Saujani, Moms First is pushing for paid parental leave and child care here in the U.S. And, her team has built an AI tool, that will help you navigate parental leave requests in your state.

next week in MWSL

Now that you understand the realities of MY return, next week I'm going to share as many practical tips and resources for making this next career transition as smooth as possible for YOU.

You got this.


Did someone forward you this edition of

Make Work Suck Less?

113 Cherry St #92768, Seattle, WA 98104-2205
Unsubscribe · Preferences

Hi! I'm Cassandra Babilya.

I’m a mom, certified career coach, ex-spy, and corporate culture leader. I'm driven to make work suck less by helping women break the burnout cycle, pivot with purpose, and thrive in their careers. I believe everyone deserves to wake up excited and energized for the day. Together, let's find the perspective you need to work, create, and build from a place of joy, not dread. #makeworksuckless

Read more from Hi! I'm Cassandra Babilya.

Make Work Suck Less New this week from the home office Hey Reader, Who's got a great countdown clock widget cause ya girl has just FOUR WEEKS LEFT til maternity leave!! I can't wait.... to delete work Slack and email from my phone. When I went out in 2021 for maternity leave, I told my team to "pretend I'm dead," and I meant it. I may be called the Queen of Boundaries for a reason. This time around, I'm taking a slightly different approach that will still protect my time to recover and bond...

Make Work Suck Less New this week from the home office Hey Reader, We spent this weekend with family...and holy sh*t it's nice to have extra sets of eyes on the wild one. It takes a village, and I'm not even just talking about when your kid arrives (though that is so freakin true). You need that village to get you out the door of your office and off on your parental leave. Policies deciphered. Correct forms submitted. Leave approved. Timeline agreed upon. Much like chasing after a 2-year old....

build a stress-free turnover plan for your parental leave

Make Work Suck Less New this week from the home office Hey Reader, My parents used to say growing up that kids ruin everything but Christmas... and I kind of get it now. Maybe "ruin" is too strong a word for it. You just need to adjust your expectations to deal with a new reality. Things are not going to go to plan. Someone's going to throw up on the way to Grandma's house. Your car-obsessed toddler will probably enjoy the snacks at the Car Show more than the cars themselves. Going sledding...