It’s hard for me to admit this story. However, as I thought about the launch of this amazing magazine dedicated to women in dentistry, I realized now is the time. I’ll come right out and say it then. In 2009, I took a one-week maternity leave following the birth of my first child. What I’ve learned since then is the art of creating work/life balance.
When I got pregnant with Joseph David, I was six years into my career as a women in dentistry and it had been three years since I started working for Sesame Communications. It was a truly exciting time in my life. I felt like everything was going as planned. I had a fantastic job dedicated to dentistry that I loved. My husband and I had purchased a beautiful home in Connecticut and now we were about to start a family. I couldn’t have asked for more.
At the time, I was the Vice President of Sales with 16 direct reports. I had only been a women executive in dentistry for a year and felt I had a lot to prove. It wasn’t that I had planned to only take one week off, but rather that I hadn’t planned what my maternity leave would look like at all. I was beyond thrilled about the birth of my son. I had the nursery all set up and was already deeply in love with my belly bump.
At the time of Joseph’s birth, I was reporting to a women boss who had very high expectations of me. I also had those same expectations of myself. I was voted most likely to succeed in high school and felt failure was not an option. I was working 70 hours a week- hiring, ramping up, supporting, and driving success with my dentistry dedicated sales team. When Joseph came along (about two weeks before my due date), the plan was for my team to report to my boss and CEO at the time. Unfortunately, my team was not prepared for that change. This resulted in many of them threatening to quit.
That’s not the full reason I came back so quickly, however. It was also because I had hired a Nanny who was taking care of nearly everything. I hired her because I knew I was going to need support so that I could continue my career as a women in dentistry. What I didn’t realize is I didn’t need support right away. Our Nanny started immediately after Joseph was born. As a former maternity nurse with a tremendous amount of experience; she had a get in there and get it done kind of personality. I had plenty of experience with children as well. I’d starting babysitting consistently from the time I was ten (as a mother’s helper) straight through college, but my experience was nothing compared to hers. Because she jumped right in to help; I didn’t know what to do with my time.
I was, however, adamant about nursing. Nanny Daille would bring Joseph to me every few hours. Most of the time I was on a conference call or working on a dentistry related project and would multitask while he fed. I also pumped during many of those calls. I once had an employee asked if the noise in the background was a dot matrix printer. “Um, yup, it sure is,” I said. I knew a one-week maternity felt wrong. I knew multitasking while pumping wasn’t quite right, but I also knew I loved my dental industry job and wanted to have the best of both worlds.
During my time at Sesame, I had the unique opportunity to work with an executive coach. Sonya Stoklosa and I talk every other week or so. Through her coaching, Sonya helped me to optimize revenue opportunities for Sesame, but she also knew I wanted to improve my work/life balance.
About fifteen months after Joseph was born, I was pregnant with my second child, Emelia Lynne. This led to a lot of conversations with Sonya about how to create that balance I was looking for as a women in dentistry. She helped me make the decision that another one-week maternity leave wasn’t in my cards. After talking it over with my husband, I decided to resign from Sesame and be a stay at home mom- something I’d never thought I’d do. Two months prior to Emelia’s birth, I wrote my resignation letter. Our new CEO, Diana accepted it initially. What I didn’t know was that she was putting a plan in place to change my mind. While attending a dental tradeshow, Diana, who is an exceptional women in dentistry and is now a VP for Henry Schein, asked if I would stay at Sesame. She told me I could take as long as I wanted on maternity leave and then come back slowly. I went home, talked to my husband- who had accepted that I’d be a stay at home mom and said, “I think I’ve got another solution.”
What happened next was a miracle for me. Over the course of the next year, I learned how to create significantly more work/life balance as a women in dentistry. I took 8 weeks off for maternity leave. I spent every moment with Emelia. I didn’t look at my email once. Nanny Daille came back to support me after that 8th week. When I did return to work, I returned for just 10 hours a week. Over the course of a year, I slowly built my time up to 30 hours but decided to cap it at that so that I could spend those extra hours with my babies.
Now that my time was limited to 30 hours, I knew I had to be much more efficient in everything I did. With Diana and Sonya’s support, I learned how to work smarter, not harder. I planned everything in advance. I slotted time on my calendar to work on specific projects and conduct shorter, more effective conference calls. I had set times where I allowed myself to check email and didn’t get caught up in tasks that I knew could be delegated to someone else. I was more productive as a women in dentistry in those 30 hours than I ever was when I was working 70.
Thirteen months later, I was pregnant again, with my third (what can I say, we make beautiful babies). At this point, I felt I had it down. I knew how to take a maternity leave and how to come back at a snail’s pace. For the birth of my third child, Sophia Melissa, I took 12 weeks off. I once again didn’t check email. With one exception, on December 14, 2012, just 55 days after Sophia was born there was a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, 30 minutes from my house. I got an outpouring of emails and voice mails from my Sesame family saying they were thinking of me and wanting to ensure my family was safe- they were, but sadly others were tragically changed forever.
It has been almost 8 years since that one-week maternity leave. If I could go back to my younger self and say how important those moments would be, I would do it all over again. With that said, sometimes we learn the most from our mistakes. I truly believe, today, I am more valuable with my now 40 hour work week than I ever was. I’m a master scheduler, planner, organizer, and delegator and continue to improve in these areas each day. I’m doing my part to contribute as a woman in dentistry and at the same time raise three amazing children.
Rachel Mele is a dental executive, author, and international speaker. She runs the dental division at Vennli, a cloud platform for gathering real-time insights about what’s most important to dental professionals and why they choose you versus your competition. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.