The Ultimate Don’t Do This Guide to Maternity Leave for Women in Dentistry

In My Story, She's Enjoying the Journey by Rachel Mele

I’ve got to admit I didn’t ace maternity leave the first time around. In 2009, I took one-week paid leave to bond with my firstborn — Joseph. At the time, I was the Vice President of Sales with 16 direct reports. I had only been an 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.

Seventy-hour Weeks

I was six years into my career as a woman in dentistry when I got pregnant with Joseph David, 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. We had the nursery all set up, and I was already deeply in love with my belly bump. I couldn’t have asked for more.

However, at the time of Joseph’s birth, I was reporting to a woman boss who had very high expectations of me. Of course, I had the same high expectations of myself. After all, I had been 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.

No Maternity-Leave-Plan Results

When Joseph came along (about two weeks before my due date), I told my team to report to my boss, the CEO at the time. Unfortunately, my team was ill-prepared for such a change, and many of them threatened to quit.

That’s not the only reason I headed back so quickly, however. The nanny we had hired was booked to start immediately after Joseph’s birth. As a former maternity nurse with a tremendous amount of experience, she had a “get-in-there-and-get-it-done” kind of personality. Because she jumped right in to help; I didn’t know what to do with my time. A week off seemed like plenty of maternity leave time to me.

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 ask if the noise in the background was a dot matrix printer. “Um, yup, it sure is,” I said.

I knew a one-week maternity leave 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.

A Mentor and a New CEO

During my time at Sesame, I worked with an executive coach. Sonya Stoklosa and I talked 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.

So when I became pregnant with my second child only fifteen months after Joseph was born, I discussed it with Sonya. 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 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 asked if I would consider staying at Sesame, if she gave me options. She told me I could take as long as I wanted on maternity leave and then come back slowly.

Work / Life Balance

I went home and told my husband, “I think I’ve got another solution.”

What happened next was miraculous. Over the course of the next year, the scales evened out, and I found myself enjoying life to the fullest. I took eight weeks off for maternity leave and 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.

With my time 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. Time slots on my calendar to work on specific projects. Shorter, more effective conference calls. Specific times to check email. And I delegated everything I could. My productivity at least doubled.

My Third Maternity Leave

Thirteen months later, I was pregnant again, with my third little one. (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. Once again, I 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. It was just 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. Thankfully hey were! But sadly, others lives were tragically changed forever.

It has been almost eight years since that one-week maternity leave. If I could go back to my younger self, knowing how important those moments would be, I would do it over again. With that said, sometimes we learn the most from our mistakes. I truly believe, today, I am more valuable with my 40-hour work week than I ever was at 70. 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.

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