"Can you die from boobs exploding?" one woman wondered while desperately seeking a private space where she could plug in her breast pump at a work event.
"I was back nine days after my C-section, only this time I took the elevator instead of the stairs," remembers a fashion designer about her initial return to work as she inspected a garment factory.
It's a question every working mom faces. How soon is too soon to go back to work after giving birth? The United States undoubtedly lags behind the rest of the world when it comes to parental leave. One highly cited ranking from the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development listed the U.S. as the bottom of industrialized nations for its lack of federally mandated leave for new parents. The Family Medical Leave Act allows U.S. workers up to 12 weeks of leave a year to care for family members; however, that policy offers job protection, not payment, and comes with a host of restrictions.
So what about those women who run their own businesses and don't have the typical 9 to 5 careers? They're expected to plan ahead, budget and cope.
"I committed to the job way before I had the baby, knowing nothing about how I would be feeling," she says. "I had already handled the contracts and logistics months before I gave birth, so I thought I had my ducks in a row."
From now on, I will only take advice from other working moms.
But nothing can really prepare a mother from being apart from a 2-month-old for a six-hour stretch.
In her book that chronicles the absurd, sometimes traumatic ways that a mother with a non-traditional job has to juggle work and baby, Black remembers dashing into the public restrooms of the Beverly Wilshire hotel just moments before her event kicked off—boobs throbbing—and pulling out her top-of-the-line breast pump, only to discover the private stalls had no electrical outlet.
Sleep-deprived and sobbing in the five-star hotel bathroom, she then made another heart-rending discovery: Though she had packed a backup manual pump that didn't need to be plugged in, she had no idea how to assemble it. She was eventually saved by a kind-hearted stranger, sparking her first a-ha moment as a working mother: From now on, I will only take advice from other working moms.
One moment that working moms across America took note of was when Gwyneth Paltrow noted that motherhood is "different" for women with routine office jobs compared to being an actress. "I think to have a regular job and be a mom is not as, of course there are challenges, but it's not like being on set," Paltrow told E! two years ago.
While many rallied against was what perceived to be a "tone-deaf" statement from the celebrity mom, another working actress certainly faced her own unique set of challenges. Seven weeks after having her son, a casting director asked Sylvia Jefferies to audition for a part on the HBO comedy series "Eastbound & Down."
"I had to be topless on a jet ski and, of course, I said 'yes,'" she says. "I was nursing so my boobs looked fantastic!"
Two days later (and after a makeup artist noticed that Jefferies' carefully applied spray tan had been suckled off by her infant), it was time for her to board a jet ski behind actor Danny McBride.
"He flipped around and said, 'Are you drinking something? There's something running down my back.' I looked down, and said, "Holy crap. My tits are leaking." He stayed in character and took off on the jet ski—which he was supposed to do anyway—and this gave him the extra motivation."
I will never get that time back with my baby.
As an actress, Jeffries recalls toting around her now 9-year-old son to work on a regular basis. But to this day, she still cautions that the most important factor in balancing the two is maintaining a strict schedule: "Even if we're on set or at an audition, I would arrange them around his nap time. It was so important to keep him on a schedule even among the craziness."
And as for the woman whose only concession was to take the factory elevator instead of the stairs, just over a week after her C-section? That was Swedish fashion designer Lotta Stensson, whose resort wear has appeared on everyone from Angelina Jolie to Cindy Crawford and Selena Gomez.
"The first week after a C-section was brutal, obviously; but when you own your business, you have little choice as much of the work falls on you," says Stensson. "I lost my milk production two and a half months after giving birth because I was out for hours at a time and didn't keep up pumping enough."
It was only due to external circumstances when she lost the lease on her Los Angeles store that she realized she had been handed a golden opportunity. Rather than focusing on opening a new flagship boutique shop, she decided to "take a retail break" and shifted her energies to trunk shows in order to spend more time with her infant daughter.
"I will never get that time back with my baby and this is the first time that my LIFE matters more than business," says Stensson.