Having a baby is a transformative experience, bringing intense physical changes and engulfing emotional ones due to the pending needs of this new human. The mind races from nesting to nursing to concern over who will care for this bundle of joy once parents return to work. These concerns are heightened when a child is born with a disability or medical condition.
According to the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, in 2016-17 18.8 percent of children in the U.S. had a special health care need. This can present unique challenges for working mothers who may struggle to meet the demands of their careers while taking their children to their many appointments and therapies. In fact, just 35 percent of caregivers of children with disabilities continue to work full time (according to a 2009 MetLife Foundation report) and another study concluded that 60 percent of professionals had to make workplace accommodations such as reduced hours to fulfill their caregiving duties. Mothers appear to be far more likely to sacrifice career growth to take care of their little ones.
Fortunately, problem solving is one of the many strengths of working moms. To tackle these issues, working mothers Mia Durairaj and Lori Mihalich-Levin teamed up to create “Mindful Return’s Balancing Career with a Special Needs Baby.” In this go-at-your-own-pace program, moms will learn to pilot the path of working while caring for a newly diagnosed or medically fragile child.
Durairaj admits that the Mindful Return program was brought forth out of frustration. With twin daughters born early and facing an extensive stay in the NICU, Durairaj began to wonder how she would juggle her rewarding career in communications and her new role as mom. She saw many mothers in similar situations dropping out of the work force but felt there had to be a way to continue her career, even if only around her daughters’ nap times. She built a consulting firm, found her new work even more stimulating than her previous job and began to think of other moms who have dreams to chase while chasing little ones, too. “There has to be some creative and flexible ways for moms to move their careers forward even if at a glacier pace,” says Durairaj.
Yet there were no books, no podcasts and only a few articles about working moms of children with disabilities. She decided this had to change and, if need be, she would be the one to change it. Her partnership with parental leave expert Lori Mihalich-Levin, who has been called a “working mama guru” by Working Mother Magazine, is a poignant reminder of the power of a community of moms.
It took a year for them to create the e-course, as most of their work was tackled late at night and early in the morning while their children slept. It was a project fostered out of love and, within weeks of their launch, the response had been overwhelmingly positive. Although the e-course is designed for mothers of babies and toddlers, moms of school-age children are showing interest, too.
“Employers don’t want to lose their talent,” says Durairaj. One key theme from the e-course is that the exceptional courage required to face the challenges of mothering a child with special needs is great leadership training. For moms of children who need a little more care, the coordination, advocacy, organization and negotiations, especially with medical professionals, dovetail perfectly into professional pursuits.
“No one talks about this, but it is a key message that moms need to realize. Even if you take time off, even if you take years off, you are still honing skills that will make you more accomplished. We think our motherhood journey makes us less capable and the opposite is absolutely true,” says Durairaj.
The “Balancing Career with a Special Needs Baby” course is designed to provide:
- A mind shift enabling moms to feel calm and peaceful about returning to work,
- Brainstorming exercises that lead to practical solutions to worrisome logistics,
- A plan for turning maternity leave into a leadership opportunity at work
- And a supportive, private community of special-needs moms with a career mindset.
Additional topics include negotiating for flexibility, dealing with mom guilt and examining motivational case studies of moms who have successfully returned to work. “Moms still matter once they have kids. Self-care still matters, too,” says Durairaj. “And aspirations don’t have to go away just because one’s parenting adventure has taken a few twists and turns.”
To learn more, visit mindfulreturn.com.
Ryane Nicole Granados is an L.A. native, writer and mom whose work has been featured in The Manifest-Station, Mutha Magazine, The Good Men Project, Expressing Motherhood, The Nervous Breakdown, Scary Mommy and L.A. Parent.