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Here's The Plan by Allyson Downey Book Review



I’ve wanted to talk about being a mom in science for a long time. When I was going through pregnancy and breastfeeding, I was very much alone. And I hated being pregnant! I did not have any peers around me who were in academia and were active scientists and who wanted to continue to work. I was surrounded by stay at home moms – who are wonderful people – but I felt like an outsider. I felt like I was circling around them and that I didn’t belong. I kept trying to find my place and failing miserably. My career stalled as a consequence, I “leaked” out of the pipeline. I finished my Masters degree, and then my husband began his MBA. We were both in a holding pattern career-wise while trying to raise these little kids. Things have changed for us, but it's taken a LOT of work!


I am an avid reader – my GoodReads page lists 1081 (and counting) read books. What books did I read when I was prepping for motherhood? I don’t know about you, but I was recommended the book, “What to expect when you’re expecting” Personally, I think this book is trash.



It’s unrealistic, outdated, it keeps you in the dark via fear-mongering and doesn’t talk about your emotional or career needs at all.

Well said HeavyReader, Well Said.

Ok, ok, if you want, read that book, use it like a text book from undergrad - leave it on the shelf to collect dust. But PLEASE for the love of all that is holy, read OTHER pregnancy books! Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth is much better, The Birth Partner showed me how to include my husband and feel less alone. If you are a survivor of sexual abuse, I recommend “When Survivors Give Birth.” If you are planning on breastfeeding a GREAT guide is “The Nursing Mother’s Companion.” Working Moms talk a lot about “Work. Pump. Repeat.” for breastfeeding and pumping at work advice.


I highly recommend for any working mother, “Here’s the Plan. Your practical, tactical guide to advancing your career during pregnancy and parenthood” It’s amazeballs. In this book, Allyson Downey is honest about how you will feel, the obstacles you will have to overcome and practical solutions at every step of the way. Oh and did I mention she has a website where you can download some the forms!?


This book focuses on women in business careers, but a lot of what she talks about can apply to many fields. If you want to read and learn more about women in science and tackling parenthood, I highly recommend Meg Duffy’s Dynamic Ecology posts and the 500Women Scientists #SciMomJourney Resources.


Meghan Duffy Parenting Blog Posts

Parental Leave and CV’s

Juggling a busy work and life

Traveling to Meetings while breastfeeding

Pumping at Work and Bottles to daycare

Allyson Downey breaks this book into digestible parts. Part I is all about Making Your Plan, Part 2 is what to do After the Baby Arrives and Part 3 is about Paying it Forward. I appreciate this, it means I don’t have to read this book all at once. I can take it in a bit at a time. Every now and then she includes a quote from one of the many women she spoke to, and it really helped me to see that other powerful, ambitious women felt just the way I did. At the end of every chapter there is a Worth Remembering section with bullet points that highlight the most important take-aways.


Part 1 – Before and During Pregnancy

Part 1 helps you realize what obstacles you might face during your pregnancy. She gives you great practical solutions for planning out your maternity leave and what to expect when you become visibly pregnant. Some women don’t know (and I certainly didn’t) that your maternity leave eats up all your vacation and sick days, and once those are gone you don’t get full pay. Most paid leave in the U.S. is only 6 weeks, she helps navigate how to plan financially for this period of time. She recommends creating a paper trail of all your discussions with HR and your boss, something I never thought of. Take into account how tired you will be and how your body changes physically. It’s not easy. This Part also explores discrimination laws and what you can do about it, and where to find a lawyer if you need one.

“I am all for leaning in – and for not making career decisions based on your future interest in having children – but at some point you’re going to have to face the present reality that your professional life is going to change. It’s not going to be worse, or weaker, or whatever – but it will be different” Page 92

Part 2 – After the Baby Arrives

It should be no surprise that you will be exhausted, and that the exhaustion is one that will last years and will impact your mood, daily tasks, and decision making. How long should you stay home with your baby, and can how long can you afford to do so? If you decide to breastfeed, you will have to factor in pumping needs, keeping your milk cold, and transporting it to the daycare. There are a LOT of feelings during this period of your life, it’s lonely, and difficult to bond with your child only to leave them alone with a stranger for 40 hours a week. That stranger will become like family, but usually you can’t see that the first few months. She discusses in detail what to expect when you return to work – it should be no surprise that you will be tired. Allyson provides schedules, step by step plans and lots of advice from other women that helped them navigate this dynamic time Remember to take time for yourself, it’s ok to feel sad, and expect change.

“Some women are itching to get back to the office, while others are devastated to leave their tiny babies. Many women feel both simultaneously, which makes sense: no matter how eager you are to get back to “real” life, it is incredibly hard to turn over a newborn to someone else for forty-plus hours a week.” Page 120

Part 3 – Pay it Forward

Employers don’t always think about what working parents need, so it’s up to us to tell them and create a community for other working women. Talk to your local, state and federal representatives and demand inclusivity and change for parents in the workplace. Join or create support groups - remind other women that they are not alone.

“Don’t expect that your company or manager will anticipate your needs – or is even paying attention. Ask for what you want, and explain why you think it’s best for the business.” Page 220

One of the things I appreciate most about this book is that she doesn’t shy away from the fact that you can have a baby and still focus on your career. She’s honest about the difficulties, creates a community by sharing other women’s stories, and she offers practical solutions so you don’t feel lost. I’m not alone in loving this book – most of the reviews are positive and women express a relief when they find this book. It speaks to so many of us who needed all this info in one place. 5 Stars for Here's The Plan!

If you would like to add to the 500 Women Scientists #SciMomJourney book list, send me an email tanya@500womenscientists.org

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