Balancing Career with a Special Needs Baby

Two working mothers have teamed up to create the first program of its kind, called “Mindful Return’s Balancing Career with a Special Needs Baby.” The inaugural session of the 4-week e-course will launch on January 7, 2019, on MindfulReturn.com.

According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, in 2016-17 18.8% of children in the US had a special health care need. This can present unique challenges for working mothers who may struggle to navigate the demands of their careers with taking their children to their many appointments and therapies. 

A 2009 MetLife Foundation report found that only 35% of caregivers of special needs children continue to work full time. Another study of caregivers of disabled adults and children discovered that 60% 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.

Losing the income of one parent can put an enormous financial strain on a family that may already be overwhelmed with medical bills or planning for an unexpected future. Caregivers are also at high risk for depression, stress, and health problems. 

Mothers of special needs children may also miss the intellectual challenge that they get from their professional lives.

Co-creator of the program, San Diego-based Amialya (Mia) Durairaj, found herself in a similar situation two years ago when she gave birth to medically-fragile twin girls three months early. “When my twins were discharged from the NICU we were told to follow up with 15 or 16 specialists apiece,” Mia says. “I knew that it would be impossible to continue to work full-time and take my kids to all of their appointments.”

Not wishing to abandon her career, Mia looked for other role models of special needs mothers who had managed to reconcile their work lives with their child’s needs. “But there were precious little supports or resources out there for me,” Mia said. “So I decided to give entrepreneurship a try.” 

Consulting as a health and nutrition writer gave Mia the flexibility that she needed to balance her family and work demands. But Mia felt a nagging sense that other mothers like her could continue to work if they were given the tools and encouragement. 

To solve this problem, Mia teamed up with the Washington DC-based owner of Mindful Return LLC, Lori Mihalich-Levin. Lori is a mother, lawyer, parental leave expert, and author of Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave. 

Launched in 2014, Lori’s programs, speaking engagements, and writing have reached thousands of new working parents throughout the world. But Lori wanted her programs to be accessible to every kind of family.

“I had some mothers whose babies were born preterm or with disabilities,” Lori recalled. “While they reported that they found the e-course lessons valuable, it was clear that they had other challenges that deserved to be addressed in a sensitive way. I knew that Mia and I had to collaborate to build something that was just for these moms.”

Offered every other month, the Mindful Return program provides a series of lessons on different topics, including mindset, logistics, leadership, and building community. Each session is cohort-based, allowing special needs moms to connect with each other in a safe space. 

The e-course is designed for women to go at their own pace, so that they can catch up in the waiting room at their child’s appointments or during late night pumping sessions. 

To give the lessons even more depth, Mia and Lori interviewed well-known special needs moms with diverse career paths to provide unique insights into how each learned to successfully balance their home and work lives.

“The day after my son was first diagnosed with autism, I stepped down from my position as a magazine photo editor to focus on his care,” says Gena Mann, Co-Creator of the Wolf + Friends app for special needs parent community. “I wish this type of e-course and network had been available at the time.”

“I’ve learned that many of the skills you gain as an advocate for a special needs child translate directly into your profession. The perception that we are somehow less committed or more distracted employees is just dead wrong,” says Mia.

“Special needs moms are an untapped segment of our current workforce,” says Annie Dean, Co-CEO of Werk, attorney, and mother to a son with Kabuki Syndrome. “With encouragement and flexible work options, these mothers can thrive in leadership positions.”

“Our main message to special needs mothers is that you can continue to build your career,” Lori says. “It just takes some creativity and compromise to make it happen.”


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