Abby Hemani

Attorney

Location: Boston, MA

"I am still able to 'lean in' to my career—I’m just leaning in at a slightly slower pace than I might have had Norah’s circumstances been different."

I read the book, and I know I’m not supposed to say this, but a lot of life is about luck.  I was lucky enough to have been raised by parents who instilled in me the belief that I could do anything a man could do.  And, luckily, academics came quickly and easily to me.  The combination of these two factors made me naturally poised to “lean in” to my career.  And, for ten years, that is precisely what I did.  Following law school, I clerked for two prestigious federal court judges, and, thereafter, swiftly rose through the ranks to become a partner at a renowned national law firm.

But after more than 30 years of good fortune, my luck changed overnight.  At 9:00 p.m. on April 27, 2010, I walked into the bedroom of my 6-month-old twins to find my daughter, Norah, convulsing and blue.  Although I did not know it that night, this would be the first of thousands of seizures, necessitating dozens of hospital stays, tests and medications.  Five months later, Norah was diagnosed with Dravet Syndrome, a rare and catastrophic form of epilepsy that is refractory to treatment and associated with significant developmental delay.

Having always been someone who “leaned in” 100% to what she was doing, my first reaction to Norah’s diagnosis was to assume that I would stop working and devote myself fully to her care.  Of course, I thought, how could I possibly do anything else?  But after a few months of living and breathing seizures, doctors and hospitals, it became clear to me that this was not a healthy option for anyone in the family.  No matter how much I poured my heart and soul into helping Norah, I would never be able to stop her seizures or prevent cognitive delay.  But I might well grow to resent her for thwarting my own goals and ambitions.

Unfortunately, going back to work full time was not a realistic option either.  At that point, Norah’s seizures still required frequent and unpredictable hospital stays, which did not lend themselves well to the life of a big firm litigator.  So I tried “leaning in” in a different way.  I asked the firm for exactly what I wanted:  a part time schedule, and, at least for the time being, assignments that were longer term in nature, and where other partners would be poised to step in for me at a moment’s notice.  I know many women—and many men—would be too intimidated to ask for this type of special treatment based on family circumstances.  But for me it was not an option.  It was the only way to make things work.

And work it did.  Both my colleagues and firm management embraced the situation.  They offered the full support that I needed to get through those first few years, and they have continued to accommodate even now that things are somewhat more stable at home.  I am still able to “lean in” to my career—I’m just leaning in at a slightly slower pace than I might have had Norah’s circumstances been different.

“Leaning in” part time at work has also allowed me to “lean in” to other things.  My husband and I are both very involved in our children’s’ lives:  Even discounting all of the doctors’ visits and therapy sessions I attend with Norah, I still get more one-on-one time with my kids than most professional parents.  I also now serve as the Vice President of the Board of Trustees for the Dravet Syndrome Foundation, a non-profit organization devoted to raising money for research that may lead to better treatment—and perhaps even someday a cure—for children like Norah.  By “leaning in” these three different directions, I feel stimulated, happy and fulfilled.  It’s not easy—and its certainly not what I had envisioned—but it works for me.  So maybe our luck is what we make of it.