WHAT I LEARNED FROM RETURNING TO WORK AFTER THREE MATERNITY LEAVES
To many, maternity leave sounds like a vacation. But the reality for the new mom is that maternity leave is mostly about survival. And, going back to work after maternity leave is really difficult.
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Healing from the most traumatic injury (childbirth) and learning to keep a human alive is more than any regular human could handle. But…you’re a mommy now, so you have super-human powers!
In addition, you might also be trying to figure out nursing. An added stress and physical struggle.
Regardless of how painful, how traumatic, and how unexpected birth and delivery were, maternity is the time when you get to transition from pain in the neck pregnant lady, to attentive mother. And, no one should be able to rob you of that time.
Take your maternity leave for yourself and your baby. Get help with meals; find support for your roller coaster of emotions, and don’t let anyone tell you that you are hogging or spoiling the baby.
You are the mom now. There is no hierarchy; the parents are the start and end point for what goes for that baby. (Except maybe your doctor!)
But, as you might already know if you are following along with this blog, I am a working mommy. In fact, I failed at the SAHM gig. Miserably!
RETURNING TO WORK AFTER THREE MATERNITY LEAVES
That means that even though I have 3 happy healthy babies in my home, I have also returned to work 3 times after delivering a baby.
Further, I have nursed each one of those babies for at least one full year. This means that I have also pumped at work.
I feel like these qualifications make me a little more knowledgeable than most in the return-to-work-after-maternity-leave arena.
There are so many things that I wish that I would have realized during my first maternity leave and a few things that I would have changed knowing what I know now.
Having learned a thing or two, here is what I wish I knew about going back to work after maternity leave.
1. GET HELP WITH CHILDCARE
If I would have had to leave my baby that first day, I would have never made it to work.
I am so grateful for the close friends and family who came to my home for the first couple days after my maternity leave. With friends and family who watched my children at home, it was just like I was running out of the house for a little while.
Then, even after our children began childcare, I made a deal with my husband:
I would handle nearly all of the pickups if he would handle nearly all of the drop-offs.
Unfortunately this meant more car seats and rushing from the office. But, if I could leave my children with my husband in the morning, I was much more emotionally stable for my day.
Leaving my crying children in the morning would set me on edge for the entire day. Then, as they grew older, their fat fingers clawing at my calves would bring me to tears and leave me unfocused for hours.
I know that it was hard for my husband to leave my children in the morning, but he seemed to handle it much better than me.
Maybe you are the opposite. Maybe you want to drink in as much time as possible in the morning before drop off or before the nanny arrives. At any rate, give yourself some leeway and ask for help with childcare.
Working out a system for pick-up, drop-off, and easing into childcare made returning to work after maternity leave just a little bit easier.
2. GIVE YOURSELF EXTRA TIME BEFORE WORK
I don’t care how much you plan ahead of time, your morning routine will be different.
Or, you might just spill the last two bottles of pumped milk leading to a heap of sobs on the kitchen floor. I’ve been there.
Give yourself at least 30 extra minutes to get yourself and the baby ready before you have to be at work. The worst case scenario is that you just have to snuggle that precious baby for a few more minutes before you leave for your shift.
3. IT’S OK TO CRY
It’s really ok to cry. You might even cry a lot. You might even cry in front of your boss or clients.
I cried, and I took my phone with me to all of my meetings warning my coworkers and clients that I would be checking it regularly as I was just returning from maternity leave.
And, guess what?
No one said a negative word about it.
Every single client or coworker was more than supportive. They encouraged me to check my phone, to have another cry, or even to leave early if I needed to.
Regardless of whether your maternity leave is 6, 8, or 12 weeks, (or more) your body is still a raging mess of unpredictable hormones. And, you mama, need time to get back into the swing of things.
So, go ahead; have a cry, look at baby pictures, then remind yourself why you are working for your baby and your family. (LINK: THIS IS WHY I WORK).
4. BUY 2 PUMPS
(If you aren’t a nursing mother, skip this one!)
When I had my first baby, we were broke. Law school, entry level jobs, and an economic recession were not on our side.
Thus, I gratefully received my free pump from my insurance company and moved along.
Then, for the first time, I forgot my pump, an accessory, or bottles. Miserably engorged, I sped from my office back home and back to my office sore, sweating, and mad at myself.
By my second and third babies I kept a pump both at home and at work. I had a drawer full of extra bottles, spare parts, and even freezer bags. And, even though it was my second and third time pumping at work after having a baby, I still forgot my pumping equipment from time to time.
And, each time it happened, I was so grateful to have spare parts at my office.
I am only mentioning it here to tell you that these are total life changers for a pumping and working mother. Check them out here:
4A. FREEZER STASH
I have never been an over-producer when it comes to pumping. Some women can store hundreds of ounces in their freezer before returning to work. I was not one of them. However, I can see that this would have made my life far simpler if this were possible for me.
So, if you can, having a generous freezer stash would be a great way to prepare for returning to work after maternity leave. However, that is not part of my story, so I can’t speak to being successful in that!
5. IT’S OK TO BE OFF YOUR GAME
Have you ever picked up a pen or pencil after not having written for a few days? Have you ever tried to play your band instrument from high school after years of it collecting dust?
Well, it’s ok that maternity leave might leave you a little out of practice. Give yourself time to work back up to your pre-baby productivity.
Take time to catch up on client work. Use pumping time to reread some of your research and notes. Ask coworkers for updates on protocols and work place changes.
It’s ok if your first day, week, or even month back to work is less than stellar.
You are an incredible mommy who just grew and ejected an entire human being from her body.
Your contribution to society is far greater than your 9-5. And, your baby loves you regardless of whether your billable work reached quota on your first week back in the saddle.
It’s ok to be a little slow, sluggish, distracted, and even drained your first few weeks back after maternity leave. You are dealing with lack of sleep, raging hormones, nursing, pumping, and recovery.
It will take some time to feel like a productive part of the team again.
But, if you have a great work support system, then you will be fine!
RETURNING TO WORK AFTER MATERNITY LEAVE
Going back to work after maternity leave is hard. It might help prepare you mentally to have checklists and the diaper bag packed. Your emotions might be more manageable if you have family to watch the baby.
It’s ok to be a little bit of a mess. I bet you work with other moms who remember being a mess too. Cry; be emotional, and don’t hold yourself to an unrealistic standard.
Then, run home as fast as you can to your little baby, and sit on the couch the entire night in your pajamas just rocking.
My first few nights after maternity leave, I am certain that I didn’t let anyone hold my baby except my husband. Even then, he probably had to pry my babies from me!
Maternity leave is far from a vacation, and returning to the real world can be a real shock to the system. I hope that some of these pointers that helped me will also help you.