I know exactly how you feel. It seems like your baby has been around forever, yet your maternity leave came and went in the blink of an eye.
You know that no matter what you’re doing professionally, that tiny person will always be your top priority. But up until recently, they have been your only priority. They have been your whole world.
I’ve felt your heartbreak when you think about missing so many moments with your little one, your trepidation when it comes to trusting someone else to care for them and your anxiety at the idea of picking up where you left off at work.
The rational part of your brain is ready for this transition. She knows that this is precisely what you wanted and planned for all along. You carefully weighed the pros and cons to determine the best balance for you and your family. You researched, scrounged and pleaded to find the right childcare provider that would enable your return to the office.
But you’re not the same person you were a few short months ago when you made those plans. You’ve been permanently transformed by the unimaginable, life-changing love you have for your child. Your pre-baby self could never have anticipated the debilitating blend of emotions you’re experiencing as the final days of your maternity leave speed by faster and faster.
I want to tell you that I’ve been there. I survived my early days back at work after twelve weeks at home with my son. Not long after that, I made it through my first overnight work trip. The biggest hurdle of all came five weeks later, when I dropped my little guy off at daycare for the first time.
If there’s a secret to a seamless return to work, it escaped me. But I did learn some things along the way that I wanted to share.
Above All, Ask for Help
Those casseroles you turned down back when your freezer was overflowing would come in really handy right about now. Don’t hesitate to reach out and cash in.
Consider recruiting a close friend or relative to babysit the week you head back to work. While you adjust to your new routine, it will be comforting to know that your baby is with someone who already knows and loves them. Their updates and photos throughout the day will be like a lifeline, providing reassurance that everything is under control at home.
We were fortunate enough to persuade six different relatives to care for our son for a week each. By the time he started daycare, I was used to heading into the office every day and more comfortable leaving him with other adults.
Trust your partner to be the teammate and support system you need – but don’t expect them to know exactly what to do. So far, you’ve been the “primary parent”. You’ve had a monopoly on stocking supplies, scheduling doctor appointments, doing loads of laundry and prepping family meals. Spend some time together figuring out a more equitable breakdown of chores.
Find people you can lean on for emotional support. I called a college friend on my first commute after my son was born. She was powerless to stop me from ugly crying on the drive, but she distracted me just enough to give me the confidence to get out of the car when I got to the office.
Brace Yourself Professionally
If you’re a nursing mom planning to pump at work, know your rights. In the US, you are entitled to regular breaks and a private place to pump. If you haven’t already, give your supervisor a heads-up so that they can help to make accommodations for you. Check if you’re eligible for a free breast pump through your insurance.
If your employer will allow it, consider keeping a toe in. This option isn’t for everyone, but I worked about ten hours a week from home for the second half of my leave. I did just enough work to stay up-to-speed. By the time I walked back into the office, I knew exactly what I was walking into.
Allow yourself to ease back in. Try to plan your first day back for the middle of the week. No matter what, time apart from your baby will be tough, but a shortened week may feel less daunting.
Force yourself to set aside a little bit of “me time”. For me, a haircut and a new work outfit that fit my post-baby body well helped me feel like a professional again. Up to that point, I had survived on a strict dress code of bathrobes and maternity sweats.
Believe me when I Tell You That in so Many Ways It Gets Easier . . .
You will learn to trust your childcare providers as they come to know and love your baby. Before long, they will joke with you over your little one’s quirks and keep you informed about their developments.
You’ll be amazed how quickly your job starts to feel like you never left. That fear you had that you’d be overlooked or forgotten will be debunked in minutes. With any luck, you’ll be too busy to obsess over everything you’re missing at home.
Your first couple of weeks will be emotionally and physically draining. Mornings in particular will knock the wind out of you. Know that eventually, you will settle into a new rhythm and a manageable weekday routine. What felt overwhelming at first will soon seem normal and mundane.
. . . But in Other Ways it Will Always be Hard
You have to learn to let go of perfection. You just figured out motherhood, and now you’re a multitasking machine. But that supermom who is happily nursing an infant in a wrap while she stirs dinner with one hand and orders diapers on Amazon with the other is about to have her world turned upside down. Get ready to embrace “good enough”. Your child will love you even if you fail to stage perfect monthly milestone photos.
No matter how self-assured you are and how much you love your job, you will occasionally feel jealousy towards your stay-at-home-mom friends. Just like they will envy you on particularly exhausting and isolating days.
There will be guilt. So. Much. Guilt. You’ll feel guilty when you stay late at work and put more strain on your partner. You’ll feel guilty when you leave work early and rely on your team to pick up the slack. Most of all, you’ll feel guilty when you think about the time you’re missing with your child.
Make the Most of the Time You Have
Now more than ever, you will appreciate every second of family time. After eight months as a working mom, I still tear up with relief when I grab my son from daycare on Fridays knowing that we’re about to spend an entire weekend together.
Next time that sweet angel falls asleep on your chest, stay put. Don’t cautiously maneuver the baby into the crib. Don’t try to tackle the dishes or the laundry. Just relax and hold onto that adorable warm little body. There will be plenty of sleepy snuggles after you return to work, but there’s no stopping how fast they grow up. Grab those fleeting moments whenever you can.
Don’t Undervalue the Benefits to Your Baby
It’s easy to harp on the downsides of spending time away from your child. Obviously, you will reap the financial and personal benefits of being a working mom. Try to remember that there are many benefits to your child as well, especially if they will be attending daycare.
I know what you’re thinking – there is nobody in the world who can love and care for that baby like you can. Chances are, you’re right. But keep an open mind to the idea that there is an upside to your little one learning from other children and adults.
After eight months of daycare, I have a son who isn’t afraid of new people or environments. He still gets clingy and turns to me first for comfort. But in many ways, he is braver, more open-minded and more adventurous at 1 than I am at 30.
And Finally, Know That You’re Not Alone
I hope that by sharing my experience I can offer you some encouragement and empathy. Being a working mom isn’t easy. The hardest part of parenting so far has been the never-ending FOMO I feel when I’m away from my son.
I’m guessing there is nothing I can say that will alleviate the stress you’re feeling right now. Chances are, your transition to work will be a lot harder on you than it is on your little one.
It helps me to know that there are a lot of us – 25 million in the United States alone. These millions of moms have felt your anguish when their maternity leave ended. Somehow, they have come out simultaneously more nurturing and tougher on the other side.
Hang in there, mama. My baby’s first year has come and gone in an instant. You won’t believe how quickly you’ll find yourself sitting where I am today – in the midst of your new normal, on the cusp of your baby’s first birthday, eager to connect with and support other moms who follow in your wake.
Enjoyed this post? Check out my tongue-in-cheek letter to new dads as their paternity leave ends.
Share a comment and join the conversation! Let me know how motherhood is treating you. Whether you’re a brand-new mom who can’t imagine leaving your baby’s side, a working mom who is starting to feel like you have it under control or a stay-at-home-mom who sacrificed so much to be home caring for your child – I would love to hear your perspective.