Everyone tells you coming back to work after having a baby is difficult. So I was prepared to experience that struggle when my maternity leave ended. But what were people not saying about those first days back in the office as a new mom? There are things no one tells you about returning to work after giving birth, but I will. They may not be universal truths for all working mothers, but they were things I wish I had heard more about so it wouldn’t have been such a tremendous adjustment to leave my baby and get in the mindset of work.
The first time I went back to work, we had a nanny for our daughter. She was cared for in our home, with all her “stuff,” and I could check in whenever I wanted. I remember the first day back at work, when I leaned into her crib to say goodbye, and she just smiled, while I teared up. But by the time I got through my first day, I knew I could do it again. I returned home to her, still smiling, and as the months and years passed, she rarely suffered from separation anxiety.
With my second baby, he, and his older sister, were going to full-time daycare when I went back to work. The night before I was to return, I had a full-on panic attack. “He’s only 12 weeks old. He’s too young. He’s not taking a bottle. I can’t do it. I can’t do this to him,” I cried to my husband. Cut to him, as a totally happy camper in the infant room, with doting caregivers who successfully fed him bottles.
My two experiences returning to work were so vastly different from each other, so I know that no two women will have identical journeys. But here are some things I experienced when returning to work after giving birth, which might be helpful, since nobody else seems to be talking about them:
You Can’t Wait To Talk About Your New Baby
People at the office were so kind when I came back to work; they wasted no time in asking to see photos of the baby and indulging me in conversation about her. After 12 weeks of seeing basically the same few people every day (my husband, my mother, the super and, of course, the baby), it was delightful to have a new audience to regale with charming new baby stories. And as long as you remember to ask your co-workers about their lives, you will barely come across as a narcissist.
You Also Can’t Wait To Talk About Anything Other Than Your New Baby
As much fun as it is to talk about the baby, it is just as wonderful to talk about work. For three months, that part of my brain went unused. I feared my professional skills were beginning to atrophy, so I was grateful to get back in the game and start re-using those mental muscles. While I had a new side to me, as a parent, I was a writer/producer before my baby was born, and I didn’t lose that part of myself. My career had always been integral to my identity, and I didn’t intend for motherhood to change that.
You’ll Forget About Your Baby Sometimes…
Sometimes, I’d go for two hours without giving my baby a thought. I was working, and focusing on what needed my attention at the time. The sitter hadn’t called me, and it wasn’t time to pump. For those couple of hours, I wasn’t “mom,” and there was nothing wrong with that.
… And Feel Really Guilty About It
Of course, I totally felt there was something wrong with the fact that my baby hadn’t crossed my mind for that long. What kind of mother was I?
If You’re Pumping, You’re Constantly Thinking About Pumping
The typical workday for this pumping mom after returning from maternity leave was divided as such: 58 percent actually working (while successfully completing 100-or-more percent of the work required), 10 percent figuring out when to pump, 20 percent pumping, 5 percent finding places to store breast milk, 5 percent washing breast pump parts, 2 percent coming back to the office after I had left for the day, to retrieve the pump I forgot under my desk.
You Will Gain Some Work Friends
I became friendly with some people I barely knew once I returned from work, because we suddenly shared a common subject: parenthood. From the maintenance guy fixing the coffee machine, to a super-senior executive with whom I shared an elevator ride, children united us. There is something about being a parent in the workplace that allows you to find other parents, like, “Where have you been all my life?” You just need someone who gets you in that way.
You Might Also Lose Some Work Friends
I didn’t join in after-work drinks as frequently after becoming a mom. My time was so precious that I was extremely selective in choosing when to be away any longer from my infant than I absolutely had to for my job. This resulted in some distancing from certain co-workers. It’s OK, though. The people with whom you are truly friends with will always be there. You don’t need to attend all the happy hours to have healthy relationships with colleagues.
You Wonder Why Projects Used To Take So Long
Coming back to work after maternity leave, I was a changed woman. I watched the clock all the time. Not only was I trying to keep to my twice-a-day pumping schedule, but I also had to be out the door by 6 p.m. sharp to relieve our sitter (unless I wanted to pay overtime, and I really didn’t). I became so much more efficient. I also maybe got a little belligerent when people took their sweet time answering my emails and calls. Wasn’t everyone trying to work at the speed of light to get home? Oh, perhaps not.
You Become A Germaphobe
The office looked pretty much the same when I returned from the maternity leave, except for the invisible layer of bacteria that I was convinced was coating every surface. As a new mom, I was vigilant about keeping the environment clean so my baby wouldn’t get exposed to any germs. I suddenly felt so skeeved out in our office kitchen, or even touching the bathroom stall locks. By the time I had my second kid, and learned to embrace the 5-second rule (or 5-minute, whatever), this phobia had subsided. But I had a pretty low tolerance for dirt in those first few months back at work.
You Actually Have Two Jobs Now
Sure, your body is back at work, but your mind may not always be. After maternity leave, I had to learn how to keep my mom brain from disrupting my work brain. You never really “shut off” when you say goodbye to your baby for the day; I kept close watch on the phone and always answered it, even if I didn’t recognize the number (maybe my sitter got locked out of our apartment and is calling from the coffee shop… could happen). I’m not an advocate of multi-tasking, but I did teach myself to compartmentalize any anxiety I had about being away from my baby, and staying busy at work helped. Then I could take breaks to give the sitter a call, or schedule a check-up with the pediatrician, or just scroll through all the adorable pics on my phone and marvel at the fact that I helped make that little person.