When I think back to my months on maternity leave, the memories are a mish-mash of blissfully snuggling my newborn and frantically dodging his flowing bodily fluids. It was a beautiful yet chaotic and stressful time, coupled with the obnoxiously loud ticking clock counting down to my return date. That clock reminds us all that the stress during maternity leave is, in fact, temporary (a welcome realization for some, and an overwhelming disappointment for others), but that doesn't necessarily make it easier in the moment.
The weeks spent at home after I gave birth also gave me plenty of opportunities to stew on the decisions my partner and I were making. It seemed like only minutes passed between the birth and the realization that my leave would soon come to an end. As days with our baby started to feel every-so-slightly more routine and regular, and as the end date of my leave crept closer and closer, I couldn’t help but feel like I should have more of this parenting thing under control. It's an unfortunate benchmark that many of us are faced with, and one that often inspires us to size up our current mothering skills, knowing there might not be another chance to spend as much uninterrupted time with our child (unless, of course, we make some major life and career changes, which often opens up a whole other set of stresses). I wish I could hug every single mom nearing the end of her leave (including the ones who can't wait to go back to work) because no matter how you cut it, it's a transition, and those are rarely easy. Here's a few of the things that were swimming around my head when I was in that boat:
"How Am I Doing At This Mom Thing?"
As far as I could tell, any day that our son stayed alive was a successful one. However, I would have loved to have a better sense of what I was good at, and what I should continue to improve upon. To this day, I’m still trying to figure it out.
"Am I Making The Right Choice By Going Back To Work?"
Every day leading up to my return to work, I questioned whether or not it was the best decision. And, hey, guess what? I'm still trying to figure out if it was the right choice. Most of the big parenting choices don't have static, immovable, permanent answers that feels good forever after you make them. A lot of it is just finding a way to feel comfortable existing in a state of perpetually half-certainty that you've made the best choice you can.
"How Is That First Day Back Going To Go?"
Before I got pregnant, I struggled with getting up and getting to work on time. Because I'm human. While on leave, I rarely managed to shower before lunchtime. One of the major points of concern I had was how I’d be able to manage all of the logistics required to get myself up and out the door on time (especially when I was working with a closet full of clothes that didn’t exactly fit me) in addition to preparing the baby to leave, too.
"How Will Childcare Go?"
We had a complicated arrangement of work-from-home hours for me and my husband, parking lot baby transfers, and help from family members. I would not recommend it if you can opt for something simpler, but it's also nice reassurance that even if you can't opt for something simpler, you can still make it work.
"What About All The Other New-Mom/New-Baby Worries?"
How normal is his nap schedule? Should we change his diaper size? Buy baby laundry soap? Should I boil the pacifiers again? Is that breathing noise normal? Is his belly button healing normally? Is he hungry? Tired? Mad? Gassy? Where's his teething thingy?
"When Am I Going To Feel Like Myself Again?"
I mistakenly thought that, once I no longer had a baby in my body, I would feel normal again. Ah, how cute and naive my younger self was.
"How Are Sick Days Going To Work Now?"
I dreaded that first day that my partner and I would have to make a quick choice about which one of us would stay home with our little. This concern also gave me a great respect for anyone who's ever parented without sick days.
"What Happens If There's An Emergency When I'm At Work?"
This concern also gave me a great respect for anyone who's ever parented without a cell phone.
"What If The Baby Doesn't Miss Me? Or What If He Misses Me Too Much?"
That's the thing about babies: They're pretty resilient. Even if he did miss me (or not miss me at all) it obviously didn't bother him enough to mention it once he gained the ability to talk months later.
"What If I'm Not Good At My Job Anymore?"
I mean, it had been three months since I'd last done it, so this felt like a valid concern at the time. There's a reason the saying is "just like riding a bicycle" and not "just like returning to your job after having a baby."
"How Am I Going To Work Without Sleep?"
I never did find a good answer to this beyond coffee, music, and an inner mantra of "SUCK IT UP, YOU GOT THIS.’’