You made it. You created a tiny human and have kept them alive. Go you. But now? Now you're preparing to go back to work, and you have questions. What if you aren't ready? What if you are making the wrong choice? Are you going to screw up your kid? What if you suck at your job? So you freak out, cry, question yourself, and experience the things that happen during your last day of maternity leave. Keep breathing. You can do this.
Last week I was filling out the paperwork for my last maternity leave. With this pregnancy I have the privilege to decide how long I will be home with baby, as well as when and to what extent I want to return to work. It's so different than when my other children were born. I remember having to fight to get 12 weeks of leave after my daughter was born, because I had to be on bed rest during my pregnancy. My leave was during the summer, and I loved most of it, once I figured a few things out. When it was time to go back, I was ready. I felt sad, but I had also negotiated a flexible schedule and to work from home half time. It was the best of both worlds.
After my son was born, I developed horrible postpartum depression and social anxiety. I had my son at the end of October, so it was cold outside, the sun wasn't shining, and I didn't want to leave the house. My maternity leave was full of worry, and while part of me absolutely didn't want to go back to work, another part felt like I needed to be something other than just a mom. I needed to have that other part of my identity back.
Whether you love every moment or can't wait to have a conversation with someone other than your cat or newborn, there are many things that are likely to happen on that last, bittersweet day of maternity leave. Here are just a few that happened to me.
You'll Attempt To Get Organized
For my first baby I made a spreadsheet, and for my second I placed a series of post-it reminders around the house. I spent the day trying to get several weeks' worth of preparations done and worrying about not having enough time to pack my pump and diaper bag, and manage to make it to work on time.
You'll Freak Out
When you try to do everything in a day, you are bound to have a few freak outs. I mean, I definitely did, and about the oddest things. Like, if my husband would remember to change my daughter and what would happen if my son cried the whole day at daycare. I even worried about what I should wear my first day back to work.
In the end, my kids were fine, and it didn't matter what I wore. Everything I owned had spit up on it anyway.
You'll Forget Something Important
There's something about having children that messes with your ability to stay on track and remember important steps and items. Like when you are...err...what was I saying, again?
You'll Second Guess Yourself
You'll Lean On Netflix
The last day of leave is time to finish that series you were watching during leave. It may even be enough to distract you from all of the intense emotions you are experiencing.
I obsessed about getting stuff done. I obsessed about what I would wear, since my pre-pregnancy clothes still didn't fit. I obsessed about my choices. I even obsessed about whether or not I was spending my day the right way. Ugh.
You'll Have Trouble Sleeping
Sleep during maternity leave is well, um, nonexistent. The last day it was impossible to get to bed at a reasonable hour.
You'll Snuggle With Your Baby
I wanted to get all of the baby snuggles that I possibly could, before I went back to work. Of course, this led me to cry and obsess and question my choice to go back to work in the first place. Moms can't win.
You'll Lose Your Cool
I got frustrated and lost my cool several times on my last day of leave. At myself, at my breast pump, at my babies, at my husband; at the entire situation. Crappy me is not very nice to be around, you guys.
You'll Worry About Your First Day Back
I seriously worried about how my first day back would go. I worried about dealing with co-workers; I worried about pumping breast milk; I worried about how baby would do at home with my husband and at daycare; I worried about whether or not I would be able to jump back into my job seamlessly. While it might be easy to look back at these particular situations and say they're "nothing," they were seriously scary when I was postpartum.
You'll Get Angry
I found myself getting seriously angry that I had to leave my newborn so soon. I was just getting to know them and to figure out how to care for them and now I had to go back. I was lucky. I had and enjoyed 12 weeks of paid leave after each of my children were born. Most women in the United States don't get that. Our country needs to do better for women and families.
You'll Give Yourself A Pep Talk
You can do this. You can do this. It doesn't matter if you can do this, you're about to jump in the deep end. Remember, you know how to swim and will figure things out. You can do do this. I believe in you.