Looking back on my maternity leave after giving birth to my son, I’m beyond thankful that I had an accommodating supervisor and super-considerate co-workers during this stressful time. To say it helped make a challenging time more workable would be an understatement. But even with that extra support, I could barely keep it together. And by “keep it together,” I mean I consistently ran late, constantly had to leave my desk to pump, and had to re-learn how to do the job I hadn’t done for months. As you can imagine, Employee of the Month wasn’t in the cards for me, at least not during those months of transition.
The challenges of those first weeks as a working mom are impossible to forget. I have vivid memories of sitting alone, pumping, in a spare room in my building thinking, “What am I doing?” and mentally re-assessing my priorities over and over again. (I don’t recommend doing this, it’s not really that helpful for your milk supply.)
And just so we're all on the same page, I'm not even saying that working as a mom is some Herculean task, or that moms who ~juggle it all~ are anomalies who deserve parades. Like, look, most humans are doing a lot in their lives, and we're all just doing our best to not f*ck any of it up too badly. What's hard about going back to work after maternity leave isn't the "being a working parent" part (although, undoubtedly there are challenges associated with that too) — it's the transition. It's the fact that things that were familiar are not dramatically changed. It's that the details of your life might look similar, but their context is entirely altered. And it feels weird. And it's hard to get used to.
If you, or someone you love, or even someone you only kind of care about but are always reminded of thanks to some weird Facebook setting that always puts them on the top of your feed, is going through this transition may I offer these simple words of encouragement: Hang in there. You can do this. You can more than do this, and it'll all get easier. I would even go as far as to send props, but I don’t think people do that anymore. Let’s just settle by saying moms who return to the workforce after maternity leave are badasses. And let’s all have a moment of silence for the things they’re likely dealing with.
Remembering How To Dress Yourself Like An Adult
It’s not that I didn’t dress myself when I was on maternity leave, it’s just that pretty much everything I wore was equipped with lots and lots of elastic. Remembering the steps needed to actually make myself presentable for the professional world took more energy than I would've thought.
Using A Breast Pump In Public (Or Perhaps Your Car, As Many Of Us Have Done)
Even though I was behind a locked door, hooking myself up to the pump still felt weird because I knew on the other side of the wall were people going about their regular business, oblivious to what was going on with my breasts. At one point, the regular room I used was having maintenance done so my supervisor graciously offered to vacate her office and let use it since it had a lock. Under no other circumstances would I think it OK to open my shirt up in my boss’s office, but that day? I had no choice but to grin and, well, bare it.
Getting Used To Your New Childcare Arrangements
I need to offer up hugs and summery cocktails to those who were juggling outside childcare during this transition. In our family, work schedules were semi-flexible so my partner and I thought we’d be able to split our time and keep our son at home. This idea eventually went on to blow up in our faces, but it did save us from having to introduce the added complication that outside care would have been. As difficult as it was, I imagine that it was still less emotionally taxing than starting at a new daycare. And so I offer all families, however you are managing your childcare during your back-to-work transition, this panda GIF as a show of my support.
Zapping All Of Your Phone Battery Before Lunch Looking At Baby Pictures And Texting Whoever Has Your Baby
OK, a point of clarification: I was still getting my work done (for the most part). All I’m saying is that my tendency to multi-task during those weeks was off the charts. I imagine some moms might have been better at this part, but for me, it was tough. I couldn’t help myself from scrolling through pictures and frequently checking in with my husband about our little’s diaper situation.
Keeping Your Emotions In Check
Just blame it on the hormones*. It’s probably not even a lie.
*I'm not saying, nor would I ever say, that moms are running around their workplaces, too flooded with hormones to function professionally. We function. We can still do our jobs just as well. It just sucks... internally. Our crazy postpartum hormones are our problem, not our employers' and not our co-workers'. Dealing with hormones after having a baby isn't a reason to think less of moms professionally; it's a reason to respect them more for continuing to be just as awesome at their jobs.
Not Getting Too Distracted By The Photos On Your Desk
Some days it may have been easier to just put the pictures (and the phone) away, but that was obviously out of the question. I needed them to be there so anytime someone came into my office I could casually angle them toward my guest and give them the opportunity to comment on how cute my baby was.
Managing Sleep Deprivation In A Whole New Way
The lack of sleep during maternity leave was hard enough, but at least during those days at home I could stumble around in my pajamas and occasionally lay next to my sleeping baby. I’m convinced that the need to keep focus in an office, after my son had stirred half a dozen times overnight, was the reason chocolate-covered espresso beans were invented.
Leaving Work With Only Enough Time To See Your Baby Eat And Then Go To Bed
There’s nothing to joke about with this one, it’s the worrrrrst.