Returning to work after maternity leave is hard.
Going back to work after maternity leave is one of the most daunting things I’ve ever faced, and I know Heather feels the same. I remember it very, very well: my clothes still didn’t fit right, I wasn’t sleeping much, I felt as though I hadn’t fully turned on my brain in months, and MY BABY WAS SO TINY. WAS I JUST SUPPOSED TO LEAVE HIM WITH SOME STRANGER?!?
In other words, we’ve been there, we got through it, and we promise, promise, promise, you will get through it, too. (And you, like me, will discover that your baby’s daycare teachers or nanny are not random strangers, but rather wonderful, empathetic people who will help you navigate these working-mom waters.)
Here are our pointers on how to make the transition a little less terrifying. Deep breaths, Mama. You got this.
- Everyone cries. So you should feel free to cry, too.
Seriously, first day back at the office, pretty much everyone cries. If you have the luxury of an office with a door that closes, by all means, close the door so you can have a nice cry in private. If you don’t have an office, we suggest a lightly trafficked ladies’ room, or the weird conference room no one ever uses. Or feel free to go sit in your car in the parking lot for a few minutes and weep away. Don’t feel guilty or bad about it. Everyone cries.
- Get some clothes that make you feel reasonably good about yourself.
Haven’t lost the baby weight by the end of maternity leave? Don’t worry, we didn’t either. We’re not Giselle. Nine months on, nine months off, is what we say. However, we also freely admit it is bad for the ego and for physical comfort to squeeze yourself into pants and shirts that are a few sizes too small and then attempt to focus on your job all day while wearing those too-small clothes.
We’re not suggesting you drop a fortune on new outfits, but buy yourself (or borrow, if you can) a few workhorse staples (black pants, dark denim, perhaps a flattering A-line professional dress) that actually fit your current body, and wear the heck out of them for the next few months.
- Accept that the first few months will be chaos.
Setting expectations is half the battle. So you should just expect that the first few months are going to be rocky. And really, why shouldn’t they be? You’re trying to master an entirely new routine while operating on less than optimal sleep and attempting to catch up on what you’ve missed the last few months!
I don’t know about you, but we struggle with returning to work after a week-long vacation where we’re jet lagged from a three-hour time difference. Reentry after maternity leave is the post-vacation experience multiplied by a factor of ten (plus, maternity leave wasn’t actually a vacation – it was forcing a small person out of your body, and then keeping that tiny, needy person alive 24 hours a day).
The good news is that the chaos will end. We’re going to say that again: it will end. You will settle into the new daily routine, your baby will do the same, and it will all become manageable in relatively short order. So don’t sweat the adjustment period. Just embrace the chaos and know that it will pass soon.
- Spend the first few days (or even weeks) back at work totally faking it.
We’re going to let you in on a little secret: most people are not ogres, and a lot of them have kids themselves. That means they’ve been in your shoes. They are probably going to expect you to be a little wonky right when you get back to work, and even have empathy for your situation. So you should feel free to completely fake how engaged and competent you are for a little bit of time until you actually have your feet back under you. Your coworkers will understand. They know you’ll be back to full steam soon.
- If you take your baby to daycare or similar, ask if you can stock extra supplies there.
Extra diapers, extra outfits, extra frozen breast milk or formula, extra empty bottles, extra crib sheets…if you have the option to stock up the place, take advantage of that option. Topping up your supplies once a month or so is much, much easier that doing it daily or even weekly. It is one of those tiny logistical battles you should avoid fighting if at all possible.
- If you need to call your caregiver to check in, call them.
We are not suggesting you be the crazed parent who calls ten times a day, but for those first few weeks, if you need to call your nanny or daycare a few times to make sure everything is OK with your baby, do it. Don’t apologize or feel guilty. She’s your baby and your desire to know how she’s doing is 100% legitimate.
- Feel free to ask for information about your child’s day.
Most daycare centers provide a written log of your child’s day; it should list tasks like feedings, diaper changes, and naps (and it’s often required as part of their licensing process). This snapshot of the day will feel tremendously helpful after your long day at work, when you’re trying to figure out how tired or hungry your baby is (or is not!).
If you’re using a nanny, ask her to use CluckCluck so you’re getting updates on your baby throughout the day, or at least ask her to keep a handwritten list of daily events. Like the daycare daily log, this will help you feel informed about and connected with your baby’s routine.
- So it’s been a few months and you’re still freaking out? It’s OK to make a change.
Here’s the beauty of both job and childcare arrangements: if they’re legitimately not working for you, they can be changed. No arrangement is permanent and irrevocable. If you’ve given yourself a few months to settle in and your situation is really, truly not working for you, figure out how to alter it.
We’re completely and totally serious. Don’t like your daycare? Find a new one, or try a nanny. Don’t trust your nanny? Find a new one, or try a daycare center. Despise your job? Polish up your resume and start interviewing.
You are tough and smart, and it’s gotten you this far. You can change your circumstances if you need to. We are cheering for you, and we know you can do it.
- Have any working mommy girlfriends? Buy them some wine and ask them for war stories.
Find an evening or weekend morning where you can sneak away for a few hours and listen to your girlfriends’ stories about working and parenting. We know you’re exhausted, but force yourself to do it anyway. It is so, so helpful to know you’re not alone. In our personal opinions, two hours with girlfriends is the equivalent of twenty hours with a professional therapist. We are not sure how we would have survived our own transitions back to work without our lovely, sympathetic, smart friends. (Thank you, friends!)
The truth is maternity leave is pretty short in America, and going back to work is tricky business. But in six months or so, you will look back and be so impressed with yourself and proud of how far you’ve come.
You can do it. We know it.
Erin and Heather