It’s been over a months since I’ve returned to work after maternity leave. I never thought going back to work would be as difficult as it has been. Before having my little guy I expected to walk back into the office as the firecracker that I was pre-babe. After having him I discovered how profoundly unrealistic that was. Expecting to walk into the office the same person I was when I left is the professional equivalent of expecting to wear my favorite pre-pregnancy pants out of the hospital. Ain’t gonna happen.
As the time approached to return to work I was filled with dread and apprehension. I completely under estimated how overwhelming and stressful this transition would be. I am thankful that I did a 2 week gradual entry into daycare because the separation anxiety I experienced being away from him after so much time together was staggering. Much to my surprise the first few days back were surprisingly easy. Everyone told me how great I looked and how cute he was. I was wearing something other than yoga pants and I didn’t smell like spoiled milk, and the shoes…for the first time in months I was wearing heels! I was able to have a cup of coffee while it was still HOT, go to the bathroom on my own, and I was guaranteed one whole uninterrupted hour to workout during my lunch break.
But after a few days the allure of a quiet hot cup of coffee ended and I was forced to face the reality that I was leaving my child, every day…indefinitely, and this tore me up. I knew from my maternity leave that being at home wasn’t for me, it wasn’t enough. I crave the sense of self-worth that I get from working, the thrill of solving work-related problems, the challenge of leading others. But being back at work and away from my little babe left me feeling empty, guilty and alone.
Some coworkers would ask how I was adjusting but in reference to organizational change rather than about how I was feeling. While they are talking company changes, new employees and office restructures. I am thinking about when my son will walk or say his first word, and whether or not I will miss that milestone. They are excitingly chatting about company social events and I am worrying that I only have and hour and a half to spend with my baby before he goes to bed each night. This dichotomy deepens my feelings of disconnection and isolation.
So how have I been getting through this? Well –
- It’s going to be OK: All big transitions take some adjustment. At first I would think to myself, “But I am missing out on all these special moments every day.” The reality is during the course of any given day he would be cranky, overtired, fussing, pooping, teething, or napping and at some point during most days one of us was frustrated. It’s not all snuggles and ladies who lunch—being home all day is just a different form of work.
- I found a reliable child care provider that I feel confident with. As luck would have it, I was able to get a spot in a fabulous facility across the street from my work. Granted it’s not the most convenient location, however I am never worried about the safety or well-being of my little guy, and I don’t have to battling traffic to make the pick up time.
- Learning to let go. Once we both had a chance to adjust to our new routine I start to notice a change in my little one. He became more independent, he was learning new skills, making friends, and bringing home art projects. I see him having fun, but as soon as he sees me the water works start like, “Oh yeah I forgot. I was supposed to be missing you.” He is OK without me and our relationship hasn’t changed. At some point this transition has become harder for me than for him.
- Last but definitely not least, coffee- copious amount of coffee
For me, what’s been the hardest about going back to work isn’t “being a working parent” although, there are challenges associated with that too. It’s the fact that things that were familiar are now dramatically changed. The details of my life look similar, but their context has changed entirely. It feels weird, and it’s hard to get used to.
Have you returned to work after maternity leave? What did you struggled with the most? I would love to hear from you.