I just went back to work after baby number three. You would think it would get easier by the third time, but it doesn’t. I’ve spent most of each of my maternity leaves trying to cobble together a plan that would allow me to stay at home for at least the first year, but no such opportunities ever presented themselves (and I do have a really nice career), so I went back to work at twelve weeks post-baby each time.
Being a three-time veteran of the working mom return to work has given me a little perspective, and I wanted to share some of the insights I’ve managed to glean over the years for any new moms who find themselves emotional and feeling overwhelmed in this position for the first time.
Being emotional is okay.
In fact, it’s more than okay, it’s normal. When I went back to work after my first son was born, I spent the majority of the first week sobbing at my desk with my phone set to “do not disturb.” It was rough. You’re full of wildly fluctuating hormones, exhausted to the point of near-delirium, and are most likely still months away from fitting back into your pre-pregnancy work-wear (which, let’s be honest, isn’t exactly a mood-booster). Allow yourself to process whatever emotions you’re feeling. Give yourself the space and the freedom to be human. Be honest with how you’re feeling. Putting up walls will just take up more energy, and you don’t have any of that to spare.
Other moms can relate.
Hopefully you have some other working moms in your life you can talk to and bond with. I’ve often been surprised at how eager other working moms are to encourage and support one another. So reach out to other moms you work with and network with. If you don’t have support around you, check out online groups and forums for working moms. A little encouragement goes a long way, and knowing you’re not the only one struggling with that heart-ripped-out-of-your-chest feeling when you miss your baby is wonderfully comforting.
Your relationship with your baby won’t suffer.
Really. Believe me on this one. It’s true. Despite the fact you may be gone more than 8 hours a day, you’ll still have so many precious moments with your baby. You’ll always be mom. You’ll always be a valuable, necessary and cherished source of comfort and love. You’ll be able to carve out a lot of time together and those moments with be incredibly rich with purpose and intentionality.
Your sleep cycle will adjust.
Somewhat. You’ll never again sleep like you did before having kids. But the exhaustion dissipates eventually and your routine falls into a new pattern. You’ll get by – even if there are days you just don’t know how you’ll keep awake. Rest while you can and be gracious to yourself when you go back to work.
Ease into the transition if you can.
This isn’t always possible, and that’s okay. But if you’re able to, try negotiating with your employer to work reduced hours, temporarily move to part-time, or explore work-from-home options while you ease back into your work schedule. When you present it as a temporary arrangement your boss is more likely to agree. If you feel like you’re doing too much too fast, it’s absolutely worth it to explore options for additional flexibility in your work schedule.
Working moms are valuable.
Hopefully you work in an office where women are championed and encouraged, and not some backwards bastion of sexism. Women have valuable contributions to make to the workforce and working moms are no exception. My philosophy has always been that although I might need days off for sick kids and doctors appointments and extra breaks to pump breastmilk, being a working mom makes me more committed to my work. I’m not going to leave my precious babies all day to show up and do a half-assed job; I’m going to contribute something valuable so that I can show my kids that my work was truly significant in addition to enabling me to bring home a paycheck.
You can do it!
There will be obstacles to overcome: exhaustion, showing up late because baby had meltdown, breastmilk soaking your shirt in an important meeting….Know you can do it. Working moms are strong! YOU are strong!!!
So, stay strong, mama! You’ve got this. All us working moms are cheering you on. It doesn’t get easier – but you’ll make it good.
What’s your best advice for a new mom heading back to work?