10 Tips on Returning to Work After Maternity Leave
I recruited my older sister, Ali, to provide her insight about returning to work after maternity leave.
Ali works at a Fortune 500 company and is an amazing mother to two beautiful boys (3 yrs., 15-months).
She has 10 great tips for new mothers who are planning on returning to work based on her personal experiences.
I hold the book in my lap with great anticipation.
The excitement in my palms nearly cause me to drop it and ruin the moment altogether. I inhale deeply and let out a slow exhale. These twenty minutes are mine and I am going to get a little crazy. I open the front cover and begin to read.
Maybe this day wasn’t so bad after all.
Sure, I got a speeding ticket on the way to the meeting and arrived late. And maybe my clients did not notice that I referred to the Powerpoint presentation on my 15” screen, as opposed to on a projection provided by the projector I didn’t bring. Did I really need that audio for the promotion video?
And, the one-hour delay at the airport allowed me the time to catch up on emails before returning home.
Working – traveling for work – it is okay. Before I know it, I am on page 10.
I am so engrossed in what I am reading that I hardly notice her politely asking if she can squeeze in next to me.
I look up and suddenly, without warning, without another exchange of words, I feel like I have been sucker-punched in the heart. She carries a darling little 8-month-old girl in a baby carrier and even though she is a complete stranger with a daughter and I have two young boys at home, I yearn to be next to my boys.
I am struck by the reminder that the airline’s delay will cause me to miss my eldest son’s weekly swim lesson and resent that the police officer who cited me didn’t know that I was delirious from being awake with my baby the night before. Screw the book. This stinks.
Now, while I know that any mother can empathize with this roller coaster of emotions, being a working mom is what I know and, well, it is the reason why my sister asked me to assist her with this post. (I better get to the point!) So, why tell a story that ends with me feeling like the air has been sucked out of me?
Well, for one, I am in sales and not a writer, so if the flow of the story doesn’t meet your expectations then I will send you the book I bought in the airport.
Second, it is the reality of what it is like to be a working mom.
It is like life. There are great days. There are horrible days. There are moments of luxurious quiet and there are moments when you are doing your hair while pumping breastmilk and rocking your newborn with one of your feet. (Yes, this happened.)
Here are my tips – call them thoughts – on returning to work in no particular order:
1. Check in with work a few weeks before your return.
Some women check email throughout their maternity leave. Others disconnect entirely.
Whatever your style, I don’t think it is bad idea to check in with your boss, team, HR representative, etc. the week before you return.
In addition to confirming your return date for the sake of pay, this could offer you an opportunity to discuss the expectations of your return, including a lighter load at the beginning, if that’s possible for your job/company/boss.
Also, it might be worth checking your in-box before you actually get in. Being prepared with knowledge of what you missed might make the first day(s) less overwhelming/stressful.
2. Practice your schedule before your first day.
I strongly recommend a full dress rehearsal.
And by full, I mean, plan out all of the details of your morning and evening and act on it.
Wake up early. Take a shower. Pump/nurse/feed your baby a bottle. Do your hair/make-up. Drop your child off at daycare. Coordinate with your nanny.
It might feel like a waste of one of your last days with your sweet little baby as well as a waste of money, but it will truly help your mental health upon your return.
Plus, the added benefit here is that you have 8 hours to yourself for the first time since you had your darling baby.
This brings me to my next tip…
3. Plan a day for you.
A full day. Just for you. Take advantage of your dress rehearsal and plan a day for you.
This doesn’t have to be an extravagant spa day (although I highly endorse this if it is what you prefer – have your husband/partner call me.)
It can be a day of rest in front of the TV watching the second season of Orange is the New Black. It can be a day of shopping or a day with friends. Do not do anything for anyone else on this day – during what will be your work hours.
You will be back on the payroll soon enough and once the emails start, there is no turning back.
Come on. It’s one day.
4. Enjoy syllabus day.
The first day of class in college was always a review of the objectives and plan for the course. The professor would essentially review the syllabus and let us quickly return to the afternoon parties that marked the start of a new school year.
You might be surprised by how, once you get to work, you might actually feel a bit more like yourself and actually enjoy the first day back.
My first baby rocked my world in a somewhat unsettling way. I did not really know how to feel like myself.
I will never forget a Friday afternoon when I had to run to the grocery store to get some milk and was surrounded by cute 20-somethings in trench coats and infinity scarves. It was almost like that scene in Thomas Crowne Affair when all you see are men in black top hats.
It was like the chic, cute girls were multiplying right before my very eyes. And, there I stood, in my 20-year-old Miami sweatshirt and elastic pants (nine months post baby!) feeling like I would never, ever feel like myself again.
Unexpectedly, it took my returning to work to get back to this sense of normalcy.
5. Hold off on hanging up Junior’s pictures.
I actually still don’t have pictures of my kids in my cube at work.
It has been three years.
I always planned to put them up, but realized that, in so doing, I would end up missing them more. The visual would make me think of them, of what they were doing, of the fact that I was not with them.
6. Buy yourself a new outfit – or five.
You deserve it. You have been wearing elastic pants for too long and it is just time that you feel like a woman again.
You might not have your body back – I was in elastic for 9 months – so these outfits could be a total waste of money. But get them. And wear them during that first week of work.
First, this will save you the time you will undoubtedly need in the morning.
Second, it will bring back that feeling of having brand new school supplies and/or a new backpack for a new school year.
The psychological impact of this “new you” will help you cope with the change. It is the new you and you are badder than ever before! (Please note that these outfits do not need to go to waste. Donate them to Dress for Success and feel good about helping other women go on and be their own bad selves.)
Buy and wear a regular bra even if you are still pumping – even if you will never naturally be the same size after you finish nursing (wishful thinking!).
Nursing bras and boardrooms just should not go together. Don’t get me wrong. They have their place in our world. But it is not underneath a silk top. I am sure underwire bras cause clogs or permanent scarring of some sort because, in the months after having a baby, we are just not allowed to be sexy in any way.
But, risk it, my virtual friend. Buy a regular bra – with cushion to soak up any leaks (the pads make crunchy sounds! )– and know that, this, too, might go to waste (donation here is questionable).
7. Project Outsource
Allow yourself time to adjust to your new routine.
Change is taxing on the brain and body – and this change takes a serious toll on the heart, too. Outsource what you can.
If you live close to family and friends, ask them for some extra TLC in the first month of your return. Yes, mom, my family will eat anything. Please cook.
If you do not live close to family, but have the means to pay for services in the short-term, I encourage you to do so. Consider meal services, grocery services, cleaning services, landscaping services…there are even services for running errands.
Just as with having a newborn, the change of returning to work gets easier with time. You will get in your groove. I support you in asking for help in taking your first steps.
8. Prepare your partner.
This is a big change.
You don’t know how you are going to respond to it.
It could be great. It could be awful. It could be a bit or a lot of both.
Just let your partner know that you aren’t sure how you are going to respond and are asking for some additional support, emotional and physical support in advance.
9. Focus on the good.
It is so easy for our minds to go to the dark side and focus on what we are missing out on, what we aren’t giving our kids.
But work can offer a variety of benefits for moms.
If you have any interest at all, read Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. She makes a compelling case for the long-term value of having women in the workforce. It will make you feel good about your impact on change and will inspire you to help other women along the way.
If you are a believer, then you will find solace in this tip. Having children is like little pieces of our hearts walking around in the world.
There are threats to safety, obstacles everywhere. It is absolutely terrifying.
After spending quality time cuddled up against a newborn, separation is torture. But it is also healthy.
We aren’t meant to be next to our children every waking hour of the day – if you don’t feel this way now, you will when your child is three.
Pray for your baby’s safety. Pray for your sanity. Pray for a good first day back.