Maternity leave is over and you’re thrust back into the workforce; attempting to deal with 3 months worth of crap piled on your desk and the painful heartbreak of being away from your baby for the first time in a year. (Yes, a year. 9 months of pregnancy + 3 months of maternity leave = 12 months = 1 year. Don’t question me, lady.) You’ve got fires to put out and tears to shed and all of this is so taxing that you don’t even know where to begin or how you’re supposed to feel. Even if you love your job, it all feels crumby.
Yesterday marked the last day of my first week back in the office and it wasn’t easy. Up until Monday, I hadn’t been away from my 10 week old for longer than two hours before; and even then all I wanted to do was get what I needed to done as quickly as possible so I could be back to my baby. The start of this week was definitely tough emotionally. Baby Zay even came to visit me at the office on Thursday so I could love on him.
Call it mother’s intuition or call it common sense, but either way I knew I would have a hard time returning to work after maternity leave. I factored this in to my return-to-work plans while I was still pregnant to help alleviate some of the ache.
1. Suffer through the last days of pregnancy at the office rather than starting maternity leave early.
At my company, I received 8 weeks of paid leave (labeled Short Term Disability coverage) and then 4 weeks of unpaid FMLA. I chose to take all 12 weeks after Zay was born. My thought process on this was why use up what little maternity leave I’m offered to sit around at home alone. I wanted to spend as much of those 12 weeks as possible with my new baby, not sitting on my couch binging on ice cream and Netflix. Not everyone qualifies for FMLA coverage and even if you do, you may not be able to afford to take 12 weeks off without any pay; I certainly know I wouldn’t have been able to. Make sure you know what you’re eligible for and what you can afford to take; just because you’re offered 12 weeks, doesn’t mean you have to take it.
2. Return to work at the end of week 11 with half days.
By coming back a week earlier than the 12-week mark, I was able to work half days for 2 weeks. This actually extends my time with him to 13 weeks and made the transition less drastic. Leaving him for 4 hours is incredibly easier than leaving him for 9 (8 plus a lunch hour) initially. Not all employers offer or allow this, but it is worth asking about up front to see if it is an option available to you.
3. Leave baby with a trusted family member the first week.
It is hard enough having to leave your baby for the first time, but it can be completely debilitating when you have to leave him with a stranger on top of it. My mom took a week off of work to visit us and watch Zay this past week. Having her here allowed me to focus on work rather than worrying about my baby’s wellbeing. Try to find someone who has watched your beau before, even if it was only for short bursts of time, so that everyone (including baby) is comfortable with the arrangements.
4. Choose the right day care.
So there’s a lot that goes into finding the right day care, and I picked Zay’s very early on in my pregnancy to ensure he had a spot reserved. (See my day care search criteria HERE.) I won’t go into the depth of detail I did before, but the basic gist is: find something you are comfortable with that offers what you want and that you can afford (duh, I know). Don’t simply go for price though, because you don’t want to sacrifice safety for affordability but also don’t believe the most expensive center means the best either. Take your time and make sure all of the stars align. This will be your child’s second home (or third depending on your sitch) and it should be the right fit for your family’s needs.
5. Work from home part-time.
Now I completely understand and appreciate that my company is making an exception to their policies for me on this one. It is not typical that they allow employees to work from home on a regular basis and I was even denied my request from local HR at first. Luckily though, my managers knew my situation and valued my work within our department. An executive-level superior took my request to global HR and went to bat for me so I could stay home and work. This flexible work situation is contingent on its success month to month. If at any point my employer or I feel that it isn’t working out, we can request that I return to the office full time. Your job may be more or less flexible on this, but the key is to be transparent. If you can’t afford to work and pay for child care, your employer should know that. There may even be other benefits you can negotiate for, such as a pay increase or child care cost assistance.
Whether you’re returning to work by necessity or by choice, it doesn’t have to be a painful experience. Separation anxiety is real and you will hurt both physically and emotionally. Stay strong knowing that the pain doesn’t last forever though. One day this will all be routine and you’ll feel like yourself again, until he starts kindergarden that is, then this whole freaking process starts over again.