When I returned to work eight months ago, after fourteen months of maternity leave, I was so excited!
I wanted to learn to be a fully functioning adult again, the kind that could hold actual conversations with real words that made sense. Like the grown-up I was before I became a mum.
So with optimism and nice clean clothes, I returned to work.
And discovered I had NO IDEA of what to expect.
1. How it feels
Going back to work after maternity leave is a lot like when your baby finally arrives and you discover that nothing you did actually prepared you for having your baby.
You could even compare it to the first day you got your period… What the hell is going on? What do I do? Where do I go? What’s for lunch? Where’s the toilet?! *Goes to the toilet and cries*.
There is a lonely, empty feeling in the pit of your stomach as you try to work out how to function without your baby. You finally emerge from the bathroom trying your best not to look like you had been crying only 5 minutes ago then sit down to bury your face in the bar of chocolate you bought from the shop, because you could actually go into a shop without a toddler pulling on your leg and you don’t have to share your food. As you eat by yourself in the lunch room colleagues come and go making polite and innocent conversation like “Welcome back! How is your first day? Do you miss your baby? Do you wish you were home with him? How do you feel?” then they go back to their desk leaving you to sit and dwell on their questions, reminded that you left your little one for the entire day and it is still many hours before you will be home with them again.
Of course it does get easier as you conquer each day, but those first few weeks can feel like you are the worst mother in the world for leaving your baby behind. Even though they will be perfectly fine with their grandparents, childcare workers, your partner or other carers.
2. What it does to you
I thought returning to work would be easy because I was jumping back into a job I had been doing for years. Just like riding a bike! But no one told me that for every month I was away many more months of experience and knowledge would be wiped clean from my memory. Fuck! As if baby brain wasn’t enough to deal with. So… returning to work is NOT like riding a bike. At all.
Even more awkward, the longer you are on maternity leave the more likely it is you will know NO ONE. It’s been eight months and I still have absolutely no idea who several people in the office are! (don’t feel shitty about not remembering their names though because it is highly likely they have forgotten who you are too.)
3. You will be jealous
After the initial shock of relearning your job [and the names of your colleagues!], you may find yourself struggling to accept the new hierarchy. In particular, the people who were previously your equals, now promoted into jobs you may have been successful for if you didn’t leave to have a baby.
Yep, that’s right… Once you figure out who everyone is, you quickly realise the place didn’t burn down or collapse without you. What the what now, I’m replaceable?!
No matter how hard you worked, the extra hours you put in or how niche your skill set was, your job survived without you and was performed by someone else. This can be unnerving but I wouldn’t stress too much about being so easily replaced, or the possibility of losing your job just because you had a baby.
Mainly because I reckon;
- The law is always on your side if you are doing the right thing and you are willing to do something about it if you are being discriminated against (I hope that isn’t the case, what asshats!), and
- A good employer knows when they have a good employee. They won’t waste their time and money on you if you were of no value to their business. Sadly there are bad employers out there who do the wrong thing when women leave to have a baby or want to return from maternity leave, therefore refer to point #1.
4. So how do you deal with returning to work after maternity leave?
- Understand it is ok to want or need to return to work.
- Understand your child will be ok without you, being cared for by someone who is capable and trustworthy.
- Understand things do change and it is ok to give yourself time to adjust.
- You will need time to feel normal and get into a routine… which should take about 6 months.
- It is ok to not know the answers to things you once knew.
- It is ok to ask people “What is your name?” 10 weeks later, even after they have already told you five times.
- When you feel overwhelmed cut yourself some slack and ask for help. You are dealing with a lot of shit, it is ok to need help.
- Be organised!
- Be present at your job when you are there and give it 100%, then leave your job behind when you get home and be present with your family and yourself.
5. How do I feel now?
Eight months later and I have learnt it is ok to be successful and want something in addition to being a great mother and wife.
Aside from a few early obstacles, I’m happy to report:
- Since returning to work I am learning how to have an adult conversation again.
- The opinions and experiences of parents I work with have helped how I parent for the better and to cope with being a working parent.
- Our son learns more from the variety of people caring for him than if he were only home with me.
- Our son has developed great social skills, even outside of a childcare environment.
- Our son has learnt how to be less dependent on me, which has improved his relationship with daddy and other family members.
- I have learnt how to be me again and not just a mummy.
I love bringing home the new me to my husband and son at the end of my work day, it gives us something deeper to discuss other than the number of nappies changed, what room was cleaned or what we ate that day.
What is not to love about that?