Could Have Used More Support When I Returned To Work After Maternity Leave

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Dark nights of the soul, I’ve experienced a few.  And since becoming a mother, a few choice nights of weeping into my pillow loom large in my mind.  Like the night after my first day back at work after my first maternity leave.  I’ll never forget the bluish light of the hallway that lit Jeff’s face when he came to find out why I was crying into my pillow.  I shooed him away, knowing that I had to just face the sadness, fear, grief, and relief on my own.

And I did.

But man, it sure would have been nice if we as a society had a few rituals around sending a mom back to work after a maternity leave.  Hell, I’da settled for a few phone calls or emails saying, “good luck.”  It’s an invisible milestone that most of us don’t acknowledge, but it’s a big ass deal to step back into work after having a baby.

The fine folks at What To Expect When You’re Expecting just published my latest piece on this topic.  (See here.)  And while I doubt I’ll ever have another maternity leave, I think back to that night often and think of women who have to push themselves out the door every morning, some for the first time ever since becoming a mom.  I fist pump them as they crawl out of the cocoon of maternity leave and strike out with their leaky breasts and clunky breast pumps.  If you’re one of those women, please know that it gets easier, and then some days it’s harder, and then easier again.  But it’s never easy like it used to be when it was just you, but that was sort of the point of having kids, right?


20 thoughts on “Could Have Used More Support When I Returned To Work After Maternity Leave

  1. Yeah…why don’t we rally around these new mamas? Jumping into that new version of ourselves is a serious shock to life as we knew it. I don’t think I really took time to feel any of it. And I was probably a little relieved to go back to work where I knew what I was doing. My life was pretty messy in those early days even without all the baby stuff. I’m sure a little support would have been nice. I didn’t even know I needed it. Call me Monday for my re-do, ok? I’ll be returning to work after 3 days in New Orleans with my Father in law babysitting. Almost like childbirth.

  2. Holy crap, I couldn’t agree more! But when I have tried to give that support to other new moms ironically, I only feel more isolated. Nearly all of my friends welcomed going back to work with open arms. They love their babies (they do!) but they don’t want to spend 8 hours a day with them. They feel confident and satisfied by their work and they are certain that their babies are in good hands. I know because I have pulled 4 of my best girlfriends aside and said, “no really, you can tell me. I am doing it now, we can be honest. Every day feels like death, right?” and they tell me they just don’t feel the same way as I do. I think it’s so hard to pull together any practices around mothers because it seems their differences can be so vast.

    Ok, my little side note really has nothing to do with your piece. I will continue to check in with new moms as they return to work and if they are doing great, well then I give them a thumbs up!! But we need those practices and support, I agree.

  3. Back in my working days I asked all of the parents in the office for their best tips on how they juggled work and family, and then I turned it into a fun fact sheet for new parents returning to work after a baby. A small gesture, but it had some good ideas and I think it was a nice way to make new parents feel less alone (like I did after my first leave).

  4. I love your post over at What to Expect, and think about this all the time. And not just in terms of the way women support each other, but also the way that the places women work support them as they make the transition back. At least where I work, there is an attitude that when women come back from maternity leave, they are the same people that they were when they left, and is is absolutely impossible that that is true. There is an inflexibility that belies how life-changing having a new baby is, and an expectation that we can return full throttle. At my firm, that leads to a lot of crying in the bathroom for new moms. It’s crappy, and we can do better.

  5. Wondering if it gets any better the 2nd time around??? Those first few months are so hard I am already fearing that period. ( I remember it being precious and fleeting too, but super hard…..) going to read your article now..

    • it was a blessing and also a rude awakening when it was time to return to work. There’s no easy way to do any of this. I was going to say that my instinct was that the first time was harder, but as with all things with my second child, they’re just different.

  6. My first day back at work after maternity leave felt very surreal, like I had been living 2 distinctly different lives in parallel universes that were about to collide. I remember my coworkers being extra kind and understanding, which helped a lot. After that first day, the new routine began to feel normal.

  7. I cringe thinking of that day I tried to put on my too-tight business casual and kissed my little girl goodbye. Worst day ever. But now, when I drop them off at daycare and go to by job – I feel fulfilled and happy. Sure I miss them during the day, but they are doing cool stuff that I can’t handle doing at home (tempera paints, heck to the no) and I am doing cool stuff (rephrase – I am doing stuff).

  8. I would go so far as to say that when you see that new mother, sobbing into her desk (or her coffee, or lunch, or breakfast, or just her bare hands), even if it’s 4 months after she returned to work, go ask if she’s OK. Even if she says she is, even if she’s still crying the next day, even if you think she doesn’t want you to talk to her. We need support when we go back, we need support to STAY back.

    Good for you for talking about this. We have to stop pretending this is all so easy.

  9. A great topic, and good for you and them for posting it. A lot of moms will get a lot of relief from your words of wisdom and kindness. Well done lady – you rock.

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