Returning to Work after Maternity leave

Part II: Mama’s Back

What is it about going back to work that is so anxiety provoking for so many of us?

I was lucky enough to be able to take an extended period of leave, as I just didn’t feel ready to return to work when I had originally planned too. My anxiety kicked in not only around all the changes and uncertainties in the workplace that I was coming back to, but also around how my return to work would impact Alessia; how she would cope with childcare; not to mention all the sicknesses that were looming around the corner.

I realised I wasn’t alone when I spoke to other new mums and noticed a trend of concerns including but not limited to:

  • Have I compromised the career which I spent so long working to build?
  • Will my professional life have to take a backseat?
  • What if the person covering my maternity leave will be better at my job than I am?
  • Will my workplace understand my need for flexible working arrangements and allow me to work in a part time capacity?

And on the home front:

  • The challenges faced in the practical adjustment to a new routine for the entire family;
  • If I’m putting my all into work, will I have the energy to give my child everything he/she needs at the end of the day?
  • How will my child adjust to childcare or being cared for by someone other than me or my partner?

It seems like women are expected to work as though they don’t have a baby, raise a baby as though they don’t have to work and put on their lipstick and eyelashes as though they have the whole work/life balance thing sorted.

Ever since I returned to work I felt pulled apart in every direction possible. I was trying to find myself again as a professional working woman, whilst maintaining my supermum role after hours.

  • Trying to wrangle my baby up and out of the house in the mornings, early enough to beat the traffic and make it into the office at a reasonable time;
  • Leaving work early enough to pick her up from childcare before she gets upset seeing the other kids leaving;
  • Feeling the need to prove myself at work and integrate into an almost entirely new team, whilst also trying to retain my status as a supermum who can cook a perfectly balanced dinner after a long day at work and maintain a perfectly clean and tidy household;
  • And finally, finding the energy at the end the day for a bit of bonding time with my baby before passing out myself.

The struggle for me was real! I reached a point where I decided I had had enough of being a martyr, and it was time to take my own advice. I wrote down a plan that allowed me to share many of the responsibilities with my partner, and started asking for / accepting help from family when I felt I needed it. I have put together some of my tips when it comes to planning for your return to work. These are based on my professional and personal experiences and I hope you find some benefit from it.

Returning to work:

  1. Reach out to your employer 6-8 weeks before your due return to work date to confirm all of the details and let them know that your ready and looking forward to being back.

  2. Plan your child’s care arrangements in advance.
    If your baby is going to be starting at a new childcare centre, or will be under the care of  a nanny or grandparent, try not to leave this to the last week prior to your returning to work. Starting the transition in changing your carer arrangements a month earlier can help both you and your baby in adjusting to their new routine and environment. It can take longer than anticipated for them to settle in and the last thing you want on your first day back at work is being called to pick up your unsettled baby. Starting the new childcare arrangements in advance will also give you the peace of mind that your baby is comfortable, in good hands, and well adjusted, thereby allowing you to focus on reintegrating back into the workplace. You might also need a few days in that first month to stay home with your baby if they’ve picked up any sicknesses after their first few days (like mine did).

  3. Develop a plan and delegate!
    Plan your week in advance where possible (this includes dinners, packing your babies bag for childcare, setting out a cleaning routine and finding time for yourself – let your husband / partner / family member assist you in areas where you need assistance – you don’t have to do it all! Sometimes accepting help can be the hardest thing to do, but I found when I finally allowed myself to do so, it was a huge relief and felt a bit like coming up for air.

  4. Enjoy the new perks:
    That’s right mama’s, there are perks of being back at work! Whilst you will probably miss your little bundle of joy even more than you could have ever imagined, you will once again get to enjoy a peaceful stroll for your morning coffee (and drink it hot); A conversation that doesn’t revolve around breastfeeding, teething or birth stories; A trip to the bathroom without a little person running after you and climbing at your feet; And finally being able to wear white or silk or whatever item of clothing you’ve hidden at the back of your wardrobe in the fear of getting snot, milk and vomit all over it.

Whilst being a stay at home mum was one of the most rewarding and amazing things I have ever done, It certainly had its own challenges, and that is why personally I felt I was able to be more present and appreciate every moment with my baby once I had started back at work part-time. In saying that, there’s no one-size fits all plan which is guaranteed to work for everyone, so take the time to think about your individual needs, priorities and the balance you need to enjoy the best of both worlds.

I hope this has been helpful in assisting you to plan your return to work, and knowing that you’re not alone when it comes to feeling lost or anxious about it all.

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