As a new mom, in addition to getting back into the swing of things at work, you may also have the challenge of separation anxiety – being away from your baby. Always remember that it is perfectly normal to miss your baby when you first return to work. So take a deep breath and remember that a lot of new moms go back to work with conflicted emotions.
Even those of us who thought we would look forward to going back to work – to daily lunch breaks, intellectual stimulation, and adult conversation— still experienced less-than-inspiring moments of doubt. The good news is, despite inevitable ups and downs, things will get easier.
About 2 months after J was born, I was already back to work full time (minus an hour). By the time he was 5 months old, I was doing a minimum of 9 hours of work a day. At work I often felt guilty that I wasn’t doing my best due to my choice to become a mother. Since I had decided to co-sleep for the first 6 months and J never slept through the night, I was basically functioning through the day on several 2-3 hour chunks of sleep per night. This made the job stressful but even more stressful was dealing with the emotional and mental difficulties caused by the constant fight not to feel guilty.
But here are a few tips, I believe, helped me through the first few months:
1. A little patience
What a lot of people don’t know is that on my first day back at work after my maternity leave, barely a few hours into the day I formally asked my employer and applied for some more time away from work. I couldn’t handle the separation anxiety. When I thought about leaving my baby with someone else and not being with him all day my stomach literally hurt. I couldn’t take it. I thought about him missing me, and wondering where I was. So I took some (unpaid) time off, and I didn’t regret it.
The extra time I took off allowed me settle into a suitable enough routine. Allow yourself to be somewhat flexible about whatever routine you work out. Give yourself a break. Expect at least the first month to be challenging and don’t beat yourself up about it. If you need support or help, reach out to your loved ones – your partner, family, or friends.
2. Don’t be in a hurry to make any big decisions
Whenever it got difficult for me to stick to my schedule, I found myself trying to find a way to work from home. And I would have, if I was passionate enough about it – but the reality is I didn’t know what I needed.
At one time I actually started taking active steps to set up a day care Centre, so I could be at work and be with my baby at the same time. Then one day The Hubs said, “your plan is great and all but when J starts nursery school would you also set up a nursery school, and then a primary school when he’s done with Nursery school”. Lol
I’m glad I didn’t make a big decision about work in the first few weeks. So take it day by day, and give yourself some time to adjust. You may subsequently decide it’s not the right thing for you – but don’t rush into making that decision. Just try to settle into a routine, and see if that works for you.
3. Accept your imperfections.
You must support yourself, and be kind to yourself because this is not an easy transition and it may take some time before it works smoothly. Don’t get caught up in trying to compare yourself to other (working) moms, and don’t believe that everyone (or anyone) is doing it perfectly – no matter what illusion is being created. Find one positive thing in your day and don’t get caught up in negative thoughts.
Make peace with the fact that you’re not perfect, apologize when it’s appropriate, and try to do better next time.
4. Brace yourself for the naysayers.
Unfortunately, it’s inevitable. Someone must say something (forgive my French) STUPID! Just like someone said something stupid about your birthing plan / choice or something stupid about how long it’s taking you to gain your pre-pregnancy body. Opinions are like a**holes, everyone has them.
You may get a lot of “are you really going to allow someone else look after your child?” I got a lot of those, and I managed to find humor in it. Sometimes you have to laugh or you’ll spend so much time being miserable.
5. Focus on the Positives of Working
Being on maternity leave made me realize that I am a better mom when I have some time doing other things. In addition to the career development, I actually feel fulfilled personally. It makes me feel better-rounded, keeps me grounded and connected to the outside world. I don’t think I’m cut out for staying at home full time. I think I would get bored, feel unfulfilled and miss the corporate world. I’m afraid I would feel lonely and isolated, which would lead me to be resentful and depressed. Not to mention that being a stay-at-home mom is hard. Actually, I often think being a stay-at-home mom is harder than being a working mom.
Severally, I (have) thought about taking some time off and staying home till my child(ren) is older. Unfortunately, everything I’ve read tilts towards the indication that women who leave their careers to raise their children almost always have a difficult time getting back into the working world. This is definitely debatable, because some women manage to take some time off and still get back to the Corporate world, and kick ass while at it – for example, my all time TV hero lol Alicia Frolick of the Good Wife (hehehehe)
6. Ensure you have good childcare
A must for getting used to being away from your baby is having confidence in your child care. A little nervousness is natural, but if you are sincerely worried about your baby’s well-being while you’re at work, you’re not going to get much work done. If you feel an overwhelming urge about your baby’s well-being / don’t feel at ease with your child care, find a childcare option you can trust.
My comfort in going back to work was largely based on the confidence I have in J’s nanny. It gave me a lot of assurance that J was being well taken care of while I was at work. I made it clear that she should call, for example, if J was having a fever or crying uncontrollably, or gets hurt. The Hubs and I also did a few drop-ins, unannounced lol. And when it was convenient, I would pop-in at lunch to breastfeed J.
I know some people would argue against this, but I’m all for nanny cams! There are a few low-cost (yet effective) varieties – if you can afford to go that route. There’s no harm in keeping an eye out, especially for the first few months after hire. Your peace of mind will depend on your comfort level with the person caring for your baby.
7. Establish a routine
Establish a routine; wake-up time, bath time, feeding, time to leave for work, play time, bed time. Also, do as much as possible the night before because mornings may be hectic. So set out your clothes, prepare your baby’s diaper bag, etc. If you’re still pumping, have spare parts so you can wash one at night and pack up the other set.
I would share my routine on a separate post, one day – it’s J’s routine really and it constantly changes to suit my family, his growth and our circumstances – especially living in Nigeria. If any one needs tips on this, drop a comment below and i’ll be sure to respond as soon as i can.
8. Stand your ground
If another person is making you feel guilty, stand up for yourself. If a friend or relative or colleague thinks you should have made a home-cooked meal by 6 p.m. daily—you know, the way he / she / their spouse does —acknowledge that that life may be great and remind her that your life may be slightly different and your family is okay with that. Have ready a short positive answer to “How are you?” along the lines of “Great” or “It’s good to be back.” Remind yourself that you’re doing what’s best for you and your family, at this time, and cherish the amazing feeling at the end of the day when you get to see your child again.
9. When Things Don’t Get Better
When things don’t get better, recognize that you have options. So for instance, if you don’t love your job, you can consider the possibility of starting your own business – on a small or large scale.
The truth is that whether you are at work because you want to or because you have to, you may feel some sort of initial separation anxiety going back to work after your maternity leave. However, I assume (and this is open to debate) that this anxiety may be worse if you’d rather not be at work.
For me, the anxiety got easier with time, but if you feel that you are not getting any more comfortable with the situation, perhaps you need to consider other options – like taking some time off work, working from home, starting your own business, or getting a job with a more flexible schedule.
Personally, it’s still a struggle, sometimes. In fact I don’t know how I would feel when I have to go back to work after another baby.
Some weeks are better than others. But most weeks I try to remind myself that even though it may appear so, the grass is not always greener on the other side.
So what did I miss? What helped you make the transition back to work from maternity leave? If you have more than one child, was it subsequently easier after a second or third baby?
Love & Light,