8 Secrets No One Tells You About Returning to Work After Maternity Leave
These are the little things that every new mom realizes, but no one really talks about.
You may pump in some crazy places
While it’s wonderful that companies are now required by law to provide lactation rooms and breaks to nursing moms, you may not be pumping there all the time. Have you ever had to go to the bathroom on a long road trip and you’re stuck in traffic and, and…you just pull over and pee at the nearest gas station restroom, even if it’s filthy? Sometimes biology takes over and you just need to do your thing. Breast milk let down is like that, too. Your breasts may get full and hard as rocks and need to do your thing, even if you’re in the car on your way to a meeting or commuting on the train. You may want to invest in a car adapter or a battery-operated breast pump so you can pump on when you’re on the road. Though you may cover up, people may catch on to what you’re doing. And expect the cloth to fall so that you’re less surprised when it does. Even if you’re pumping in private, you may forget to lock the door or pull the blinds and co-workers with the very best of intentions may still walk in. Rest assured, they are always, always, way more embarrassed than you are.
Working helps you connect with yourself again
“It’s so nice to have adult conversation!”, “I feel like my pre-baby self again!” and “It’s good to not have to focus on the baby for a few hours,” are some comments I hear in every class. Let’s face it, before you had the baby (and while you were carrying the baby) it was all about you. Since having the baby, you’re trying to guess what that cry means, wondering if they’ll sleep for that extra hour, and hoping that that cough won’t lead to something more serious. When you go to work and can “just” focus on the job for a few hours, it’s a relief. Life just became a lot more simple, even if it’s for a few hours. Also, if you like what you do, it feels good to return to something that you have a level of competency in, something you’re good at. So many new parents have that “am I doing it right?” feeling; it’s a relief to go back to work where you know what you’re doing and know how to do it well.
You don’t need to lose the baby weight before you go back to work
One of my favorite quotes from my doula is, “It took you nine months to walk into this, it will take you nine months to walk out.” Since maternity leave is rarely nine months long, it’s not realistic to expect that you’ll lose the baby weight before you return to work. After all, maternity leave is an opportunity for you to heal, to bond, to just lay in bed with your baby if that’s what you want to do. It’s not about going to the gym and shaving pounds; it’s about being gentle with yourself and taking time to feel out this new role. And let’s admit it; those stretchy-waist pregnancy jeans are seriously comfortable. Might as well get a few more wearings out of them; nobody needs to know but us moms.
It’s alright to cry
Just like Rosie Grier famously sang on the Free To Be You and Me album, its alright to cry. There are hormones running through your body, designed to help you bond with and protect your child. Crying can mean lots of different things beyond sadness: working mom guilt, great joy, bliss, and gratitude. If you feel a strong emotion coming, that’s OK. The sooner the let yourself feel it, the sooner it can come, satisfy its need for acknowledgment, and move on. Many nursing moms are told to bring a photo of their baby with them while pumping as it helps with the let down reflex. Your breasts know how to respond to a photo of that baby. If your breasts know how to respond, so does your heart. You’re bound to feel an emotion.
Your needs are important
I’ve always been partial to the phrase, “Happy Wife, Happy Life.” On the one hand, it makes the “wife” sound like a tyrant—as in, “Keep that crazy lady happy or we’re all doomed.” On the other hand, it recognizes the unique contributions of the mother and wife, who in most cases takes on the bulk of the childcare and domestic responsibilities. So let’s give that person the props she deserves and take care of the person that takes care of the rest of us—and yes, that means you need to start being nicer to yourself. So often, we’re running around taking care of the baby, making sure that she has an adorable, clean outfit while we can’t even find time to shower. Make a list of what you want and need, a list of what’s important to you. It can be everything from shaving your legs regularly to a monthly massage to a piece of chocolate at night. Remember, you are important, and your needs are important. Identify what you need to be happy and get your needs met.
The mental load is its own project: Delegate
There’s been a bit of buzz lately over the concept of “mental load“, which is roughly defined as the project management of home and family. Planning a vacation, kids’ vaccines, juggling doctors appointments, making sure there’s food in the fridge, cooking, cleaning, organizing preschool, and date night and…you exhausted yet? Often times, the project management of domestic logistics falls to the wife and mother. This happens somewhat surreptitiously during maternity leave, since she is home while her partner is at work. It’s a slippery slope, and the mental load that is taken on during that time can lead to years, if not a lifetime of domestic project management. This is why when you ask your partner to unload the dishwasher or go to the grocery store, which they happily do, but you’re still frustrated since you do “so much more”. The mental load can often be invisible—it’s that internal project plan of things that need to be done that so many women carry with them, all the time. So when your partner says, “Let’s relax!” and you snap, “I can’t relax! I’m the one who has to think about all this stuff!” That’s mental load. Recognize that mental load, just like project management, is its own project. Find other projects that other people can help you with, like laundry or house cleaning, or even managing a child’s health care. Project managers aren’t expected to do it all themselves, so delegate.
When you’re at work, do your job
I’m about to say something very not politically correct, but it’s the truth: When you’re at work, work. People will be polite, and look at pictures of your babe and listen to stories, but when you call out sick three times in the first month, and it’s all about the baby, people will talk. They will feel like they can’t rely on you, and be disappointed that you’re not as committed to work as you used to be. They will worry that they’ll have to take on a greater share of your tasks. Perhaps they’re already exhausted from taking those on while you were on maternity leave, and the resentment is building up. When you’re at work, work. Be a professional. Be dependable and do what you say you’re going to do.
Have a back-up plan (or two)
Babysitters get sick, cars don’t start sometimes, and snow falls. Things happen that make a well-conceived plan fail. As they say, (wo)man plans, god laughs. When the baby gets sick—who can call out from work, you or your partner? When your babysitter gets sick, what’s the plan B? Will you and your husband take turns, or are you one of the lucky ones with a close relative nearby? Have that backup plan established, so that you, your partner, your back up and your backup’s back up are all in on the drill. Fail to plan and plan to fail.