Returning to work after maternity leave (part 2)

Mommy/work guilt:Similar to the one before, it’s difficult to be ‘present’ anywhere. At work you feel guilty for leaving your child at home. At home, you feel guilty about all the work that you have not completed. Need I say more? Don’t even get me started on work related travel and the emotions/logistics of whether or not to take your child, and how to pump while traveling…

Disappearing hours:So in my case, I was working till 3pm. Great right? Not really. Don’t get me wrong, I was grateful for the consideration. However even if you’re working an 8am to 3pm shift, you now have to do the same amount of work you would have done in 9 hours, in 3 hours. Yes. I said 3 hours. One minute, you’re arriving at work, and the next minute, it’s time to go home because somewhere in those 7 hours, you have to find a private space to set up, pump breast milk, and set down (yes I just made that up because pumping is a whole production!) multiple times so your milk supply doesn’t fall. You also have to properly store your expressed milk so it makes it home. You’re tired too, so the same tasks take you more time to complete. You still have to eat especially since you still need to produce milk (who knows if I was still entitled to a lunch break though), bathroom breaks, unending meetings where you hear nothing and only think about all the work you could be doing, checking on the baby (because this motherhood thing…), and trying to stay awake and alert during the course of the day.

Some days, you forget to bring the 100th crucial pump part with you, or you forgot to wear breast pads so you leak all over your shirt and have to find time to wash and dry laundry during your 7 hours. Other times, you leave the office for a meeting and miss your regular pump time so you are engorged, leaking, famished, and also anxious about not being able to at least replenish your milk stash that day. How much work can you do when your mind is in overdrive like this? By 3pm, it feels like your brain has been going at 300x all day, and you haven’t sat still for one minute, but it’s time to get up yet again and go home. So you pack your bags with wistful resolve that you will finish that one work task when you get home (unlike every day the past week and the week before that). This time it is different (your mind and intentions say). But deep down, your heart knows it’s no different. Once you get home and see your baby, or all the unfinished responsibilities rush to greet you at the door, or the fatigue sets in (usually all 3), work flies right out the window!

Everything you left undone at work is right there where you left it when you get back. If one thing is not (because someone got tired of waiting for it and took it off your plate…) oh the shame!! You just constantly feel incompetent (at home too! Don’t forget it is a new baby even/especially if it is not your first); and the unfinished work piles on because there is a new task tomorrow. It’s a slow creep and now you have anxiety plus all the other sleep, body, baby, work and mental issues you’re dealing with. You can only hope that you have a partner that plays their part and takes a load off you at home. But that’s a topic for another post…

Oh and none of your nice work clothes fit. Ofcourse.

You might relate with one or all of my experiences, or have your own unique ones (you’ll let me know in the comments). Often we think we must be the only new mother to experience such difficulties, but its not true. These trying times are far more common that we realize. Some things that can help do:

1. If you can, have an honest conversation with your boss involving setting out the expectations of you upon return. To a large extent, it helps to be clear on what you need to do and when.

2. If you can, try to start early to express and freeze milk for your stash (I know I said it. But I also said “If you can”).

3. If you can’t, consider formula. It doesn’t make you a bad mother. It does not make you a bad mother. You will not be a bad mother. (How else do I say this?) It is more important that your child has eaten, than what anyone else thinks of you. Plus it’s easier for your partner to be more involved in the feedings( daytime or nighttime).

4. Ask for help. At work and at home. It will save you loads of time, stress and heartache.

5. Rely more on your support network when you are starting work again. This includes expecting support from your partner that is still separate from their own parenting responsibilities. Remember you’re balancing a tough act. We don’t rely on others enough because we think: 1. it makes us look incompetent and/or 2. We don’t trust that they will do things as perfectly as we will. #1 is not true. As for 2…they might not do it as perfectly as you would, but they will learn. You will also get a chance to rest and recharge.

6. Pay for help if necessary.

7. Do not try to be Superwoman. Conserve your strength. You will need it. If something is proving too difficult, don’t blindly throw yourself at it. Always step back and re-examine your priorities. If there is an easier and perfectly viable alternative (like breastfeeding vs formula feeding), Biko, SWITCH!! And it is nobody’s business if you change your mind and switch back somewhere down the line.

8. You are more than a mom. You have other interests. Try to keep up with one or two once in a while so you don’t feel like motherhood has taken over your life. It’s hard but with the right partner and support network, you can and should.

At the end of the day, don’t be too hard on yourself. Know that this phase too will pass. It might take as long as it does, but it will pass. Who knew one day I’d be so happy to close at 5pm?

Photocredit: Getty Images

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