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I went back to work after maternity leave this week.
I guess I was a little naïve, but I didn’t expect it to be so difficult.
Returning to work after having a baby is hard. It is emotionally, physically, and mentally draining.
It isn’t so much work itself, but all of the issues associated with leaving your child.
I had three main areas of concern that I had to address before returning to work:
- Child Care
- Feelings of Inadequacy
- Physical Health Concerns
I know that every woman deals with slightly different problems when returning to work after maternity leave. However, I think that most women share these three areas of concern regardless of their situation.
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1. How to find excellent or at least above average child care
I think this is the single biggest issue for most families. This is the issue that scared me the most. It isn’t even the cost, it was finding the right person or daycare center.
I’ve waited 39 years to have a child and I’m not willing to trust just anyone to care for her.
I was lucky enough to have a good friend offer to watch my daughter. I’m very comfortable with the quality of care I know she is receiving.
On the other hand, I have a good friend who is making $10 an hour and trying to find daycare. The cheapest she has found is $32 per day. Do the math and you’ll find she just can’t make it.
I know this is an extreme example, but cost effective daycare is a huge issue for most women, particularly single women.
In her case, she has gotten creative and will be working a second job at a gym. She will be working for minimum wage, but at least her son can be there while she works and she is getting a free gym membership.
There isn’t an easy answer to the daycare dilemma.
Take a careful look at your budget and set a reasonable expectation for what you can afford. Once you have a general idea on pricing it is time to start doing your research.
- Call local day care centers
- You’ll want to ask specifics on pricing, guidelines for care and policy towards newborns.
- Check their state licensing status/scorecard.
- Speak with other parents who are using the facility and get their honest opinions.
- Tour local centers to get a personalized feel for potential sites
- If possible talk to other parents who are using the same facilities.
- Ask other mothers for referrals
- I reached out via social media and got some great advice and help.
- Listen to your instincts.
- If you have any hesitations about the site or character of a babysitter start running.
- Start early and take your time.
- This is one of the most important decision you will make it and isn’t something you want to rush into.
- Visit sites like care.com to find specialized care.
I would advise women to be creative in their solutions. Do your research. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of your Child Care providers. You are the boss!
Start asking questions before you even have your baby. My single greatest resource was other mothers.
Often you can make deals with other mothers in your area who are staying home. They may watch your child for a discounted rate in return for babysitting on the weekends.
Here are a couple of excellent articles I read while searching for daycare:
- What makes a great daycare – Includes 8 tips on finding the right center
- 7 Questions to ask when touring a daycare center
2. Fears of inadequacy
I know I’m being completely illogical, but going back to work leaves me with strong feelings of inadequacy.
I really struggle with the fact that I can’t do either job adequately.
- Am I going to be a good mom when I’m distracted by work?
- Am I going to be a good employee when I’m distracted by my child?
Please tell me that I’m not the only mother who has struggled with these questions?
Over the last couple of months, there have been multiple time when work has called needing help. I’ve been able to help from home, but in the process have had to listen to Ella cry a few times as I finish a project.
Is her being ignored for 5 minutes while I finish an email going to hurt her? No.
But mother’s guilt always seems to kick in. It isn’t so much her crying as the fact that I’m ignoring her for work that I struggle with.
On the other hand, I worry that I won’t be able to give my full attention to work. I’ve always been the go-to person who gets stuff done. This meant a lot of hours and some very last minute projects.
Set clear expectations with your employer on your availability
When I had my return to work meeting with my boss, I let him know that I would be limiting my time to specific hours. I also let him know I needed projects that weren’t time sensitive.
It was really hard for me to set these limitations and I felt like I was letting my employer down.
I know that for full-time working moms these feelings must be magnified. I can’t imagine trying to go back to work with my previous full-time responsibilities and still expect to be a mother at the same time.
I have had a lot of angst about being able to do both jobs adequately.
I finally just decided that I was being stupid.
I’m going to do my best to be a good mom and a good employee. At times work will suffer and at times my home will suffer. That is life.
Just because the dishes and laundry aren’t always done doesn’t make me a failure. On the other hand, setting realistic working boundaries doesn’t make me a failure either.
One of the best things I did for myself was to develop a morning routine.
I knew that if I was organized in the morning that my working days would be significantly better. This, in turn, gave me additional confidence that I could manage everything.
I used the Make Over Your Morning Course and absolutely loved it.
I tried doing it on my own but discovered that with all of the overwhelm I was feeling I needed a bit of direction and help. The online classes and exercises were just what I needed to get myself organized and functional in the morning.
I’ve been amazed at the difference a few small changes to my morning routine have made in the rest of my day. Don’t underestimate the power of proactive management, particularly when you are stressed and overwhelmed.
They also have a Make Over Your Evenings Class if that is more your thing.
PS – The classes are structured to be done on your own time frame and only take 10-15 minutes a day. I wasn’t about to add more stress to my already crazy life.
3. Physical Health Concerns
After 3 months of FMLA maternity leave, I feel like I’m back to about 90%, in terms of my physical health. I’m still working on my last five pounds (just like everyone else out there – Uggg) and am definitely not at my normal fitness levels.
I’m getting there, but have to remind myself that it took me 10 months to get into this mess and getting back to normal will most likely take 6-8 months.
You may want to check out my post on post pregnancy weight if you are struggling with this as well. Postpartum Weight Loss: Focusing on your body, not the number on the scale
The bigger issue is sleep – or lack of sleep to be more accurate.
I’m consistently getting 6 hours of sleep each night. However, those hours are typically interspersed by random feedings. So far I’ve had one chunk of sleep for seven hours which was the most amazing experience in the world.
Ella just doesn’t like to sleep more than 4-5 hours at a time and really seems to prefer two-hour chunks starting at 2:00 AM. Which on a side note, any recommendations on sleep training would be appreciated.
***Editors note – I finally got the sleep training worked out – Check out my post on How to Start Sleep Training Your Baby***
Can I survive on this much sleep – yes – I’m doing it so far. But I worry about how this will affect my work.
I hate the thought of short changing my office because I’m sleep deprived. There is that feeling of guilt again.
Because of sleep deprivation I’m also struggling with a mild case of Postpartum Depression. Postpartum Depression is very scary and not something you want to mess with.
If you are struggling with Postpartum Depression please take the time to get the help you need immediately.
Everyone heals from childbirth differently.
My body bounced back pretty quickly from pregnancy, especially considering my age. I know that not everyone bounces back as quickly.
Take your recover time slow and easy. Have realistic expectations and don’t get down on yourself just because you aren’t back to “normal”.
The best thing I did for myself was give myself time to heal. Both mentally and physically. I don’t know about you guys, but the birthing process was very traumatic for me. 17 hours of labor is going to cause some mental scars.
I don’t have a lot of free time, but the time I do have is devoted to activities I love (which mainly means blogging right now). I did a lot of reading and sleeping.
I also spent a lot of time, just being in the moment with Ella. I want to soak up every moment of her childhood.
I gave myself time to heal physically. Yes, I would like to loose the baby weight, but I’m slowly working up to a regular workout schedule.
I started by doing ten minutes of stretching each day and then slowly added back in walking. I’m now back to light elliptical usage, lunges and heavier in home exercising. In the next 2-3 weeks, I’ll start attending gym classes and climbing again.
I’ve had too many friends who rushed to get back into shape and subsequently injured themselves.
Be realistic about your physical and mental condition and plan your return accordingly.
There is no perfect answer when the time comes to returning to work from maternity leave. Every women has their own fears and concerns based on their situation.
I know some women who only work because they have too. I know other women who are literally counting the days until they can get back to work.
I’m right there in the middle.
I’ve been in the business world for nearly twenty years. I’ve been very successful in my career and have built up a strong reputation in my industry. There is a reason my boss is willing to let me return on my terms.
I love my co-workers, I love what I do. Being back in the office was so bittersweet for me.
I loved being back and yet it is funny how something I’ve worked towards for years is suddenly so meaningless when I hold Ella. I knew that things would change, but didn’t realize how much of an impact she would have on my feelings.
I consider myself very blessed to be able to work part time and still have plenty of baby time. Hopefully as I transition back to work everything will continue to go smoothly over the next few weeks.
What are some of the struggles you’ve dealt with when returning to work?[themify_box color=”White”]
Resources to help mothers transitioning to work after Maternity Leave:
Books on Maternity Leave:
- The Wise Mama Guide to Maternity Leave: Avoid Burnout, “Bad Mom Syndrome,” and Other Common Pitfalls of Motherhood by Lisa Abramson
- The Insider’s Guide to Maternity Leave: Real Stories and Expert Advice on Preparing for Work, Career, and Life After Baby: What Working Mothers Wish They Had Known By Victoria Hefty
- Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return From Maternity Leave by Lori Mihalich-Levin
Organizing Your Life:
- Make Over Your Morning Course – This is the class I took and LOVED! I can’t believe how much of an impact a few simple changes to my mornings made when I was trying to get a baby ready and still make it to work on-time. Huge Stress Decreaser!
- Make Over Your Evenings Class – I didn’t take this one, but heard it was great too.
- 5 Day Complete Life Management Course and Workbook – I’m still slowly working my way through this one, so I can’t totally recommend it yet. However, it is a great self-directed course that will help you organize and manage your life. I need all the help I can get on this one!
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