Navigating going back to work after maternity leave has one of the hardest things I have had to do since having my little one. Not only did I have to prepare to return to a job I had been away from I was also dealing with an increase in hormones as I was still breastfeeding. Here is how I adjusted, hopefully, my story helps you too.
I thought that I was tired in the first few months after my little one was born. But going back to work I have achieved a whole new level of exhaustion. That is something that I wasn’t prepared for. Being a mom is exhausting on a good day, being a working mom is that much more exhausting.
As excited as I had been to become a mom, nobody ever talks about all the emotions and hormones. First, there is anxiety about giving birth, then postpartum self-doubt, maternal separation anxiety, and return to work syndrome.
Before Becoming a Mom
Before the birth of my little one, I would work upwards of 60 hours a week some weeks. And that didn’t include all the extra marking and planning that comes along with being a teacher.
I would often hear comments from my friends about how teachers get so many holidays and days off. But let me tell you, they work for it. It’s just that they condense 12 months of work into 10 months.
A usual day for me would mean arriving at work at 7:30 in the morning. Two days a week I would be in the study hall providing extra help for students. One day a week we had early morning meetings. And on the other two days a week, I would go to the gym to workout. After school, for 4 months of the school year, I would be at practice volunteering with the school’s football teams until 6 pm.
Without kids, the schedule worked for me. At least I thought it did. Or rather, I never really did give it much thought, just kept on doing it. My job paid the bills, and I obviously needed money so I kept working.
Sound familiar? Mindlessly going through life without thinking about why you are doing something? Or if it’s what truly makes you happy?
Then when I got pregnant my energy levels decreased substantially. I did my best to carry on with my former routine while slowly making plans to change things when I came back to work after maternity leave.
This would be one of my first tips when planning for returning to work after maternity leave – start the planning early, even when you are pregnant. By starting early you can begin to manage everyone else’s expectations of you when you return.
As a high school teacher, there is an expectation to be involved in extracurricular activities. The unfortunate part is that the majority of this time is as a volunteer.
Before returning to work after maternity leave I met with my boss and discussed my extra-curricular volunteering. He was very understanding of my desire to want to scale back.
If I continued with my previous routine after going back to work after maternity leave the only time I would get to see my little one would be in the mornings before work. By the time I would get home after football practice, she would already be in bed. I was not okay with that.
How could I go from spending every waking moment with her to essentially only seeing her on weekends?
Scaling back didn’t mean that I would give up volunteering altogether. I would just be spreading out my volunteer time. Instead of four months, my time would be spread out over five, six or even seven months. I would work with all of the school’s sports teams, not just the football program.
I wasn’t trying to avoid being involved now that I was a new mom, I was just trying to seek more of a balanced lifestyle. Working with different teams and athletes had an added benefit of enabling me to connect with more students.
Going Back to Work After Maternity Leave – Childcare
I was very lucky in my timing to go back to work after maternity leave. My husband took the last few months as parental leave. This substantially eased my transition back to work.
Once hubby and I were both back to work we had to deal with the issue of childcare. We are very lucky in that we are sharing childcare between my husband, myself, and our moms.
As I’m a teacher and my husband is a shift worker we didn’t need childcare every weekday. Both of our parents are retired and wanting to be involved with our little one so for that we are extremely lucky.
On days when we do need childcare my mom usually comes over to take care of the little one. If there are several days in a row that we need childcare, then my mother-in-law will come to visit and help out. My in-laws live about 4 hours away from us and try to come visit whenever they can.
Having family help with childcare has eased the transition of going back to work after maternity leave. I’m never worried about what my daughter is doing all day because she’s with people I trust and who love her. And it has the added benefit of being much nicer on our budget than full-time childcare would be.
We are not getting our childcare for free. As you can see from the above image, we are still paying our moms to help with childcare, and why wouldn’t we? But we don’t have to pay for childcare on days we don’t need it.
Going Back to Work After Maternity Leave – The Routine
One thing I learned while on maternity leave was the importance of routine. That being said, I also wanted my little one to be flexible and adaptable. So although we had a routine it wasn’t set in stone.
For example, she would have 2 naps a day, but I wasn’t totally set on exactly when those 2 naps needed to occur each day. We just went with the flow and followed her lead. If she was tired, then it was time for a nap.
Now after going back to work after maternity leave her routine has changed yet again. Some days she’s home with mom all day, sometimes dad, sometimes one grandma, sometimes the other. And some days a combination of all of the above.
My typical routine after going back to work after maternity leave is: morning duty with my daughter, early morning work, home by 5, hang out with my little one and put her to bed.
Morning duty is what my husband and I call who has to get up with our little one in the morning. Most weekdays it is now me, but I get the extra sleep in time on the odd weekend.
I’m still arriving at work by 7:30 for study hall twice a week, workouts twice a week and early morning meetings. Now when I get home at 5, I get to be “fun time mom” and my daughter is so excited to see me.
The first few weeks going back to work after maternity leave I tried to do it all. After my little one went to bed I stayed up trying to get things done. I never felt like I could catch up. This wasn’t sustainable and eventually, I had to scale back.
Going Back to Work After Maternity Leave Emotions
There are so many emotions that moms feel when returning to work after maternity leave. Some of the more common ones are depression, excitement, guilt, anxiety and overwhelm.
I was never one of those people who was dreading going back to work after maternity leave. Although I love hanging out with my daughter, I was ready for more adult interaction.
My perfect world would be to have more adult interaction without having to go back to work full time. I think that is one of my drivers for financial independence. To get control of my time to have the freedom to spend as much time with my little one as I want while also having an outlet for adult social interaction.
To be honest, on my first day back I was ready to have another little one and go back on maternity leave. As much as I enjoyed the adult interaction I quickly realized that I would much rather be home with my little one.
For me, maternity leave was like a mini-retirement from my day job. It was a nice change of pace, and I loved having control of my time. It re-ignited my yearning for financial independence and time freedom.
The first few weeks back at work I was bombarded by coworkers asking how I was adjusting to being back at work. Many of them asked if I was depressed leaving my daughter at home. Everyone was making a big deal about this, should I have been too?
I didn’t understand why I would be depressed? While I was at work, my little one was at home strengthening her relationship with her dad and eventually her grandmas.
Did I want to be home spending time with them? Absolutely. But didn’t my husband also have the right to spend that time with our daughter? It would not have been fair of me to steal that opportunity from them.
Again, knowing that my little one was home with family helped with any depression I may have had about going back to work after maternity leave.
Momma, if you are feeling depressed about going back to work my two tips would be to one, get help from a professional with this, talking to someone can really help. And two, focus on the positives, your little one is either with family or learning new socializing skills, and you are interacting with adults as an adult.
Many moms feel a bit (or a lot) of excitement with returning to work after the birth of their little one. Returning to work can mean finding your own identity again. You get to be a coworker and colleague as opposed to only a mom.
This can be very important for your identity and independence, and the independence of your little one.
But not all moms are excited for this, and that’s okay too.
For me, I was a little excited to go back to work and see my coworkers. But I would still trade it all in to spend all the time in the world with my little one.
I may not have had depression with going back to work after maternity leave but the mom-guilt is real. Especially because I felt somewhat excited to go back to work and leave my daughter at home.
Since I was now spending a large chunk of my day away from my little one. I felt like every minute I was not at work I should be spending time with her. I felt guilty doing anything for myself away from her.
Related Post – Overcoming Postpartum Self-Doubt
There was a period of time that while my little one was awake I didn’t do anything for myself on evenings or weekends. Or if I did, I would bring my little one along or have my friends come over to my place.
Which wasn’t always terrible. We had just moved into a new home so a lot of our friends wanted to come and see the renovations we had done.
Honestly, I do not know how to get over the mom-guilt I feel when I don’t spend every minute I can with my little one. But I’m slowly taking more and more time for myself when I can. And I am just learning to be okay with that.
Since going back to work after maternity leave I am navigating being a mom, a teacher, a wife, having mom guilt and what all of that means for my identity. I don’t have any of the answers, but I’m learning every day.
It is not uncommon for women to feel maternal separation anxiety when returning to work.
What is maternal separation anxiety?
Maternal separation anxiety is the feelings of worry, sadness, and guilt about short-term separations from your baby.
It’s no wonder moms feel this. They have this extended period of time to spend with their new baby and then one day just have to go back to work. And all of this happens with an increase in hormones running through our bodies.
I miss my daughter every day I am away from her at work. I often wonder what she is doing. Getting a daily picture of her showing what she is doing with her dad or her grandmas really helps with this.
Besides the intense increase in fatigue with going back to work, I was not prepared for the overwhelm. I will admit there were a lot of tears those first few months back.
I was overwhelmed with now navigating being a mom, a wife, a teacher, and me. And, I was wearing so many hats that I didn’t know what to focus on or how to find time for everything.
My tip for you momma is to just take it one day at a time. Nobody is expecting you to be perfect at anything or to be the person you were before maternity leave. There are going to be adjustments and changes and that is totally okay.
Tips for Going Back to Work After Maternity Leave
Ease Back into Work
If you can, try going to work for a day or two the first week before slowly transitioning to full time. Although I did not start with a few days a week, I did go back to work for 5 weeks before getting 2 months off for summer vacation.
A lot of my mom-friends were apprehensive about going back to work after maternity leave. Slowly transitioning back really helped them cope with returning to work after baby.
Identify and Own Your Emotions
Whatever you are feeling when going back to work after maternity leave is exactly what you are meant to feel. Those are your feelings.
Identify the emotions and own them. It’s okay to feel depressed, or excited, filled with mom-guilt, or whatever else you may be feeling.
Everyone’s situation is so different that nobody can tell you how to feel when going back to work after maternity leave. Your emotions are yours and yours alone.
If they do begin to overwhelm you, seeking help from someone can prove to be very useful.
Adapt and Change
Going back to work after maternity leave is a big adjustment. Do not be afraid and adapt and change to your surroundings.
Personally I scaled back my extracurricular volunteering and found different ways of being involved that didn’t take me away from my precious family time.
I created and relied upon systems and habits to get me through the day. Now that there were even more demands on my time, I found ways to make my life easier, just to get through the day.
If you’re in Canada and have taken a year or maybe 18 months off for maternity leave, a lot has happened at your workplace during that time. It won’t be the same place it was before you went on maternity leave. But that’s okay because change can foster growth.
Going back to work after maternity leave hasn’t changed the person I am. But my priorities have shifted. Instead of now giving all my time to other people’s children, I want to give a large chunk of that time to my little one.
There were a few things that I did to ease my transition of going back to work after maternity leave. There is still more I could have done to make it easier on myself, but I am still learning how to be a mom too.
Hopefully, we can eventually have another little one, and if so, next time when going back to work after maternity leave I may do things a bit differently.
What emotions did you have when going back to work after maternity leave?