So I know it's not a fun topic... but I have several friends who are returning to work very soon and who I know have many questions about what they should do to prepare.
My own story of going back to work... I had not thought about it or really talked about it the entire maternity leave. Out of sight, out of mind I guess. Then finally the week before I went to visit the babysitter with my son. I left him there for one hour while I went to the bank and got an oil change. I raced back to the sitter's shortly before the hour was up. It went great, I didn't cry and he was totally happy. I thought, "This won't be bad next week when I go back to work." Yeah, right.
The night before I went back to work I was crazy. The only word to describe me is crazy. My poor husband. I was rushing around the house at 8 at night, throwing things here and there, storming around the kitchen and up and down the stairs like a mad woman. Sighing and rolling my eyes at him as he was finishing his supper on the couch. He kept asking, "Do you want any help? What can I do? Are you OK?" to which I just replied in a nasty tone, "YUP. I'm fine." Oh, clearly.
I was not fine. It was just hitting me that I had to leave my baby the next day. I had no idea what needed to go into a diaper bag for the week at daycare (something I DEFINITELY encourage you to do - pack a diaper bag for the whole week instead of taking things every day). I had no idea how much of my frozen milk he needed for each day. I had no idea what the hell I was going to wear or actually fit into.
I was a stress case. I barely slept that night. I went to bed angry with my husband for absolutely no reason besides that he didn't have to be the one to drop Owen off at daycare or go back to work after not being there for 3 months. I woke up, fed my baby as tears formed in my eyes thinking of someone else feeding him instead of me, and somehow got myself and the baby ready and out of the house on time that morning.
Until I got 15 minutes up the street and received the first of many text messages and phone calls from my wonderful friends... and realized from one of their voicemails that I'd forgotten my pump at home! I burst into tears as I sped back to my house, now realizing I would be late to work. I decided I should just stay home that day, call my boss and somehow explain that I just could not do this going back to work thing. But when I got home and checked my son in the backseat he was fast asleep. I realized it'd be fine. We could do this. I grabbed the pump and headed to the town I work in where the babysitter's is also.
When dropping Owen off at the sitter I was totally OK for a few minutes until I realized I needed to give him over to her. As soon as I did that I could feel the tears, but I was holding them at bay. And then she said to me, "You call or come over any time today if you need to see him. He's going to be just fine, but you do whatever you need to do. He's your baby, I know that." I burst into tears right then and there, saying, "He's my baby..." She gave him back to me to snuggle once more, and then I realized I was so super late I had to go and gave him back to her. I cried the whole way to work (just a couple of minutes), wiped away tears long enough to walk into the office, be greeted with smiles and hugs. Then I rounded the corner to my friend's office and burst into tears again.
It was a rough morning. I checked my phone a thousand times. I told the office my babysitter may call so please don't just send it to voicemail if she does, please page me instead. I figured out my pumping routine, made a sign for my door that said do not disturb and off I went. I called my husband a few times that day and texted back and forth with a few very good friends. Seriously good friends. Those friends got me through my first day back. I would never ever have survived without them. My mom sent me the nicest email in the middle of that first day telling me how proud she was of me, working so hard for my family, and that she knew I could do it. I love that email. My sister-in-law in particular texted me on the hour just about all day to tell me I was doing great, almost there, almost done, Owen was OK and I rocked for doing this. It was the nicest thing and just what I needed to hear. If you have a friend going back to work, do that for them - call or text them at least once before they go to work, even the night before to check in, and then at the end of the day to see if they are still alive. It seriously helps.
When I picked up my son at the end of the day... wow. He was so happy to see me. My babysitter said all went great. We did it! I felt so proud of myself.
Here are just a few tips that may help ease the transition back to work:
1. Think about the routine- what time to wake up, when you have to leave the house to get there, etc. - then double it... that's how long it'll take in the morning with a baby. Just give yourself plenty of time, especially that first week.
2. Do as much as you can the night before. Pack your lunch, work bag, diaper bag and baby's food, etc. all the night (or a few nights) before. I even picked out my outfit (we all know it takes forever to find something you feel comfortable wearing post-baby) and the baby's outfit the night before.
3. Figure out the pumping and breast feeding schedule if you plan to do that. Talk to your boss at work about the pumping schedule, and figure out the routine before having to do it the first day (when, how, where, what to cover the window with, etc.). Make sure you have given your baby a bottle at least a couple of weeks beforehand so s/he is used to it before going to the sitter's.
4. Ask your closest co-workers to help you that first week by not asking about the baby often, and instead asking you once if you're OK. Also, ask your boss to keep you busy! My mantra when I got to work each day in the beginning was, "I'm here to work, so let's just get to it." Every minute I tried to stay as busy as possible. In the beginning few days I think everyone else around me was trying not to pile the work on me and just let me ease back into it, so sometimes keeping busy meant cleaning my office and organizing things around me until it picked up.
5. Just focus on the end of the day when you can go home to your baby. You will see that it really does go by quickly and before you know it you've done it! You've survived a day away from your little one.
6.Call the sitter if you want, whenever you want. They expect you will call so do it if you need to. However, I caution you about
going to see the baby part-way through the day because I was afraid if I'd done that it would have made me too sad to return to work again that day. Everyone is different though, so maybe this worked OK for some moms.
7. Cry or don't cry, either way you are normal. Many are heartbroken to leave their infant in the care of somebody else. It's a very hard thing. You were just with her for 10 months, then another 3 or 4 or however long. Of course that is going to be difficult to let go of even if for just a few hours. Then there are many moms who feel relieved to go to work and have a baby break, that is normal, too. Just feel however you feel and let it out.
8. Just know and accept it'll be hard, but that every single day gets better after that first day. Somehow you will get into a routine, and you will find your child loves her babysitter. You will learn to trust that she is OK without you. You will even start enjoying work somedays and the adult interaction you receive there. If you're like me, you will be grateful that if you must work you at least get to see that adorable little face smiling at you when you pick him up.
9. Trust your sitter and your instincts. If it's working, be grateful and tell your childcare worker what she is doing that you love - and thank her, often. She is doing a big job for you. If it's not working and you are not happy with things, speak up and move on if you must.
10. Ease yourself into going back. Don't rush back and take over like you did when you left. Take it easy, go slowly. You were gone a long time. A lot may have changed. Just go with the flow and don't be too hard on yourself.
From the book, The Must-Have Mom Manual - Two Mothers, Two Perspectives, One Book That Tells You Everything You Need to Know by Sara Ellington and Stephanie Triplett, the authors include a chapter dedicated to this topic of going back to work. On page 81, they wrote, "This is the sticky part. YOu have absolutely no idea what went down in the few months you've been away from the office - the gossip, the new protocols, the new clients, the current issues, you name it. Going back to work is going to feel a little bit like your first day at work. And that's exactly how you should approach it. Don't come charging back on a mission to make up for lost time and prove your worth. Take it slowly. You shouldn't feel as though you have to make up for three months of missed work. Work is work - there was plenty to do when you left, and there will be plenty to do for the next twenty years."
11. Accept the unavoidable Mom Brain Syndrome. Yes, it remains with you even more after you are no longer pregnant. You won't be as sharp in thinking as you were before baby because you are tired, worn out, and your mind is focused on other things now, like how much milk you need for tomorrow's daycare day and if you packed enough diapers for the sitter. It's normal. You will get back to being great at your job soon enough, just not the first day. Don't expect yourself to make miracles at first.
12. Be grateful for the time you did have off for maternity leave, many don't get that. It's easy to be so down on going back, but try to remind yourself that you were lucky to have any time off to spend with your little one.
13. Ask for help, especially from baby's daddy and co-workers. You cannot do this alone. Working, especially full time, and being a mom is the most difficult thing I can imagine. It's hard work. It's difficult to keep up with the laundry, household chores, birthday parties, grocery shopping, emails from work and personal notes, etc. when you have an infant you don't see as much anymore and you just want to cuddle and play with when you get home. Ask for help. It's OK to admit you are not super woman at all times.
14. Be present wherever you are. When you are at work, be at work. Trust that your baby is totally fine and just be there doing the best you can at your job. Then when it's time to go, leave work behind you and don't think about it at home. Just go home and be really present, focused on your child and family. I was so happy to just get home to my child that I vowed to just focus on him, make him my priority, and play with him until it was his bed time in the early evening. It was the best time I had all day. I did not turn on TV, answer calls or check Facebook. I played, with every toy we had! I sang songs and read books and tickled him, and just showed him that even though mommy was no longer around for 8 hours in the day he was still my number one and I was here for him. It made me feel so good, balancing things that way.
This picture below is me and Owen the afternoon I got home from my first day back to work. I never share this picture because I look terrible in it... but I think it shows how completely drained I was mentally and physically and emotionally after having to go back to work. It's a hard thing, no denying that.
My first day back
I slept three hours after my first day back to work. I was so utterly exhausted. It's so emotionally and physically exhausting to return to your job. I remember getting home, feeding my son on the couch, and just staring into his eyes as if to say, "See, baby, I do love you even though I had to leave you today. I'm here now." He smiled, so I think he was cool with it! When my husband got home we all three took a 3 hour nap. It was awesome. I remember waking up thinking, "Oh man, I don't want to do this all over again tomorrow," and at the same time, "but I think I will survive and things will be OK."
When I open my cell phone, the picture that is on the background of the phone is still the same one I put there the first day I left to go to work. When I first went back to work my husband was able to stay home with our son at least one day a week, so the first day I went back to work I left him with my husband. He sent me a picture of Owen smiling and happy that I look at every time I use my phone now. I have considered changing that picture a thousand times, and every time I can't bring myself to do it. I think I want to remember that day and how little he was. I want to remind myself that no matter what tough stage of development we reach with this little man, things are going to be just fine and we all will get through it.
I swear I only cried a little the second day, and by day three I just smiled and waved as I drove out of the driveway. I think it helped that my babysitter held my son up in the window so I could see him smiling. It does get easier, I swear.
The best thing? I think I realized that in order to get through those days at work I needed to stay busy and focused, get as much done as I possibly could so that I could make time fly so I could get my son. It worked. Every day before I knew it the day was over! For the first time in years I actually left right on time! My priorities completely changed when I had a baby - all for the better for me and my family.
It does get better, I promise. It's hard, yes, but you will survive, and you and your baby will be stronger because of it.