Our country has one of the worst maternity leave policies in the entire world. In fact, we are one of only a very small handful of nations that don't offer paid maternity leave to working mothers. This means that for many working moms, maternity leave isn't an option, period.
Still, for those of us who are lucky enough to have companies that offer small amounts of paid maternity leave, it's still much shorter than most other countries and often ends far before mom and baby are ready.
So how do real moms feel about their maternity leaves ending? We asked around and got dozens of anonymous responses from real women detailing how they felt when they returned to work. Here are 14 of them:
1.) "I just returned in July after an uber-generous six-month leave. I was THRILLED to go back to work, couldn't wait to re-join adult conversation, and have structure and diversity to my day. Six months later, I've yet to feel any guilt or longing to be home. That said, I have an incredible and loving nanny, which is almost entirely the reason I was able to return with confidence."
2.) "My leave was 12 weeks. I was so not ready to go back. I was sad. Resented having to work. There was a part of me excited to get back to work to be outside the 'nest,' but when I was there, I felt I should be and wanted to be at home with my babies. It was really hard not to get depressed about not being around them and feeling that's where I should be."
3.) "I went back after four months. I was okay with going back. I knew she was in a wonderful day care center and would be fine. I know that I couldn't stay at home. I enjoy working and what my daughter has learned from her daycare/preschool I don't think she would have gotten from me. The plan is the same with this second one. The only things is I will often feel guilty that I don't feel bad about working!"
4.) "I took eight weeks, could have taken more if I had asked. I love my job/company. I have the ability to work from home when need to (sick kid, sick me, sick babysitter) and on Fridays and keep my daughter with me. Not only was it not an option for me not to go back to work (financially for us, need two working parents), had I been at a job I didn't like, maybe it would be a different story. I was anxious to get into a new routine with working, daycare drop off/pick up, and the fact that my daughter is with a woman that has been taking care of kiddos for 18+ years makes it a hell of a lot easier to leave her there every day. Oh and when she smiles at her when we walk into her home every day, and yet kicks her feet and squeals when she sees me at the end of the day at pickup ... it makes it that much easier!"
5.) "I couldn't wait to get back to work. I love my kid but I also really like my job, my co-workers, and talking to other human beings. As much as my daughter needed the structure of daycare, I needed my routine back. (I took 12 weeks.)"
6.) "I am going back at 12 weeks. Six weeks was paid at 60 percent. Second six weeks is unpaid. Part of me is ready and a little excited about going back as I like my job and coworkers. The other part of me has really loved this 24/7 time with my newest baby. She will go to a sitter who watches my 22-month-old also. So I am not dreading it but not super excited either. Just accepting it I guess. Financially I have to return to work."
7.) "I was miserable. Work felt very trivial and meaningless when I went back. That said, I am a much better mom not being a full-time SAHM. It wasn't an option anyway. It has gotten much better, but it definitely took a while."
8.) "I took four months and during that time found a new job that was a literal walk down the street. I would have loved to have more time but I am the only financial supporter of my twins. My leave was unpaid because I hadn't been at the job for six months. It was really hard and I felt like a bad mother and a bad parent. I do enjoy my work but wish I could work fewer hours. I had a nanny come in because it was cheaper than two in daycare and I went home every day for lunch. I was lucky to have that option."
9.) "I had four months, 80 percent of it paid. During that time negotiated to go part-time with a different, less stressful job. For me, going back wasn't difficult, but only because I felt like the hardest part was the agonizing during my leave over whether or not I thought I could go back to my old job and its long hours. Once I had taken care of that and was lucky enough to go part-time, the actual return from leave was easy, and I was really excited to get to wear outfits that didn't have spit-up on them and have adult conversations and eat without having to cram food into my mouth while standing up with one hand."
10.) "I was very happy to go to work. I had just finished my master's degree in teaching when I found out I was pregnant. I had worked full-time and gone to school full-time for years to finish my degree. I stayed home with my twins for 20 months before I was able to get a job. I felt trapped being home full-time. I love my job and feel that I am a much better mother now that I am working."
11.) "I spent almost nine months at home with my first. My employer (school) pays for three months with benefits. Since my daughter was born in December, I took the three months and then two months unpaid (COBRA insurance) to get me to the summer, when I was off anyway. I had a hard time going back and continue to feel like it's too much, but it's difficult to envision how I would do my job (drama teacher and theatre director) part-time. I'm not ready to give that up. With the second one on the way (due in April), I am feeling very anxious about managing everything and living life the way I want to. My current plan is to jump off that bridge when I come to it, but things will inevitably become clearer once my second daughter arrives. I love my work and know I don't want to be home full-time. I just wish that there was more balance between the two."
12.) "I said I would go back and then proceeded to get numerous extensions on my leave. I just couldn't leave my baby at the end of the day ... I had a maternity leave, child-rearing leave, and then one-year leave and then at the end didn't go back. I will when they are older. For some reason I felt that no one could do my job as well as me, although when I look back now, I know that wasn't the case!"
13.) "The first time I went back after only 10 weeks because I didn't want to take any unpaid time. The second time I went back after 12 weeks. The first time was terrible -- I had a really hard time going back and I definitely wasn't ready. Part of that was that it wasn't long enough -- it was a big mistake not to take the full 12 in hindsight -- and part of it was because it was my first baby. But it took me quite a while to get back into things. The second time was a little better, but I still didn't feel ready. It still felt like the leave went way too fast and wasn't long enough. I definitely wanted to go back to work. I think if we had six months off instead of three, it would make it a lot easier and better. Three months is just so short."
14.) "I had a 12-week paid maternity leave. Before I even had the baby, I pretty much knew that staying at home was right for me, but you never really know how you'll feel about something until it happens. Turns out, I was right. There was no way psychologically, emotionally, I could leave my baby with a stranger or in a daycare. Plus, I just wanted to BE with her. That's what motherhood was about for me. The idea of leaving her and going back to work gave me a pit in my stomach. I had a high-level position and was making a lot of money, but that just wasn't as important to me as being with my baby. My husband and I knew we'd have to lower our standard of living, but it has been worth it. I have never regretted my decision. There are always jobs to be had, but babyhood and childhood are precious and fleeting. I'm glad I didn't miss out on those special moments."
As we comment on this piece, let's try to keep the comments nice and supportive. If the only thing you can say is to bash women who made a different choice than you, then perhaps rethink commenting.
The reality is, for many women, the "choice" of whether or not to work isn't really a choice at all.
Did you return from maternity leave? How did you feel?
Image via Scott/Flickr