Ten weeks. That's how long my maternity leave was after my first baby was born. Two weeks shorter than usual, but generous considering I'd been at my current job for less than six months.
That 10 weeks seemed like an eternity when I thought about it in the abstract, before my daughter's birth, and even in the early days home from the hospital. Can you imagine having 10 weeks vacation? That's what I always told myself, even as I saw the days ticking by at a frightengly fast clip.
But experienced, sage moms know that maternity leave is about as far from vacation as you can get. Suddenly, almost without warning, I was a week away. Then a day. And then the dreaded "first day back at work" was suddenly here. And I was heartbroken. I felt dead inside.
It was crazy. I was one of the lucky ones. I always knew I would be a "working mom" long before I actually became one. And I loved my job!
So there I was, the first morning in almost a year that I would be separated from my baby girl (counting pregnancy, of course). I was leaving her with a warm, effusive nanny I liked and trusted -- but who was a virtual stranger to me then. I felt jumpy inside, panicky. Also weepy, devastated, and strangely indifferent. There was a bit of anticipation and excitement, sure, but mostly I kept wondering what I'd been thinking when I assumed I'd want to work after becoming a mom.
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It was all so foreign. I'd been maternal since age 2, when I insisted to anyone who'd listen that my doll wasn't a doll, she was a "BABY," and I took care of her like any dutiful mommy would. But I was also a total career woman. I put my heart and soul into my studies, then into my chosen field of journalism. I got married later and had kids later (not by choice as much as by fate). So I was really equal parts working girl and mom. Why was it this heartwrenching to even imagine being at my job full-time again?
My best friend and other close ones were wonderfully supportive. They called, sent cards and baby gifts, emailed, helped with and visited baby, and checked in on me, not only during maternity leave but throughout the "back to work" phase. They listened, comforted, and offered pearls of wisdom and advice.
But six people saved me from crumbling completely that very first day -- and in the weeks to come.
One was my husband, who sent me flowers at the office. "We love you and miss you so much," the card read. "Have a great first day back at work!" That was only the beginning of his love and support throughout the transition.
The second was my nanny, the relative stranger who became family almost overnight. She called me several times a day in the beginning with updates, always getting my infant daughter to "talk" to Mommy with her little baby coos and squeals. Once she kept saying, "I love you" and I could swear that when my little girl finally responded, it sounded like she said it too.
The third and fourth were my mom and dad, who not only called, wrote, emailed, and brought baby gifts -- but also made the trek to New York from Philadelphia to take care of their first grandchild a few days a week ... for months.
And the fifth and sixth were my two bosses (backed by my company as a whole), who were unbelievably understanding and kind. They let me get back into things gradually, took me out to lunch, sent me lovely baby gifts. And when I told them that I was struggling with the separation and was hoping for a second day to work from home, they gave it to me. It meant so much.
There is no way I could thank any of them enough for what they did for me -- but now is as good a time as any. And for new moms going through this now or gearing up to go through it soon, make sure you have a strong support network in place like I did.
In those early days, it was very hard to care and focus. My heart wasn't in it, and I missed my daughter so much, it ached. I felt empty and alone.
But in time, it changed. I did get back into the swing. I did care again. The passion and love I had for my job returned -- and I was able to balance it with the passion and love I had for my child and my family.
I have now been through this a second time in the last six months -- which was also very hard but in a different way. And at least with my son, I knew something about what to expect and already had trusted child care in place. The same amazing family and friends who stepped up the first time came through again after Baby #2.
One thing's for sure, though: I was right. I am a working mom at heart. It's a tricky juggle, a precarious balancing act, and an exercise in extreme sleep deprivation and multitasking. But I wouldn't have it any other way.
Did you return to work after baby? What was your experience like?