The Ups and Downs of Going Back to Work After Maternity Leave

mom babyI knew I had to return to work after I had my twins. I thought I would be prepared to do so after a 12-week maternity leave. Before kids, 12 weeks felt like a long time. It wasn't. There were so many emotions I felt when going back to work; some were very challenging to get through. 


The first part is excitement. I remember thinking that I could wear a dress and heels and do my hair and makeup like I would on a typical day before my kids came along. And even fit into my non-maternity clothes (well, some of them). I would be doing something just for me -- preparing to head out in the world without a stroller to push or a baby carrier to wear. A little me-time that I thought I really wanted.

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Then when I first left the apartment and headed to the subway for my journey to work, I suddenly felt very alone. It didn't feel good. For 12 weeks I had nothing but babies on my mind or in my arms or nursing at my breasts. I felt changed and strange and as if there was something not right about my being without them.

Pings of sadness crept in. I can pinpoint it now; this was the beginnings of the working-mom guilt many of us feel. I tried to focus on the fact that I hadn't worn the dress I had on in ages and consoled myself with the fine detail that I was going to enjoy a hot coffee while it was still hot without any interruptions. (It didn't help.)

The excitement rose again upon arriving at work. I loved my job and my coworkers, many of them mothers who were so supportive in many ways through my journey to motherhood. While I had been in contact with them over my maternity leave, it was great to see them in person, in the office, and get caught up on personal and work matters. And then when my internal timer went off to pump breast milk, it was back to feeling that I really wanted to be home with my babies, nursing them in person, not hooked up to a machine. Even 12 weeks' leave felt too short.

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I remember feeling that half the day went by and I didn't get much done. There were so many emails to respond to and sort through and I had accomplished that. But I still needed to find my work rhythm again -- and there were so many new things happening that I felt a bit lost. Twelve weeks may not feel long for a maternity leave, but it is a long time to be out of the office. There were new hires who weren't exactly new anymore and new ways of doing things. I felt overwhelmed -- and I doubted my abilities. I wondered how I was going to figure it out with my babies on my mind and this longing to be home with them and the breaks I needed to take for pumping. Was my mommy brain working against me?

It wasn't. It worked for me. Multitasking is an incredible skill that parents often excel at, but if you're anything like me, you filled your head with self-doubt. Once I stopped that and realized I could be an incredible mom and employee, I did just that.

Empowerment -- that is a great feeling, the better of the range of emotions we feel as we return to work after maternity leave. It's not easy, and we all arrive at that place at different times, but we get there -- it's a mom milestone worth celebrating. I found it best achieved when I honored all my feelings along the way. When I missed the babies, I called home to speak to the sitter; I felt closer to them just from knowing what they were up to at that moment. When I felt lost at work, I talked to my boss and coworkers and asked for help to get up to speed. And when my head filled with doubt, I reminded myself that I was going to figure out my own personal work/life balance ... and I did. I found my rhythm eventually, and in the process, I strengthened my multitasking skills.


Image via / Eva Katalin Kondoros

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