Looking for a cute and tidy list of simple steps to make a smooth transition back to work after having a baby?
Great! Me, too.
When you find that list, send it my way. Or better yet, don’t. Because I wouldn’t believe it anyway; I don’t think there is a way to make going back to work smooth.
So, if you’re seeking some cookie-cutter stuff that will tell you how to conquer one of the suckier parts of working motherhood, I just can’t help you.
I have no idea. I’m just stumbling along, trying to figure it out. And there seems to be no easy solutions to this complex, challenging situation. At least for me, going back to work has been extremely difficult— basically the worst.
I like working, but it is still hard.
Before I give the wrong impression, let me establish that I like working. I choose to work. And I can see the many perks to maternity leave ending. Like being able to talk to other adults, using parts of my brain I forgot existed, having the mental capacity to care about regional and global issues, and the occasional moment of silence.
But even with those perks, I think this is one of those sticky situations that moms don’t get to complain about freely.
I’m not sure if it’s sexism pervading the notion that I should just be grateful to have a job to go back to after procreating. Or possibly, our upper-Midwest region’s usual social stance on complaining, that it is better to just not do it and appear happy all the time.
But I’m not doing that right now.
So, let’s get real about it. Going back to work after having a baby is difficult. And I need a break from pretending I’ve got it all together.
Here are my truth bombs:
No, gentlemen, I was not on vacation.
I love my (surprisingly several, and mostly male) coworkers who wished me a version of a “good break” before each of our babies were born. But let’s just clear this up real quick—maternity leave is no relaxing holiday.
In my case, I was healing from a major medical procedure and resulting complications. I was not sitting on the beach, well-rested and well-tanned, thank you very much.
I was barely sleeping, sort of eating, and trying to bathe relatively regularly. Oh, and I was keeping a screaming human alive. One that comes with no manual, and cannot speak my language. Most recently I was also trying to meet the needs of an older child at the same time.
I see my kids for approximately 4-5 waking hours in a 24-hour period during the week.
Yup, that’s it. The kids are at daycare about nine hours a day. They sleep between 11 and 12 hours a night. If I count the middle-of-the-night feeding of the baby, that results in between four and five waking hours. That is some soul-crushing, guilt-inducing math. Arguably, this truth is the worst part of going back to work.
Even with a supportive partner, I’m now doing so much work.
I’m trying to keep my workday to nine hours or less. But aside from my day job, I have my home jobs. My husband is extremely supportive and hands-on. But I am still primarily responsible for the budgeting, the shopping, the cooking, the cleaning, the communication with daycare, the doctors, the dentist, pet care, coordinating with our families, and managing the kids’ social calendars and activities.
It’s a lot of work, it feels like I’m running some mini-company. And it makes me really, really tired.
I’m failing everyone all the time.
You’ve heard this truism before, but I’m convinced moms just cannot do it all. No matter how hard I try, I’m always falling short somewhere. I’m not always the best wife, most patient mother, attentive employee, engaged volunteer, good friend, contributor to this very blog you’re reading, or even healthy individual.
Instead of the A+ version of myself I want to give everyone, I’m pulling maybe a B average on a good week. The perfectionist in me hates that truth. I’ve made commitments where I’m falling short. And I’m ashamed of that.
However, the realist in me knows a B average is a glorious achievement considering my current circumstances.
Twelve weeks is not a magic number.
I know women who were ready to get back to work five or six weeks postpartum. Not me. I chose to go back to work twelve weeks and a couple of days, because that is considered the standard in the United States.
But with both of my children, I now think I could have used at least another month. Maybe even three.
And many women don’t have the luxury to collaboratively determine the timing of their return. I worry about the mothers who have to return much sooner than they wish.
Because there is no set time for when your body will heal. Or when your hormones and emotions will find an equilibrium. So I don’t understand why as a society we have decided to try to standardize maternity leave time frames when it is so obviously variant.
Some more truth.
I’m writing this when things are the hardest. I’m not my best self right now; I’m in survival mode. And I’ve only been back at work for a few weeks since baby number two. But I remember the first time it was hard and eventually got better, and I’m confident it will this time, too.
But if you are deep in the chasm of all that is awful about going back to work, you aren’t alone. I don’t have an escape route to offer you. What I can say is I know we can climb out, and I’m sure we will. Even though it just doesn’t feel like that right now.