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To my babies: In last week’s Becoming a Mom series, I described the process of conceiving you both and bringing you both into the world. But one of the most ever-evolving things about motherhood is trying to figure out how your identity as a person fits with your new identity as a mom. And as a working woman pre-baby, I would soon have to become a working mom. This series of posts—Becoming a Full-Time Working Mom—is about that transition, and while I hope the posts give you a glimpse into my life, I hope they also serve as a source of practical and helpful tips for other new moms preparing to make the same transition.
Raise your hand if you’ve had to finance your own maternity leave. Or if you’ve had to go back to work before 12 weeks postpartum. Before 6 weeks postpartum?
Sadly, US maternity leave policies leave much to be desired. Understatement of all understatements.
I was blessed to find a new job during my self-financed, faux maternity leave, but the downside was that I’d had to start that new job when my son was less than 2 months old.
Returning to work after having him was one of the hardest transitions I’ve ever endured, especially given the nature of this new job. (More about that later…)
Here are 5 things I wish I knew before going back to work after a baby. I hope they help make your transition just a little bit easier.
1. Find childcare you trust wholeheartedly.
My husband and I made a rookie mistake. We chose a less expensive daycare because we were broke (LOL) and we somehow expected that we wouldn’t get what we paid for.
Short story: we did!
The “teachers” in the infant room—or, at least one in particular—were inconsistent, disorganized, and unapologetic about it. What sucked even more was that I worked so far away and didn’t have easy access to my son.
We weren’t comfortable with the arrangement and decided to pull him out. After a heated conversation with their national company, we found a new center for our baby.
I can’t underscore the importance of having childcare providers you trust—whether they’re family, friends, neighbors, or providers at childcare centers.
2. Advocate for yourself at work and set firm boundaries.
When it comes to your actual employer, he or she will need to understand that you’re not the same person you were when you left. At least, you won’t be at first. (You’ll need to understand this too.)
You’ll probably have different needs and you’ll have to establish boundaries in order to be sure those needs are met. If you have a hard start and stop time because of daycare pick-up or drop-off, make that clear. If you have certain times of day when you need to pump, make that known and non-negotiable.
Your role as a mother doesn’t stop just because you cross the threshold of your place of employment.
3. Feel all the feelings that come along with going back to work after a baby, and trust that they will get better.
Let’s not downplay the emotional aspect of this transition. Going back to work full-time after being with your baby 24/7 is going to suck. Even if you are excited to get back to work so you can be around other adults and feel like yourself again—I was!—it doesn’t change the fact that you may be sad for a while. Some women even feel guilty about it.
Let yourself feel the feelings and trust that they will get better. Eventually, your child will grow to love their childcare providers and so will you!
4. Confide in other working mom friends—ideally some in the same stage as you and others with older kids.
If you have other working mom friends, talk to them. Vent to them. Cry with them. You’d be surprised how much we internalize because we think no one else will understand when so many mothers went through or have gone through the same things!
One of my best friends, after she went back to work postpartum, called me every morning after daycare drop-off in tears. She was inconsolable for a good two weeks and I knew I couldn’t do much for her. So did she. But she kept calling and I kept answering because I knew that just being there was enough.
5. Make sure your new job fits your new lifestyle and your new identity.
Lastly, you might have to make some tough decisions depending on how your job aligns (or doesn’t) with your new lifestyle and new identity as a mother. That new job I mentioned earlier? I quit it 3 months after I started.
The daily schedule had me away from home for so long that I may have seen my son 30 minutes a day. And those 30 minutes were in the morning while I breastfed him before work. On a good day, I might get 20 minutes with him at night before his bedtime.
As soon as I learned of my final schedule, I said to my boss: “This is not sustainable.” And within 3 months of no improvement, I was gone. I found a new job that did fit my new lifestyle and my new identity. And even though it paid almost $15K less than the other position, it was the best choice for my sanity and my family. See how happy I was?!
Your transition will be full of hard feelings and tough choices, but you’ll get through it. I believe in you!