Returning To Work After Maternity Leave

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I will never forget my first day returning to work after maternity leave as a new mom. At the time, I was living in Connecticut while commuting to Manhattan. After sixteen weeks of maternity leave, I was suddenly stepping onto the train and heading into the office. My daughter was at home with my sister, who lived with us for her first year to take care of her.

My emotions were intense, and I found myself teary-eyed as we pulled into Grand Central Station. An hour later, I was out to breakfast with a colleague, feeling joyful as I ate slowly with both hands. Two hours later, I was pumping in a small room, wondering how I would do it all.

When I got home, all I wanted was time to myself. As I find myself a few weeks away from returning to work after my second maternity leave, the circumstances are different. I am now living in Massachusetts and working (at the same job) remotely. My daughter is in daycare, and my son will be joining her. While many things have changed, there are a few lessons I am working to remember, that will be helpful to anyone preparing to go back to a full-time job after maternity leave.

Lower Your Expectations

It is nearly impossible to perform at your best when you return to work after maternity leave. Your hormones are still out-of-whack, your emotions are likely all over the place, and the sleep deprivation is real. As someone who has very high expectations for themselves, I frequently found myself frustrated. I would re-read an email three times to check for typos. In a meeting, I would be slow to share my perspective. I began to second guess every decision I made. Have patience with yourself. Yes, you need to make sure to do your job, but now is not the time to go above and beyond. Lower your expectations (temporarily) and trust that you will be back to your high-performing self eventually.

Create Purposeful Boundaries

It is essential to create (or update) your work/life boundaries once you have a baby. After all, you are working two jobs: the one you’re getting paid for, plus the one that involves caring for your young child(ren). As soon as I log-off for the day, I immediately shift into mom mode. Once dinner, playtime, bedtime, and preparation for the next day are complete, I am exhausted. While my pre-kid self might have checked and responded to emails before bed, I am instead pumping and trying to get to sleep as quickly as possible. I no longer check email at night or on weekends, unless there is something big happening at work. Decide what you need in order to function at work and at home, and be willing to share – and live by – those boundaries with your colleagues and family.

Get Organized

When you are returning to work, staying organized is essential. About two weeks before you return, begin to re-orient yourself. While your focus continues to be on your newborn, aim to do one thing to prepare for work each day. I map them out and write them down: prepare my pumping supplies, create a meal plan, put my work clothes out, and so on. Then, schedule out everything that will happen in your first week back in as much detail as possible. I like to do this in a physical planner that I can see and feel. That first week back can feel uncertain – organize what you can, so you have space for the unknown.

Ask For What You Need

It is okay to ask for help, especially when you are returning to work. If your boss is also a mom, she will likely understand how difficult these early weeks back can be. If they are not, be intentional about sharing what you need and where you are at. Most managers will be fully supportive of your transition back, but it is important to name what you need (while assuring them that your work will continue to get done). At home, delegate tasks to your partner or your close friends and family. There is no shame in asking for support, especially in one of the trickiest moments of working motherhood.

All Emotions Are Okay

Whether you are thrilled to be going back to work, or dreading it – you are not alone. You have permission to be happy in one moment and sad the next. You are welcome to enjoy doing work and miss being with your baby. It is okay to feel like you cannot do it all, and it is also okay to feel like you can. To all of the moms returning to work, remember this; you are not alone, things will get easier, and you will learn how to do well at work while being the best you can at home. It will take time, but you just might be lucky enough to absolutely love working motherhood. I know I do.

 

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Kate was born and raised in western MA, before heading to college in Boston to study neuroscience. After graduation, she lived in NYC for nearly a decade and CT for two years, before moving to Shrewsbury in 2021. She has a two-year old daughter and a newborn son. Kate is a full-time working mom, leading the Fellowship program at Echoing Green, a global leadership accelerator. Outside of her day job, she is a trained leadership coach and facilitator who loves to work with moms. When she’s not working, she loves to explore new places, cook up new recipes, practice yoga, and spend time with her adorable children and husband.

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