My least favorite question to be asked while pregnant was if I was ready. Ready to birth a human being from my body? Ready to bring a little person home to care for? Ready to get back to work and into the swing of “real life” once maternity leave was over? After two pregnancies and returning to a full-time job after, I can safely say that the answer to all of these questions is a resounding NOPE. In fact, ‘ready for baby' is an oxymoron.
I attempted to be as ready as possible. Part of the preparation included researching and planning for maternity leave and my employers’ policies leading into, during and following the birth of my baby. I was extremely fortunate in that I was healthy enough to work until my water broke and also fortunate in that my employer had policies to support working parents.
I went back after twelve weeks with my first and six weeks with my second. Both times to a job I enjoyed and needed to feel like a functioning human being. I was prepared for a lot of things but definitely not all the things.
Here are five of my favorite things no one tells you about going back to work:
5 Things No One Tells You About Going Back to Work
1. You will have essentially gone through an entire day’s worth of emotions before you even get to work
Working moms have two jobs, especially in the early years when feeding and sleep schedules are not yet established. There are days when it will feel like you have already been through the wringer before 8 am when the rest of the world is just starting their day.
Feedings, nightmares, sickness, growth spurts, teething, and general uncooperativeness ramp up the AM stress level for mom. It means that some days you are giving off the stay far away vibes before you even fire up the computer at work. It seems to be phenomena that only parents can understand, especially moms.
2. So many bags
It doesn't take long for new parents to realize that while babies may be small in size, they come with tons of stuff. A lot of stuff. If you are taking a child to daycare you still need to send a large amount of that stuff with them on top of everything that you need for your day. Think about it like this:
It’s ridiculous but you will do it anyway. And sometimes you will forget something. For someone. It’s easier to just accept it as part of life now
3. If nursing, you will pump in some crazy places, and not be able to share that thought with anyone
Did you pay attention to nursing mother issues before you had a child of your own? The answer is likely no. Co-workers without kids and even male co-workers that do have kids really aren’t going to want to hear about your breastfeeding habits.
Clients and customers aren’t thinking about avoiding your pump times when scheduling meetings. Co-workers aren’t wondering why you have two bags taking up space in the refrigerator. But it's all you think about and focus your entire day around. When baby ate last, how my supply will be affected, will I mess up the schedule, how much time do I have, this is getting painful... No one wants to hear about it.
Look at the bright side: you have a built-in excuse not to do something you never really wanted to do in the first place.
4. Co-workers will stop inviting you to after-hours gatherings
They are being considerate of the changes in your life by not bothering you with invites. Or they are tired of you turning them down when they do invite you to happy hours and weekend happenings. You have a different life now. It means that unless you have childcare on standby, you have to turn down more invites than you can accept.
It’s not fun to feel left out despite the fact that you love your child. Or you can look at the bright side: you have a built-in excuse not to do something you never really wanted to do in the first place.
5. You will be able to get yourself ready faster than you ever thought possible
Those little things you used to take your time doing in the mornings to get ready for work now just don’t seem as important. If you can go without to get five more minutes of sleep, you will do it.
Having a child means you can multitask like a pro so you will squeeze more into a shorter window. You are more likely to do things the night before in hopes of more sleep in the morning. Breakfast in the car, the half-leg shave, and the wet bun might be staples in your new routine.
Hacks for Working Moms
So you are back at work and feel a little out of control? That is normal and I’m not even sure it’s completely avoidable for working parents. There are just so many variables to deal with.
After going through this process twice, in two different jobs and away from a family support system I can say with confidence that I picked up a few hacks for working moms.
Hack #1: Ask for What You Need
Set boundaries and discuss them with supervisors as early in the process as possible.
If you are using childcare, the hours might determine your work schedule. Staying after closing time before baby may not have been an issue but now it may mean a hefty late fee at daycare.
If your employment situation doesn’t offer flexible options with start and end times, breaks, sick days, personal days or anything else, you may have to get creative and ask.
No one will know your struggles if you don’t tell them. Just because flexible options like remote work days or an adjusted lunch hour haven’t been granted before, it doesn’t mean they won’t be. Maybe no one has ever asked before.
Become an advocate: present the issue and a solution at the same time. It shows you are serious about making improvements and how you can be effective and efficient to do both of your jobs.
Hack #2 Take on non-traditional roles at home- delegate the mental load
Moms have this innate need to do all the things. Manage the home front and the kids and the job. In reality, it’s just not always possible. It’s also not great on the mental health front to put all the weight and pressure on your own shoulders.
Talking with a partner about taking on additional or different responsibilities around the home is helpful. If by default you have been tasked with laundry, meals, and dishes on the regular- is that something you can delegate to another family member? Can duties be shared in a different way?
If a partner is not in the equation or not an option, find ways to outsource. With so many services like Shipt for groceries, Blue Apron for home-cooked meals, Doordash for carrying out meals, there are ways to lighten the load just a little when it’s needed. Small things like finding a dry cleaner that delivers rather than drop-off only or larger things like hiring a cleaning service to come once a month.
Hack #3 Establish a routine
It may seem impossible but it’s not. Expect that when you think you have the hang of things, something will happen and change will be required. The evening routine is no less important than the morning routine.
Start with your routine and evaluate what you can control to set yourself up for success. Start small like making lunch the night before to save time in the morning or packing up your work bag and putting it in the car before bed. As much as you want to blame things on your child, it honestly starts with you.
If you return to work six weeks after birth or six years after the birth of your child you can expect to go through a period of adjustment. You have two full-time jobs now. They overlap and keep your mind and energy occupied at all hours of the day and night. Even the most organized mom can and will struggle at first. But trust me, it gets easier. For everyone. Baby will adjust, mom will adjust, dad will adjust, daycare will adjust, and your workload will adjust. Maybe not all at the same time but you will trial and error your way through to find the sweet spot. It’s tough to feel like yourself after maternity leave. Give yourself some grace to fit all the puzzle pieces of your new life into their place and ask for the support you need to get there.
And for the record, I still don’t drink coffee.
This guest post was contributed by Erin Kraebber.
Erin Kraebber is a 30-something Midwest transplant making life work in the South. Employed full time (and then some) outside the home as a collegiate sports marketing director. Mom to two school-aged girls who fill her with equal measures of love and anxiety. Erin is the founder of the Her Generation Project, an online community and network for mothers with daughters.