I spoke with a friend who is just about to go off on maternity leave with her second child and during our chat she mentioned that she feels so much more relaxed this time around.
We spoke about how much time we had both spent during our first maternity leave thinking and worrying about work.
It got me thinking about things that I wish I’d known about coming back to work after having a baby:
1. The show will go on without you, and that’s ok!
Going off on leave and handing over your work can leave you feeling vulnerable.
Remember, unless your company clones you, you can’t be “replaced”. Every single person has their own varied experiences, viewpoint and way of working. No one else will ever be you.
In some ways it is bittersweet to think that things will still continue even in your absence. But it is also nice to know that things will likely be ok no matter what!
2. There’s no “correct” amount of leave to take
Deciding when or if to go back to work is a loaded decision no matter what your circumstances are. But I know that for some the decision is out of their hands due to circumstances beyond their control.
If you are lucky enough to have a choice, this is a privileged decision to be able to make.
When considering the length of time you have off are you mainly thinking about what you think you should be doing? Are you going back (or not) because you think that’s what expected of you by work or by society or are you going back (or not) because you want to?
Just in case you need to hear this, there is nothing “wrong” in wanting to head back to work earlier than planned if it is genuinely what you want or need to do.
Taking the full maternity leave available because you think you should take it because you “can” and then genuinely feeling miserable the whole time is not good for anyone, including your baby.
A senior leader once told me “don’t be a hero” after she had had gone back to work three months after having a baby due to feeling under pressure to help support the team during a difficult time. People will be glad to see you, but things will quickly settle back to normal after people have said “welcome back, it’s nice to see you!”
Remember there is no universal right answer, only what is right for you.
3. You can and will catch up
I know that I personally worried that I would be massively behind on my return to work. I won’t lie, it did feel a bit strange feeling like a new and old member of the team at the same time when I returned. But I settled back into the swing of things quicker than I anticipated.
By lunchtime of my first day it felt like I’d never been away and I then felt guilty for having spent so much time worrying about this!
Give yourself some grace to catch up on any developments that will have happened during your leave, don’t be afraid to ask questions and I’d really recommend having a friend or colleague that you trust to ask for help while you get back up to speed.
4. Your baby won’t forget you if you go back to work
A genuine concern I had during maternity leave…I am relieved to confirm that this didn’t happen! Given that I was worked away one night a week this had been a real worry for me.
5. Some things can be simplified
I had no idea how on earth we were going to manage both working full time and having a baby. Simple changes like subscribing to a meal prep delivery service and hiring a cleaner (when we were allowed to) really helped.
Not sure how you can do this, I’d recommend reading “Do Less” by Kate Northrup, which I reviewed here.
6. You will figure things out
I spent a fair amount of time on maternity thinking about “what if” scenarios. What will I do if my baby is poorly? What if I’m not able to always make pick up?
Ultimately I’ve come to realize that when I am in a stressful situation I figure it out because I have to! Sometimes that will mean taking time off work or sometimes that will mean asking others for help.
It’s not always easy or comfortable and the answer I need looks different every time. But, you do find a way to manage.
7. You can’t and don’t have to do it all
Too often women especially, spend a lot of time feeling guilty. We should be better mothers, better friends, better daughters, better wives….there is always something that could be improved if we just had the time or tried harder!
I’d suggest that if you’re feeling overwhelmed make a list of all the things you feel like you need to do.
Look at that list and really think about what is truly important to you, what makes the biggest difference to your mood and finally consider if it really needs to be done at all.
If things genuinely do need to be done, do they definitely need to be done by you and you alone? Is there anyone you can ask to help?
People can make themselves ill trying to be the best at every element of life and for what?!
In the wise words of author Kate Northup,
No one is giving out a “You did everything and are exhausted as a result” prize at the end of life
Your health, both mental and physical, really are the most precious things. Looking after yourself will help you to feel good and the positive impact of this will also help everyone around you. Don’t set yourself on fire to keep everyone else warm, it’s not good for anyone in the long run.
So there we have it, I’d love to hear from others about their experiences of returning to work after maternity leave. What do you wish you had known?
If you found this post helpful I’d love it if you could share it with others who might find it useful.
As always, thanks for reading.