When meeting a friend for breakfast the other day, the first thing she said to me was, “Wow. You’re actually carrying a handbag today.” She politely refrained to mention that I also had clean hair and was wearing makeup, but I took it as a sign that I was finally fitting back into the adult world after being on maternity leave for four-and-a-half months.
Although I’d never admit this to two-month postpartum me, I owe my newfound maturity to returning to work, which forced me to adult when I really didn’t want to.
Like most new moms, I dreaded leaving my baby. The gut-wrenching feeling that I might miss her first belly laugh or that she’d start to crawl while I was in a status meeting had me mentally reworking our finances so that I could be a stay-at-home mom.
But it was never going to work.
I knew I had to put on my ‘big girl’ pants — or any pants other than pyjamas, for that matter — and suck it up.
Two weeks back on the job, I’ve realised two things — one, working moms do not get enough credit for being functional human beings, and two, with a bit of planning, returning to work was a lot easier than I thought it would be.
Easing the transition
The move from full-time baby babbler to working mom went a lot smoother for a number of reasons. Perhaps these tips can help other moms who are taking the plunge.
Have the return-to-work conversation before returning to work. I was lucky to be able to negotiate flexi-time with my manager so that I could avoid traffic and free up some hours in the day to spend with my baby. Returning to work is a lot easier when you know what’s expected of you and when you work for a supportive company. Because of this, I was home when my baby rolled over for the first time.
Do a trial run. My nanny started a week before I returned to work so that the baby and I could get used to her and work out any challenges. I left the baby with the nanny every day that week and used the time to run errands, prep for work and get a much-needed massage.
Start fresh. Once I accepted that technology would probably not be on my side after four months of neglecting my mailbox, it was easier to face my 5000+ emails. It was even easier when I got my manager’s blessing to select all mails, delete them and start on a clean slate. How empowering! If possible, forget everything that happened in the months past and ask colleagues to brief you on anything urgent.
Prepare. The night before returning to work, I packed my handbag for the first time since having a baby, laid out my maternity jeans and made sure everything from my car to my breast pump was in working order. Eliminating the usual morning rush on my first day back set the tone for a relaxed first week back.
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. I never imagined I would have my breasts out at the office but being a breastfeeding working mom means this was inevitable. When you’re having that ‘return-to-work’ chat, agree on a private, hygienic and comfortable spot to express. It won’t be forever, but it can feel like forever if the only place to express is a toilet cubicle.
Be kind to yourself. This was the best advice I got. And to take a good vitamin and energy tonic. I knew my days would be long; I knew I would feel like I had been reversed over by a steamroller, so I wasn’t afraid to ask for help when I needed it and to catch up with colleagues over coffee. Very strong coffee.
While I might have been more zombie and less supermom these past two weeks, I’ve come to realise something about working moms — having a baby makes us better employees. In just four months, we learn to multitask like nobody’s business, we master time management, making us more efficient, and we learn to be flexible and to adapt to change.
Just don’t expect us to always carry a handbag. Sometimes a diaper bag has everything we need.
Tarryn Giebelmann is lead writer at WE South Africa