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The 6 things I wish I'd been told about returning to work after having a child.

Aptamil Toddler
Thanks to our brand partner, Aptamil Toddler

Maternity leave felt like an eternity away when I first applied for it, but once we had Nia (my eldest daughter) and got into a good rhythm with her, time just flew. The next thing I knew, my first day back in the office was one sleep away. 

I can still remember I couldn’t sleep the night before – I was so excited to feel like my ‘old self’ again. Equally, I was feeling extremely guilty that I was choosing to have a career over ‘looking after’ my child. Returning to work was definitely not what I expected, because we're not really told what to expect.

Here's what I wish I'd been told. 

1. Childcare - the big emotions

My husband and I pretty much cried for the first two weeks after drop off. Nia’s scared little face and the crying as we turned our backs to her and headed towards the door to leave still gives me chills. It was horrendous. I remember sitting in my car looking at photos of her, and crying like I’ve never cried before. Crying for the loss of my ‘baby’ who had now somewhat spread her wings, but also crying from the guilt of leaving her with strangers who have no idea how she likes to be held.


I wish I’d been told how hard that first month of starting childcare would be. Brace yourself. The adjustment is not only for your little love, but also for you. 

2. Rhythm - a different beat

I have always functioned at ‘100 miles per hour’. So naturally, going back to work, I was in the mindset that I was going to pick up where I left off and continue at full cylinders. WRONG. You think differently, you work differently, your availability is limited, you are sleep deprived, and your priorities have shifted. You are still very ambitious and driven, deadlines excite you because you’re all about proving yourself, but truth be told, there’s just a lot more information we have to keep in our heads now that we’ve had a baby! It’s important that we find our new balance, and don't allow ourselves to not feel like we’re failing at home or at work.

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I wish I’d been told that when I returned to the office I would be experiencing a very different rhythm to before. I don’t think we are ever truly prepared to return to work – and that’s okay. It’s a matter of finding our ‘new normal’.

3. Guilt - a five letter word with so much weight

I was feeling guilty for almost everything after returning to work. 

For leaving the office on the dot at 5pm. 

For coming to work late because drop off that morning was harder than the previous day. 

For being up with a teething baby, and coming to work sleep deprived and not being able to fully function. 

For calling in sick (again) and missing an important meeting because my child was sick. 

For asking for an extension on a piece of work because it had slipped my mind. 

For having my phone on loud in case childcare called. 

For running out of the office like it was on fire within minutes of receiving a call from childcare. 

For choosing to be a working mum. 

For sending my child to childcare five days a week. 

For picking her up late because I took a work call in the car on the drive over, and spent another 30 minutes in the carpark talking. 

For working at night when I should really be spending time with my kids. 

For being so emotional all the time because my hormones were truly all over the place.

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I wish I’d been told about the extensiveness of how much guilt I would be feeling as I adjusted to being a working mother.

4. Lost - a missing part of you

Sometimes the person we think we are completely... crumbles. I remember having quite a significant identity shift. I was so excited to be out of feeding bras, and into ‘work clothes’. What I failed to realise was that my body had changed too. I no longer fit into my old clothes. 

Friday night drinks were no longer something I looked forward to, choosing instead to sit in my pjs on the couch at home with my husband and take away Thai, watching our baby on the monitor. At work dinners, I may have been physically present, but mentally wishing I was home to do bath time with my daughter who I hadn't seen since 8am.

Who the hell was I? I wasn’t the old me, and I didn't really recognise the new me, so who was I?

I wish I’d been told that returning to the office would be a process. Not only for me, but for my whole family.

5. The firsts - missing out on milestones/developments

No amount of words describe how you feel when you find out your child just did her first x by herself, or that she now does y  – at childcare, while you were busy at work. How could I have missed such an important milestone? 

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I wish I’d been told that I can’t be everywhere for everything for everybody.

6. Have I done the right thing?

In the early months, every day I would question if I had made the right decision to return to work. But when the childcare notification would come up on my phone which showed photos of Nia having an awesome day - that would give me the answer I needed.

As with most things, it's difficult at the beginning but time has a wonderful way of healing the pain. I am proud to be a working mother, and to exemplify to my kids that it’s important for me to have my own identity outside of being a mum. Learning to let go without feeling guilty is a real skill, and one that takes practice to truly master. So trust the process and enjoy the wild ride ahead of juggling work and home. It makes you appreciate everything we take for granted.

If you're looking for resources to help you navigate the return to work, check out Parents' Corner by Aptamil Toddler, their newly launched educational hub packed with useful stories and tips from pregnancy to daycare drop offs. Or sign up to their Return Ready email program, delivering practical tips and advice on returning to work directly to your inbox.


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Aptamil Toddler
If you're planning your return to work after having a child, click here to sign-up Apamil Toddler’s Return Ready email program, delivering practical tips and advice for a smooth transition, directly to your inbox in the lead-up to your return to work date.
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