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"I felt like a new starter." 5 things I've learned since returning to work after maternity leave.

I’ll be honest... I thought maternity leave would be a break.

Maternity leave is all coffees in the park while your baby plays quietly beside you, isn’t it?

My year away from work has been tougher than I’d imagined. Although there were amazing magical moments, there were also physical, emotional and mental changes in myself that I never anticipated. 

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I had visions of achieving things I’d dreamed about doing but never had time to do. In reality, what I achieved was raising a baby – which was a big achievement in itself. (Plus, I watched a lot of Netflix while our baby slept on me!)

I’m now two months back into work and wanted to share some of my experiences, and open the door for more honest conversations for new mums.

Here are five things I've learned since returning to work after maternity leave.

1. It was nice to come back to a familiar workplace.

I was nervous about coming back to work. When you spend a year thinking constantly about the logistics of a baby, it can become all you think about. Having our baby, I felt thrown into a job with no training (and often no clue) and I lost some confidence. 

There were so many questions in my head about work. What had changed? What if I can’t remember anything? What if I no longer fit in? Who am I now?

It has been lovely to go back to my usual workplace where people are welcoming and friendly. It helps that where I work has a progressive and supportive culture where many do juggle work with other responsibilities, and have empathy for others.

2. I felt like a new starter.

As I sat at my desk on the first day, it hit me that it had been 12 months since I’d been in a professional headspace. In the past year, a lot had changed in my organisation. Throw in a year of an unforeseen pandemic, and it felt like people were speaking an entirely different language.

Just like a new starter, I needed building and computer access. I also needed to refresh all my online training and get my head around a new organisation, new leadership, process changes, team changes, and technology changes. 

It can seem like you’re back and everything is as it was, but it is a big adjustment and quite overwhelming after such a life change.

3. I felt like I was not doing anything well.

From 12 months of learning to raise a baby and running our house, to trying to juggle work and home life, it can feel like you’re not enough – not enough at work and not enough at home.

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I’ve returned to work with different priorities and worries, and I’m still learning how to prioritise my time, and do my role differently, but as effectively, within part-time hours.

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4. It takes time to figure out the balance.

The first few weeks of being back, everything seemed rushed. I rushed to get to work, rushed through my work, rushed to get home, and rushed to get baby fed, bathed and into bed. Before I had a baby, I had a great routine that suited my work and my wellbeing, often starting early and finishing later with a gym class in my lunch break.

It’s been tricky to figure out how to do my work within more limited hours, while also finding time for our family, friends, housework, and my own wellbeing. In fact, I’m still on the path to finding this.

5. It helped to talk with those who have been through it.

I’ve loved the conversations that I've had so far with people who have been on long-term leave, and their knowing smile when I tell them about my struggles returning to work. 

Many have told me it gets easier, but you need to figure out some new ways to do things. 

Some things I’ve learnt are:

  • Weekday dinners need to take 20 minutes or less to make. Whether you prefer heated up leftovers, quick recipes, or pre-made meals, it makes home life less stressful.
  • I need to lower expectations of myself in terms of housework.
  • I need to accept help – I don’t like to burden people but it is a huge help when team members, family or friends offer to do something to help you.
  • I need to use my time wisely at work – prioritising, facilitating some things instead of doing them, and finding different ways to still connect with people.

It’s going to take time to find my new balance, but I’m getting there! With an addition to our family, there is definitely more chaos, but there’s also been so much magic. 

I’m enjoying being back at work and re-discovering myself now as a manager, a team member, a mum, a wife, a daughter... and also, just me.

Nina Munro is a new mum, still navigating her way through a world that presents 'perfect mums' and hides much of what women experience emotionally, mentally and physically after a baby. She hopes that through posts like this, we can normalise those difficult times mums experience so that other new mums don’t need to feel alone.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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