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Own it, Leigh Sales: The first day back after maternity leave.

By ALISSA WARREN

Going back to work after maternity leave is like going on a first date with someone you’ve been in a relationship with before and with someone who you haven’t seen for a long, long, long time. A lot of things have happened since then…

To your life…

To your brain….

To your body…

You make the date well in advance and pencil it into your diary. It feels a lifetime into the future but then all of a sudden date night with ‘The Office’ is only hours away and your belly is full of anxious little butterflies who’ve drunk too much red cordial.

Leigh Sales, the rather excellent host of the ABC’s 7.30 report is going back to work today after spending the past few months on maternity leave following the arrival of her second baby, James. She posted this gorgeous photo on social media, with the message “Well it’s time. See you at tonight. Saying goodbye to this delicious little ball of fluff.”

Aww. Every mother knows that moment. The going back to work day, the day where you’re saying goodbye to one phase of life and a giant hello to the next. Even if you’ve done it before it’s exciting, terrifying and daunting.

And it goes a little like this:

8.32pm: Planning your outfit

This is the first moment of re-entry into your new/old life. The outfit that you hope will project two key messages to your workmates: I’m ready and I’m still me. Can these two rather complex gender stereotype fighting messages really be communicated by the cut of your suit or the height of the patent heel? You bet they can.

It’s likely your handbag will be filled with a lot of this.

9.12pm: Refreshing your handbag

A good clean-out is what it needs. No baby wipes, more business cards. Less teething toys, more classy matte lipsticks. Less plastic spoons, more authoritative silver pens…

This inevitably won’t happen because you’re too tired/ can’t be bothered/ don’t want to overthink things/ prefer to watch The Block.

10.14pm: Going to bed

This isn’t called ‘going to sleep’ because you may not. It’s very possible you’ll either lie in bed until 4.12am thinking about thinking about going to work or somehow the Work Devil has sent a magical message to your tiny offspring to grow their 12-month-molars early and thus, you’ll spend the entire night nursing a whinging child and Bonjela stained fingers.

6.00am: Getting everyone ready for you getting ready for your day at work 

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This is the most stressful part of the day. Having a shower, ensuring others have theirs. Finding eyeshadow, searching for tiny missing socks. Changing the outfit you’d planned the night before because it’s now covered in grease from little butter-fingers wiping their crumbs on your shirt. Mental note: Cannot wear silk or plain colours ever again.

7.47am: The handover 

This is the transfer of information: “Jake drank a tube of Bonjela overnight … Sophie ate my egg on toast and has never had egg before so perhaps watch her for a major potential anaphylactic attack … neither of the kids have pooed for 24 hours because we had a huge Father’s Day brunch where they both ate half a dozen bread rolls. Thanks! Sorry! Gah! Bye!”

8.00am: Going to work. 

The best feeling.  There’s no one in your car – just you. Or if you’re on the bus – it’s PACKED with other human beings and you’re not personally responsible for any of them. You’re alone in the world. And it’s lovely.

Walking to the office, I once thought, “if anyone vomited right now, I totally don’t have to clean it up. In fact, I’ll just step over it, make a ‘ew’ face and continue on my way”. Heaven.

Alissa.

8.10am: In the office 

This is weird. Everyone speaks in really high, sing-songy voices, tilts their head and holds your arm and asks ‘how did you go today?’ and you don’t really know how to answer because you don’t know how it went. It just went. And quickly. And you had a baby, you didn’t become one.

9.30am: Morning meeting 

You have words, adult words. You speak. And you understand ENGLISH. Sentences which aren’t constructed by Mister Maker or Upsy Daisy. And when you speak, people listen and do not interrupt. They don’t stare at you with vacant eyes or claw their little fingers around the tiny bit of skin on your neck and cry. Hooray!

Words. Everywhere. And none of them need to be spelt out to avoid inappropriateness.

10.11am: Meeting new staff 

This is awkward. You were a big deal when you worked here. You knew everyone. They knew you. And now? Not so much.

There are new people because while you were in Baby Land? The world kept turning. People were sacked and hired. And now the new additions have in-jokes with your boss and photos with your workmates that are hanging on the kitchen pin-board. And you feel like you’re nowhere to be seen and maybe they didn’t miss you at all and maybe you’ve been replaced in their hearts and OH MY GOD WHY DID I EVER LEAVE?

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11.03am: The realisation 

But actually, the disconnect is easier than you thought. It’s surprisingly uncomplicated to be back to you – ‘old you’. Which is now, ‘new you’.

Because YOU GOT THIS. You know what you’re doing.

Suddenly, you remember, you’re good. You’re in control. You’re needed. You are clever. And you are GOOD AT YOUR JOB.

12.00 noon: Rocking in the queue at lunchtime

This starts out as the highlight of the day. Looking at a menu, selecting food. Being a grown-up, eating something that isn’t pureed and delivered on plastic cutlery that must be accompanied by aeroplane noises.

But then…. while you wait you catch yourself doing ‘the rock’ just rocking your feet. And suddenly you’re holding a folder or your wallet like a baby. You’re blissfully patting it, just to make sure the inanimate object in your arms is okay…

And that’s the first reminder. Pang. Wrench. Oh.

You’re a mum.

You rock in the same way a fish blows bubbles. Nothing comes more naturally.

Now with baby on the brain, you look at your watch …

12.08pm: Lunchtime 

Ah, little baby would be having their midday nap now. I always think of my kids at lunchtime because this is the most peaceful part of their day. And any mum’s day. A sleeping baby is truly the most beautiful sight. Not just because of the relief. Because it’s beautiful. It’s easy to miss. But you won’t miss it for long because the highlight of the day is sitting at the keyboard in front of you. Food.

Eating on your own. A toasted ham, cheese, tomato sandwich never, ever, ever tasted so good.

12.47pm: Lippy top-up

Reaching in your bag, you feel sand from the weekend, a soggy packet of sultanas, a bandaid and a leaking bottle of hand sanitizer.

A gross reminder of your world away from work. Classy lipstick must be applied.

1.00pm: Pump it, baby 

It’s time to pump.

Your worlds meet. Finally.

Getting that milk going? Propping up your boobs in your office? Sealing up your warm breast milk? A strange collision of worlds.

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You’re like Santa with two sleds. The full-time sled and the working-mum sled. Holding both reigns more tightly at different times as you soar through the skies. But at this particular moment, the sleds bunk on top of each other and you’re a one-woman Santa. Pumping in your office is never going to be easy.

3.19pm : Toilet time

It’s quiet. You’re on your own. No crying. No screaming. No one’s crawling in and standing up against your knees saying

None of this at work. Not even a little.

‘mum-mum’. No conversations with small people about Octonauts or Queen Elsa. You sit there for an extra minute just to savour the silence.

3.21pm: Walking from the toilet back to your desk 

It’s always the most awkward of times. Walking past people after you’ve expressed milk out of your nipples and then someone engages you in small talk.

This is the hardest conversation to have. Ever.

Because you’re in a cultural BLACK HOLE. You don’t know the difference between 5SOS and ISIS. You don’t know any news/ movies/ songs/ bands unless it happened pre-baby.

Just nod, smile, leave.

And heavens, don’t start talking about methods of removing your child’s conjunctivitis or your birth story. No one wants to hear it. Ever.

5.00pm: Home time

Bring it. Who would’ve ever thought you’d be looking forward to getting home to the bedlam at home?

5.42pm: Itchy eyes 

It’s just moments before you walk in that door and your biggest lesson from today is: rubbing your eyes when you have mascara on makes them really, really itchy.

6.02pm : The homecoming

You wouldn’t think a cuddle could feel this good. But it can. And it does.

Not many people get a cuddle after work. What a privilege.

Going back to work after a birth is filled with so much emotion. It’s sort of like having a baby. Another baby. A subsidiary baby. Because a working mother has two jobs. An office job and a home job.

And coming home after that first big date with ‘The Office’ is like having one of the best dates of your life. Hopefully.

Happy first day to Leigh Sales and all the working mums who’ve headed back to work this year.

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