baby

'The 4 things I'd tell every new mum about returning to work after a baby.'

I went back to work slightly earlier than I originally planned (thanks COVID), when my son was nine months old. 

I think I was ready in some ways. It was my first maternity leave, so I'll never know if lockdown fast-tracked my desire to want to get back to work, simply to escape the four walls of my house, or if that’s just me. 

Regardless of all that, here is what I wish I knew about returning from maternity leave.

1. You will feel heartbroken for approximately 6-8 weeks.

Remember that feeling after your first heartbreak? That dull ache?

Well, it revisits you when you return to work. It took me a good six weeks to stop watching my phone on the hour, every hour while running through my son’s routine in my head.

Is he sleeping right now? What is he being fed for morning tea? 

It wasn’t until about seven weeks after I was back at work, and I found myself laughing uncontrollably with my co-worker, that I realised - hey, I’m actually enjoying myself again.

Sure, in those first few weeks there are moments of excitement - to have left the house, to be eating on your own, to engage in adult conversation - but the dull ache always pulls you back to reality, reminding you that a small but not insignificant part of you is missing.

The good news is? It fades, and of course you still *miss* your baby, but it’s not as all-consuming as it once was.

2. Any excuse to talk about your child, you will find it.

It’s like word vomit. I know when I'm doing it, and I recognise the polite smiles on my colleagues' faces as their eyes glaze over while I show them the sixth video of my kid who has just learnt how to bop along to music.

Yet I don’t stop. I know it’s a faux pas, especially with otherwise unattached, young and free people - they don’t really understand where you’re coming from. 

Other mothers might give you a couple of minutes, but no one finds your kid as interesting as you do. I’m giving myself the ‘six month rule’ - you know that rule when your friend first starts dating someone and you allow them to drop their name into conversation and ditch plans because you understand that it's the honeymoon period?

"He's cute though, right?" Image: Supplied. 

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3. Sometimes you come back exactly the same person.

There’s lots of talk among new mothers about them feeling ‘different’ once they’ve had a child. While you’re pregnant you try to imagine what changes might take place - will you lose your drive? Will you remember how to do all the things? Will it make you want to work harder than ever to provide the best for your new family? 

Maybe you'll want to be a stay at home mum. 

What I never considered was that I’d be the exact same person I always was when it came to work. I am still driven and career oriented, I still love what I do and want to be across what I always was. 

In my role I often have to deal with delicate or difficult situations, and I remember a previous manager telling me, “Wait until you have kids, your whole perspective changes and these conversations become easier”. 

Well, they didn’t. I still have the same insecurities I had before (hi, imposter syndrome), I still seek approval (am I doing a good enough job?), I still worry about work, and I don’t always switch off when I get home.

On this episode of Me After You, join host Laura Byrne as we deep dive on motherhood and careers. Post continues after podcast.

4. Be realistic about what your role is, and set your own boundaries.

Too often, women look to workplaces to give them flexibility (which they absolutely should - thanks to COVID we’re more flexible than ever). 

However even when it’s granted, as mothers, we are still trying to operate how we always did.

For many of us, we have spent our entire working life saying yes to every opportunity - to working late into the evening to complete a project to impress your new boss. When you’re unattached and have less responsibility, it makes sense that you can dedicate more time to work, and in some cases, put it before most other things in your life.  

We have to acknowledge that there needs to be a shift in your mindset. As an HR professional, I'm still having the same conversation with working mothers about squishing five days into three, about logging on and answering emails on their ‘off days’, about feeling guilty for leaving early to do pick up (despite no one actually watching). 

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Quick, watch this hilarious video about what your HR department is actually saying. Post continues after podcast. 


Video via Mamamia.

It's up to us to manage that little voice in our head that says we should be doing more; that makes us feel guilty for enforcing our boundaries, and being realistic about what can be achieved in our time. 

We need to remind ourselves it’s okay to say no. That it doesn’t make us difficult, or terrible at our jobs. In fact, many studies have shown that working parents are more efficient and productive in their roles. So banish the guilt.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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