Excited, sad or both – dealing with the end of your maternity leave can be tough.
You have stuffed the freezer full of breastmilk, your nanny has been given a minute-by-minute checklist of what your baby needs, you have even bought yourself a new “going back to work” outfit – you are ready to go back to work. But are you prepared for how you will actually feel on the day?
For some mothers the thought of going back to work leaves a hollow feeling in the pit of their stomachs, while there are just as many mothers who are desperate for some adult conversation, and feeling ambivalent is perfectly natural too.
As are feelings of guilt about leaving your baby, or guilt that you’re actually excited about some time away from poo nappies and baby babble. You may even feel jealous of the time your caregiver will spend with your little one.
“The key,” says trainee psychologist Georgiana Dolman, “is to embrace your decision and try to deal with any mixed emotions before your first day back at work. It’s natural to feel torn about leaving your child in someone else’s care, even if that person is your sister or mother. And it is also okay for you to look forward to new work challenges and some ‘adult time’ away from your child.”
One of the biggest concerns most mothers have when going back to work is that they will be missing out on part of their child’s life, like their first tooth, word or steps. Again, these are perfectly natural feelings and yes, as a working mother you may miss the very first step or word, but these will not be your child’s only steps, and seeing your child walk for the first time with your own eyes is just as exciting even if she took a few steps yesterday when you weren’t there.
If you let yourself mourn the things you’re giving up by working, it may be easier for you to enjoy the things you’re gaining.
The second main concern is the fear that your child will in some way “forget” you, or become more attached to the caregiver. “You might worry that your baby will miss you or not remember you when you return home after a long day,” says social worker Kim Heyman.
“Rest assured. For the first 6 months, babies don’t know that people or objects exist outside their line of sight. So chances are your baby won’t be distressed when you are somewhere else. However, you can feel secure that your baby knows exactly who you are – she recognised your voice at birth and studied your face for hours on end, and she’ll show her excitement when you come through the door at the end of the day.”
This too shall pass
Yes, going back to work can be hard on both a practical level and an emotional one, especially the first week. Take a look at your baby’s picture when you start to feel down, or take a few minutes for a mental “mommy-baby moment” and allow yourself to reconnect with your baby while you are away.
Don’t worry if you are emotional. The first few days will be – that’s okay. If you do feel like you’re going to cry, take a quick trip to the bathroom, count to 10 in your head, breath, regain your composure and then get on with it. If you do shed a tear, it’s not the end of the world. You can still be a professional even if you shed a few tears at work.
So before you press “buy” for that online home surveillance kit or sign your letter of resignation, take a moment to acknowledge your feelings, and don’t be too hard on yourself. Your feelings are a natural reaction, and it will take time for you to adjust to balancing work and being a mother.
If you can, go back to work on a Thursday or even Friday, so that your first week back at work is a short one.
Day 1 for Lameez
New mom Lameez Scharnick dreaded the day she would go back to work – 3 January 2012. “I started feeling down at the beginning of December. I couldn’t stop crying on that first day. My baby, Nayla, seemed fine, like nothing was happening, yet for me I felt like my world was being torn apart – definitely one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do.
"I kept thinking that while I’m away she’ll get her first tooth, take her first steps and say her first words, and I won’t be there to experience it.
“Luckily, day one went pretty quickly. But not quickly enough for me. I tried not to call home every 5 minutes – I didn’t want the nanny to think I was being a pain so only called about four times. I definitely felt like handing in my resignation. I felt like I needed to be at home with my baby, and I also asked anyone I could about how the flexi-time policy worked.
“I kept on talking about Nayla to my colleagues – they must have been so bored! It felt weird being back. I didn’t feel like I belonged anymore, and there were so many new faces that I actually felt like I was starting a new job.
“But when I got home that night and she just looked and me with this big smile and got all excited, my heart just melted. She hadn’t forgotten me or thought that I’d abandoned her. I’m really going to miss our time together now that we’re apart during the bulk of the day, but at least at the end of each day I know I’ll see that precious face again.”
Five ways to make going back to work easier:
DO A TRIAL RUN
If possible, start your child at crèche a day or two before your maternity leave ends. This way you can help her settle and adjust to a new caregiver slowly.
GET LOTS OF SLEEP
No matter how prepared you are, your first week back will probably be emotionally draining. Go to bed as early as possible each evening.
KEY TASKS FIRST
Work out what the key tasks are that will get you back up to speed at work and do those first. Also, do the important things early in your work day and leave the loose ends for later when the sleepless nights start to catch up with you.
CUT YOURSELF SOME SLACK
Going back to work is a very emotional time, so don’t make any hasty decisions about your future in the first week. Instead, notice how you feel, what you like or dislike, and so forth. If any uneasy feelings continue past a few weeks, you can make rational decisions about how and if to change your work or childcare situation.
Plan a reward that will help you get through the first week back at work. It could be anything from a pedicure, a coffee with your best friend or even a long Saturday morning lie-in with your baby, to reconnect after being apart all week. It will give you stamina to cope with the second week too!