Back to Work

To a New Mom on the Last Day of Maternity Leave
It doesn’t matter if your baby is three weeks old or three months old.
It doesn’t matter if you’re returning to your dream job or just one that pays the bills.
It doesn’t matter if you’re leaving your baby with your best friend or a complete stranger.
No matter who you are or what your situation, that first week back at work is hard — harder than you ever imagined it would be.
And so here you are, on your last day of maternity leave, looking into the eyes of your precious, vulnerable newborn and wondering how in the world you’ll make it through tomorrow. You’ve just begun to get into your groove, you and this baby, and now you will have to start all over with a new routine. You’re obsessing over how many bottles to pack and trying to figure out all the pumping logistics. You’re snuggling him close as if it were your last chance to ever inhale that sweet baby smell. And every time he cries, you feel a pang in your heart, hoping his new caretaker will be able to comfort him as well as you and simultaneously hoping that she cant.
I know. I remember those feelings oh so well! And the worst part was that they took me completely by surprise. I’d always been driven to work hard and was convinced that I could immediately return to my same frenzied pace, with the postpartum phase no more than a (slightly inconvenient) blip on the radar. I initially planned for a four-week maternity leave, and I will be forever grateful for the boss who told me to wait at least six weeks before even considering coming back.
As I found out, even six weeks felt way too soon. Around week five, I discovered within myself the unexpected and overwhelming urge to stay at home forever. Who have I become?? I wondered. I already knew that motherhood had completely changed my sense of identity, but I hadn’t quite realized the full extent of the transformation until that moment.
Eighteen months later, I’m not sure that it ever becomes easy. There are still days when I feel that pang as I drop him off at school. Even though I like my job. Even though I feel confident that we’ve made the best possible decisions for our family.
But hear me out — it does get easier. And if I could go back and tell myself a few things for that first week back, here’s what I wish I could have said:
Find a way to transition back graduallyNote: this bit of advice is more helpful if it isn’t your VERY last day of maternity leave and you still have some control over your return to work. Otherwise, feel free to skip this paragraph. You may not have any flexibility in this area, but if possible, try and ease into your new routine.  Can you work part-time for a week or two? Bring the baby with you? Do some of your work from home at first? Try and schedule your first day back for a Wednesday or Thursday, so you can start with a short week!
Cut yourself some slack. You are doing something hard and brave and completely brand new. Let yourself feel all the feelings. It is okay to go cry in your car during your lunch break. It is okay to call the daycare in the middle of the day just to see how he’s doing. (On the other hand, it is also okay if you have a smooth transition and fully enjoy every moment of being back at work!! Guilt and agony are definitely NOT the things that make you a good mom.) Give yourself grace and compassion as you catch up on work, even if you’re not going as quickly as you want. Reward yourself for making it through the day…heck, reward yourself for making it through each hour!
Go print out your favorite pictures of your baby. Yes, I know you can just scroll through the hundreds of photos that are already on your phone (and you might still do this every chance you get). But there’s just something special about having a few photos stashed where you can see them throughout the day, without having to stop working and pull out your phone.
Most importantly, trust yourself. Trust yourself tonight as you prepare for the day ahead, obsessing over each and every detail. Trust that you have already made so many good, loving decisions for your child, your family, and yourself… and the rest will work itself out.
Trust yourself tomorrow, when you drop your baby off. True, you haven’t been a mom for all that long, but you are already the world’s greatest expert on your child. Be confident as you tell them what your baby needs…and what you may need, as well.
Keep trusting yourself. If this new season of life never quite “clicks” like you want it to, don’t be afraid to make a change. But don’t ever let other people undermine your sense of self-worth as a parent, either. Because one day, before you know it, you’ll wake up and realize that this new rhythm feels right– not just in your head, but in your heart, too.
Good luck, mama! You can do this. And just remember — the weekend will be here before you know it!
Callie Dean
About me

Guest Blogger Callie is wife to Jordan, mom to Luke and a yet-to-be-born-or-named baby boy. She lives in Shreveport, where she fills her days with music, teaching, writing, toddler-wrangling, catching up on laundry, and trying to find time for a nap.


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Reply March 18, 2016

Oh, this brings me back to my first day back at work (and more importantly, the night before!)... I agree 100% with the advice to ease back in gradually... that will always be my best tip for expectant and brand-new moms. Great writing, my dear! Love you!

Reply March 18, 2016

So very true--and whether the decison is to stay home or to go back to work, we all just try to do what's best for our babies. And there is no right or wrong to that.

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