As I approach my two month “anniversary” of being back at work after our daughter’s birth, I’d like to commemorate this time with a few nuggets of wisdom the experience of being a working mother (now a second time around) has taught me.
I work at a company that is notoriously gracious with benefits, and fully paid parental leave is just one among many that we employees enjoy (to differing degrees) globally. I won’t go into specifics for other countries, but for me, I’ve gotten sixteen weeks off both times. Fully paid. That’s more than many people get in other places, and yet, if you are a mother (or a father, really), you will know that it’s still not enough. If one were to ask me what an ideal maternity leave period would be, I’d say 6 months without skipping a beat. Any time before that, and your hormones are still raging, you’re still your baby’s source of nourishment, and for many you’re still trying to make it through the night. That said, we make the most we can out of what we get, and now that I’m on my second time around doing all this, here are a few important things I’ve learned:
#1: Maternity leave is a gift. Treasure every minute of it by trying not to dwell on the tough stuff (you’ll miss them), and by taking everyday by the day
#2: You will be shattered about going back to work (just like the first time), so make the most of those last few weeks of leave by doing things you love, and spending precious moments with your kids
#3: [As much as you can] Be honest and choose sanity and balance those first few weeks at work, even if it means making difficult (or potentially unpopular) choices. Have frank conversations with your manager at least a week before returning to work about what is expected of you, and what your game plan is for ramping up. Be honest with him or her about your non-negotiables (home by 7? not answering calls or pings between 9pm and 8am?), and ask in turn for what they would like to see from you to consider you to be performing at a high standard (how would they like you to prioritize your projects? Which ones are the most urgent and impactful? Where would they like to see you growing toward?)
#4: The second time is actually less difficult, but still by no means easy. It’s less difficult because you know what you’re doing, and (if your kids aren’t too far apart) you still remember how hard it was the first time around. It’s not easy because it’s still a massive adjustment, with the added complication of balancing a home life with two children now, not just one. Have no expectations or delusions of grandeur that the transition will be smooth this time just because you’ve done it before
#5: Protect your pumps. If you are like me and want to maintain supply at roughly 1-2 meals extra a day (pumped) vs what your child needs (so as to build up a healthy store for all those business trips in the pipeline), then you will have to be disciplined about pumping. Treat your pumps like important meetings, and if there’s really no choice but to take a meeting during pump time, try your best to do them together (bring a cover and a quiet hand pump to a meeting and sit in the back of the room, for example). However, I’m aware that not all work environments are so friendly to new moms, so if that isn’t possible then just make sure you double down on your next pump and empty. The science behind it is that your supply won’t go down if you do empty out to make up for a missed pump. Supply only suffers after several missed pumps in a row that you don’t empty out (your body starts to think it doesn’t need to produce for that pump so it gradually stops). If you need help “getting to empty”, learn some good hand expression techniques. That works wonders for me.
#6: Slow down. Similar to my advice about enjoying those last few days of maternity leave, in general, you want to slow down and enjoy every second you do have with your kids. You will likely be exhausted
#7: Don’t take your stress home with you. Learn to compartmentalize. It’s difficult, but not impossible, to leave work behind when you come home to spend time with your kids. It takes discipline, but it will be worth it. If you’ve had a tough day, on the way home take some time to pray or meditate and clear your mind. Enter your home with at least a smidgen of renewed energy and try to draw positive vibes from your kids and their unbridled joy at having you home with them.
#8: Nourish both body and soul. I know it probably seems impossible on top of mothering 24/7, and squeezing 100% work capacity in between, but you need to make time for your body and soul. On the body: Whether that’s just doing 100 squats a day for 10 minutes in the morning, or setting aside 3 days a week to do 15 minutes of yoga, or even just walking around the mall 3x a week for 2 hours at a brisk speed, do something with your body 3-5 times a week to get those happy hormones rushing through your blood stream. On the soul: Take time to meditate, pray, start a devotional, read a book. Do things that you think you don’t have energy for, but actually make you feel more rested. You’ll thank yourself for that one day.
#9: Last but not the least: If at any point you feel that you need help, that you’re struggling, that you’re overwhelmed, that your hormones are getting the best of you and logic is failing you, “think of what it is you need that might help you, and ask for it.” Being open with those around you about what you are going through and struggling with is not a sign of weakness, and it better sets you up for success when you set aside pride and allow those who love you (and want what’s best for you) to help you through a rough spot. Of course, there is something to be said about growing in character (try not to complain about every little thing, and do try to see the silver lining in whatever situation you may be facing). However, if something is “off” (baby blues, postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, or just general workplace stress eating into your well-being and causing worse-than-average fatigue), do not hesitate to ask for help, and be open about what you need when you need it. Your body has just undergone multiple drastic transformations in just several months, and you shouldn’t expect to be “all normal, 100%” right off the bat. Approximately 10-15% of all women will suffer from postpartum disorders, and approximately (a whopping) 80% of women experience the “baby blues.” If you are feeling down, troubled, or need a helping hand, don’t worry, you are not alone, and asking for help will benefit you and your family in the long run.
Hopefully this list was of some help to all your returning working moms. More power to you as you fight to maintain that fine balance between work, and life (especially your husband and children). You are Superwoman, and you are doing great.