Returning to work after having your first child is a different experience for every mom. With many pressures from grandparents, parents-in-law, partners and employers, doing what is expected — or "recommended" — might be easier than following your gut. But learning to trust what feels right to you is essential. These working moms, who have built their careers while raising their families, share their hearts and experiences, offering you the opportunity to learn and shape your own approach to returning to working post-baby.
A recent study compared a parent’s love for their child and an entrepreneur’s love for their company and found the two emotions were strikingly similar. That being said, when founder and CEO of Wine & Design Harriet Mills returned to her growing business after having her third child, she didn’t set up the right precautions to ensure she had time for both of her great loves. "Being a founder/owner of a small business, I really never get any time off," she said. "I wish I would have known to create a schedule so it would have made me go home more often at the beginning instead of staying at work all day. I feel like I missed a lot of his first few months and wished I would have dedicated more mommy-and-son time."
Depending on your employer, the amount of time you have to return back to your cubicle post-childbirth varies greatly, especially in the United States, where maternity leave is still considered short-term disability, you might feel rushed to get out of the nursery and into the office much sooner than you’re ready. Blair Fillingham, the founder of MTRNL.com said if she could go back, she would have delayed her return date. "I wish I had known that I didn’t have to go back immediately," she said. "At the time, I felt as though if I didn’t go back ASAP then I would lose my job or lose momentum in my career. I didn’t think I could live comfortably without my salary. I didn’t want to be labeled as a 'stay-at-home-mom.' If I had known what I know now, I would have asked for an extended unpaid leave of absence, a part-time position, or I would have resigned."
And not in a bad way, according to Coral Chung, the founder and CEO of Senreve. It wasn’t that she was unhappy becoming a mother or sad to return to work, but that she expected everything to be back to her pre-baby routine ASAP. "The most difficult thing for me was the idea of 'easing my way back.' I wanted everything to be back to normal, performing at 100 percent right away," she revealed. "That expectation was just overwhelming, and I ended up disappointed in myself sometimes. I was also surprised by the guilt and separation anxiety I felt about leaving my baby with a caretaker. I think it's important to give yourself at least three to six months to transition, physically and emotionally."
Do you find yourself in the camp of moms who is actually — dare we say it? — excited to go back to work? For Tammy Niemann, the co-founder of Total Training, who is currently expecting her second child, going back to work actually allowed her to truly enjoy motherhood. "It offered me a sense of normalcy after the constant newborn cries and sleepless nights," she said. "It gave me the time to find 'me' again and to have adult conversations that weren’t about ounces of breast milk and the color of my daughter’s poops. It calmed my postpartum brain and forced me to focus on something other than my first-time mom obsession of checking to make sure my daughter was breathing when she slept. As scared as I was to drop her off at day care that first day, there is truly nothing like watching your child's face light up when you walk in the room to pick her up."
While some moms may be able to find the happiest equilibrium between maintaining a busy work schedule and pumping every few hours, for Elizabeth Lane, the founder of Quarterlane Books, a healthy work-life balance was the goal — but not what happened. "When I started back to work, I thought I had mapped out the perfect work-life balance," she admitted. "I would work this many hours in the day and then be able to shift seamlessly into home life for my husband and girls. But reality quickly proved that impossible, and I found myself chasing after balance rather than settling into the truth of the situation: that some days would skew heavily towards work and some days very little work would get done for the needs of my family. In hindsight, I wish I had known that instead of achieving [...] my work-life [balance], I would find grace: the space to accept that on any particular day, every task might not be completed in balance, but over the course of the week, tasks leveled out and reached an equilibrium. The key piece was that I couldn't force this — the 'balance' only happened when I let expectations go."
Erika Boissiere, a licensed marriage and family therapist and founder of The Relationship Institute of San Francisco, wasn’t a fan of the idea of maternity leave and instead decided to work up until her due date. Though she thought she was making the right choice for her lifestyle, going from supersonic to snail-paced proved problematic. "I found that going from the feeling of 80 mph from full-time work down to 10 mph on maternity leave was a hard gear shift on my overall mood," she said. "I wish I had tapered off before heading out on maternity leave and on the return to work eased in a bit more."
The greatest takeaway cardiologist Dr. Jennifer Haythe had from maternity leave and returning back to work was that no matter what, your child will remember who you are, be excited to see you — and yes, we promise, love you. "I think women have so much anxiety that your child won't know you or that you will miss a crucial moment," she shared. "I came to realize that it was a wonderful thing that my child could attach and love yet another person (the nanny) and that the more love in their life the better."
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