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When Maternity Leave Ends

What I learned from returning to work after baby (twice)

By Kate Dunham, CozyKin

I thought it would be easier the second time around. I really did. I was a second time mom—I had this.

As I prepared to welcome my second daughter, returning was a no brainer for me. I’ve always liked to work and I went back to work after my first daughter. I didn’t think this time around would be any different. Have the baby, bond for a few months and go back to work—simple.

But as my return date started creeping closer and closer I became more and more anxious. And as much as I told myself to relax and enjoy my time with my little girl, I couldn’t stop looking at the calendar. “I have four weeks left. I have three weeks left.” I was torturing myself. I started fantasizing about selling our house, moving to somewhere more remote and lot cheaper where we could live on one income. Then I could just stay home all day with my baby to enjoy snuggles and long walks. Those fantasies became more vibrant as my return date approached and I had full on convinced myself that I did not want to go back to work. When the day finally arrived, I was a wreck. I found myself playing out different scenarios in my head that would prevent me from having to go into the office. Maybe I will come down with a stomach bug, maybe the train will be cancelled…maybe a flash flood will take over the entire city canceling all work everywhere. (Postpartum brains get really weird, fast.)

And here’s the thing—I love my job. I’ve always loved to work. But the idea of returning to work filled me with dread. It didn’t matter that this was the second time around and that I could remember eventually getting into a rhythm and finding happiness at work again. I knew I would be okay because I had been before, but I didn’t feel like I would be. And if there’s ever a time when you’re filled with ALL the feelings, it’s after having a baby. Everything is magnified. Feelings—good or bad—are BIG.

So, with exactly zero hours of sleep the night before, when my alarm clock went off the morning of my first day back, I cried. When I nursed my baby, I cried. When I started getting ready, I cried. When I filled up my subway pass at the station, I cried. When I scanned my work card to enter the building I hadn’t been to for three months, I cried. Let’s just say it was a rough morning.

As I sat in meetings and tried to catch up on the happenings of the last few months, I went through the motions writing notes and asking questions but it felt very out of body. I was there but I wasn’t. My brain was at work but my heart was somewhere else. And it felt like every time I was able to dig in and start getting into work mode, I had to pump, which just felt like a giant reminder of the baby girl I left at home. So, naturally…I cried.

The hardest part of day one was interacting with my team again. Now, I have to say that I have some of the best teammates around. Everyone does whole-heartedly believe in CozyKin’s mission of delivering reliable, quality childcare so parents can return to work with ease. We’ve all seen our CozyKin Moms go through exactly what I was going through and how hard it is. So, when people asked how I was doing, they really asked. As much as I wanted to say, “stop asking” or “just let me pretend this super huge thing isn’t happening to me,” I didn’t. I told them how hard it was but that I was managing. (And yes, by now you know…I cried).

Now, I’m in my fourth week back to work and things are getting easier. We’re starting to get into a routine at home, I’m finding my work legs (and brain!) again and leaving my little one and thinking about her gets a little easier each day.

What I’ve learned returning to work twice now is that like anything hard or scary, it’s not easier to go it alone. You need someone to talk to, someone to listen. You need understanding and patience. And you need a safe space to talk about how you’re coping and to ask for help when you’re not. Going back to work is hard enough. We shouldn’t have to also take on the extra task or pretending like it’s not.

At previous jobs, I did have to pretend. It never felt like a safe space to talk about my daughter, let alone how hard it was to leave her sometimes. Being a parent felt like something I had to hide or prove didn’t slow me down. I couldn’t say no to travel, I had to deal with questions around why I worked from home on occasion (someone actually suggested moms work from home to avoid paying for childcare…yeah I know). At CozyKin, it’s different. We all love little ones and a lot of us are parents, not to mention we all work with CozyKin Families in one form or another. Everyone gets it. Not a day goes by that someone doesn’t ask about my daughters. No one thinks I don’t work as hard because I’m a mom—being a mom is actually seen as an asset here! At first it was hard to talk about my daughter at work—it made me miss her—but now after having my second daughter and trying to navigate having two little ones, I realize how lucky I am to be in this environment. I don’t have to pretend like this huge part of my life doesn’t exist. I feel supported. I feel understood.

The biggest thing I’ve learned returning to work after having a baby is that having complicated emotions about returning doesn’t make you a bad employee—it makes you human. Maybe if we were all more honest about our experience and employers and coworkers listened, we could make the transition back to work easier for new moms and dads. Maybe if we allowed parents a safe space to be parents and employees, being a working parenting wouldn’t be as hard.

So, when your coworker comes back from maternity leave, ask how she’s doing—really ask. If you’re her manager, offer her some options to ease her back into work. She might not hit the ground running on day one, but know that she wants to—and will—again soon. She just needs a little time to get used to her new normal. In the meantime, keep asking how she’s doing…and stock up on some tissues for the office.

Kate Dunham is part of the CozyKin marketing team and a mother to two strong, beautiful and very spirited little girls (three if you count her rescue pup, Emma, which Kate does!). Kate's professional life has always revolved around creating content from fashion to high-tech but now she gets to write about something that she not only knows, but feels..and she hopes her words help other parents.

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