Returning to Work After Maternity Leave

Outside of trying to style your freshly-cut bangs all by yourself, there are few things in life that make you question your life choices quite the way returning to work after maternity leave does.

I was off for five glorious months, soaking up my newborn and my big girls and my husband, too, in the midst of a glorious Michigan summer and autumn. I am grateful to work for an organization with a generous leave policy, but it was too perfect to go on forever. Alas, it’s finally over.

The sadness had been creeping up for weeks, as I did all the things to prepare for my return. We had one last little vacation to Hocking Hills with my family and one last trip to a mid-morning swim class at Goldfish. I did one last lunchtime Costco run and one last weekday hike at Stoney Creek. I will unquestionably miss this.

Mom and Baby


It was both harder AND easier after my other babies. Harder because I was less rested and far more insecure. I judged myself on all the things I wouldn’t do instead of measuring the things that I would get the opportunity for.

After B, my first baby, I was still in the throes of postpartum depression when I went back to work. I was crying a dozen times a day for absolutely no reason and struggling to sleep, to connect, to smile. Working was a band-aid for the anxiety, because it gave me something to focus on. Still, it stole even more precious sleep from me, which didn’t help the depression.

When W was born, I was thankfully more stable, yet I came back to an environment where I felt tremendous pressure to perform immediately. I felt the guilt for having been away from my work team more acutely than I felt the guilt of leaving my young family to return.

Neither return-to-work situation was good. This time, however, I feel physically and mentally healthy. I work for a supportive boss. It’s the best-case scenario. But the other returns were still easier in a way, because they also held the hope and promise of just one more baby, just one more leave… someday. This return does not. The baby years are over.

Inside My Head

Here’s what I have to remind myself: I’m living the life I always wanted. I have a job that I love. My work is with amazing people. Travel in my career can be a bit stressful, but I have always enjoyed it. My husband Don is a stay-at-home dad by choice, and he is great at it. Going back to work was always part of the plan.

Even though it doesn’t feel good in this moment. The hardest part of going back is separating the sentimental feelings that represent the end of an era from the deeper feelings that might legitimately say, “This isn’t right for me anymore.”

I know that work IS still right for me. For us. For our family. What I want right now is to keep my kids little, and staying home won’t help that. Staying home also won’t make me worry any less; it just gives me different things to worry about. Working doesn’t mean I’m missing out on everything… it just means I’m missing out on SOME things. I have to keep perspective.

Back to the Bangs

Back to the freshly cut bangs: they take a while to get used to styling. The first few days are BRUTAL. You can buy all the round brushes and styling creams and headbands you want, but it still takes time and practice to get used to them. On your best hair days, you look styled and fresh and on-trend. On your worst, you pin them to the side and contemplate shaving your head to start over.

Sad FaceReturning to work after maternity leave is no different. You cry in the mirror and wish you could go back to the way things used to be for a while. But after some time and practice, you realize that you DO like the way you look and feel in this role… most of the time.

If you’re going back to work after baby anytime soon, remember this: don’t make any knee-jerk reactions in the first few weeks after your return. It’s supposed to be hard. It’s going to suck at times. But it will also get better with practice.

The exact stage of infancy that’s causing you agony now will be entirely different by the time your two weeks’ notice is up. Be patient, and ask for help where you need it… from your boss, your colleagues, your partner, your friends and family, the community groups at Detroit Mom. It’s all temporary. Keep your eye on the long game. The sadness and discomfort are not forever, I promise.

You got this, mama.

For more working mom support, check out A Working Mom’s Guide to Saving Your Sanity.


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