The War On Working Moms: What It's Like To Go Back After Maternity Leave
I can’t believe I am back at work.
It feels like conscription. Like my number is up.
I’ve been drafted to the front line against my will, with only my photos to provide me solace during moments of pause.
Even though I am one of the fortunate ones—someone who enjoys the company of her coworkers and has agreeable and flexible hours—it still feels unnatural to get up in the morning and leave my children behind.
After a year of change—of me becoming a new person and, quite literally, of me changing my twin babies diapers 16-18 times a day (no, really)—it’s time to leave them. After months of feeding, infant reflux, eye infections, face and bum rash, constipation, diarrhea, yeast infection under the neck (yes, it's a thing), cold, flu, teething (oh the continuous teething…), I'm finally back at work. After settling into this routine of living just to snuggle, to see the next smile, hear the next giggle, commemorate the next milestone; after flipping through 11 months on the calendar, and watching four seasons come and go.
After all this, I am finally back in the office—and I am not ready.
Is anyone really ready to go back to work? I was sure by the time my maternity leave ended I would be happy to collect my professional attire from the back of the closet, dust it off, and suit up for my big first day back. I remember my internal eye roll when I heard other mom friends saying how they’d love to be a stay-at-home-mom if they only had the money. I clung smugly to my independence, my pride in my work, the value in contributing to my household.
But now, I get it. This time at home with my girls—my twin peanuts who are ready to turn the corner of their first year of existence—goes way beyond the value of any monetary reward. It’s no wonder moms repeatedly contend that it’s the most challenging and most rewarding ‘job’ of all. For the last 11 months, it has been my ‘job’ to care for these girls, but it’s so much more than that. This ‘job’ is something of a privilege; being a mom means influencing personality, fostering the foundations of love and empathy and kindness and integrity. I am building people at their core. I have settled into this maternal role, and while I may not always be employee-of-the-month, I have plenty of experience under my belt and I am ‘passionate about my work.’ I don’t want to change, I like being just ‘Mom’ right now. I finally feel human again, and it’s been a lifetime since I felt like that.
I have been back to work for one week and there have been some tears in this transition—and I imagine more to come. I am grateful to have caregivers lined up who will love and provide for my girls in my absence. I am glad my girls are preparing to spend more time with their Dad who they love the most (after me, of course). But this is mere Tylenol to the headache of packing up my bags and departing to work every morning. It’s the old ‘rock and a hard place’ scenario; in this day and age, many of us need the dual income to maintain the lifestyle we want. I want the most for my girls, and while I am reluctant to leave them, I see the bigger picture—and in it, the evolution of my role as a parent.
One week down as a ‘working mom’ and I have gained some amazing *ahem* perspective. I never understood my mom friends, who arrived late to work in the morning, but still managed to make a stop for coffee. Now, I get it. Having that coffee is like having your shirt on before you head out the door. Not every morning is a manageable one; shit happens, and you need to roll with it. But in the world of parenting, coffee is non-negotiable.
I’ve gone from pre-mom morning prep—stylish-professional with makeup and shampooed, flat-ironed hair—to mom morning prep; a tidy(ish) member of the workforce with zero makeup and a scraped back ponytail that can wait that extra day to be washed. I have gone from budgeting personal time in the morning to budgeting household time—diaper changes, morning bottles, distractions, drop-offs, and inevitable delays.
I have gone from sweating the small stuff to taking it all in stride. I have learned to function on far less sleep, and constantly wonder why I ever complained about being tired before the twins arrived. I have accepted that there is no magical recipe where we can ‘have it all’, no instruction manual and that I am successful in my own right every day. Every morning that I make time for my girls is a small victory, and if I make it to work on time, with a smile on my face, well that's just an added bonus.
After all, appreciating the small things in life all add up to a comprehensive happiness—something I think we’re all looking for.