The 5 stages of returning to work after maternity leave

Last week was my first back at work after nearly three months of full-time mommyhood.

While this was my second time around, there is still nothing quite as jarring as being forced out of your sweatpants and fuzzy socks and into non-elastic waistbands and heels overnight.

Both with my 2-year-old daughter and now with my infant son, I’ve experienced the highs, lows, and the inevitable cringe-worthy moments of working motherhood.

1. Wallowing

Also known as grief, wallowing in sorrow lasts pretty much the entire week before return.

Suddenly, baby’s piercing screeching that typically has me shuffling and shushing across the house like a crazy person has turned into sweet little lamb cries.

I lament never doing the museum circuit or taking a stroller strides class and instead going to Target every day.

(On the plus side, going back to work = saving tons of money on too-adorable-to-pass-up baby clothes and Dollar Spot trinkets.)


Come the weekend before, I decide that if I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it like a boss.

If I learned anything after going back to work the first time, it’s that I must do everything on Sunday and then do maintenance work every evening throughout the week.

I make myself a handy to-do list, inclusive of: lay out everyone’s clothes, organize the nursery, get pump packed up and ready to go, put out bottles for prepping in the morning, dye my ridiculously gray roots.

Check, check, all the checks.

Sunday evening, I’m an unstoppable superwoman.

3. Fall back down to earth

Monday, Monday.

Mothers who have to actually pack up their kids and make it out of the house before noon are the true champions.

My children’s sitter comes to the house and yet Monday mornings will always feel like a marathon—except without a course map.

Somewhere between trying to do my makeup while breast feeding and coaxing a 2-year-old off my leg, I chug some coffee and give myself an internal pep talk.

My incredibly supportive husband drives me the three blocks to work and I somehow make it there by 9:15 (late, but, like — super early, right?).

4. Suck it up, suck it in, pretend like nothing happened

“He’s doing really great. Sleeping pretty well.” (I just fell asleep a little bit while we were talking. My son woke up three times last night.)

“It’s great to be back!” (Where am I? Why am I here? I’m going to miss him roll over for the first time, I just know it.)

“Oh, thank you — breast feeding really helps.” (I’m still wearing my maternity pants.)

Nod head, throw in an emphatic “mmm-hmm,” pretend you know exactly what my colleague is talking about. (I haven’t watched the news in 12 weeks — mostly “Sofia the First” and Frozen on repeat.)

5. Let it goooooo

Monday, I run home twice.

First, because I forgot to pack the flanges for my pump and am about to explode (a welcome excuse).

The second time because there is a free 15 minutes between meetings . . . and I forgot extra bottle lids . . . and I need to smell my kid’s head.

Instead of trying so hard not to be that mom, I find myself over-talking to coworkers about my daughter’s obsession with her new Elsa nightgown.

I gush over video clips their sitter sends me from story time at the library.

I allow myself a few minutes of Camera Roll time during pump sessions instead of trying to do all the things at once just to prove I can.

I let go of all of the expectations of a perfect balance.

I make it through the first work week with an nearly complete to-do list. I experience my son’s first giggle fit. I have a tea party with my daughter. I drink some wine.

Cheers to week two.

Sandi Villarreal is Web Editor and Chief Digital Officer at Sojourners. She lives with her husband and two children in Washington, D.C.

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