1. Nothing about this leave is a “vacation.”
Your colleague just went out on maternity leave. Maybe she's your boss. Or your direct report. Or a teammate on one of your big projects. You saw it coming, as her belly grew bigger or her adoption dreams came true, but now she's out of the office, has a baby and has emailed you the baby pics to prove it.
Chances are, your new-mama colleague would love to tell you what's going on in her life right now, but she's probably a bit all-consumed at the moment. So as a coach for new mamas, I'm here to help you get a glimpse into her reality and relay some of her sleep-deprived thoughts to you:
This keeping-a-small-human-being-alive business is the most physically demanding work I've ever done.
Nothing about this leave is a vacation, and labor was short compared to the marathon of feeding, waking, rocking, cleaning, burping and soothing a new baby. I'm in love with my cherub. And I'm exhausted. Anyone whose body was turned inside out and whose sleep gets interrupted approximately every two hours and 12 minutes for weeks and weeks on end would be. I know it's hard to imagine (it certainly was for me), but even managing to take a shower is a Herculean challenge.
If you don't hear from me, it's not because I've forgotten you or because I don't care about my job.
Things are a bit of a haze in the new-baby world. I still care about you, my career and our relationship. And I promise to reconnect when my leave is over. For now, though, I'm focusing on the home front.
If you're inclined to give a gift + don't know what to get, please send (don't bring) food.
People have given me about 50 baby blankets already. Flowers are nice, but I'll feel bad when I can't manage to take care of them. But I'm hungry. My husband is hungry. And we don't have time or energy to cook. Please just send over some food, or drop it off on our doorstop and text me to let me know it's there. While I'd love to see you in person, if you come to visit with the food, I'll get stressed out by the state of my house, the crankiness of my baby and my own appearance. Please save me from that stress.
I'll bring my baby to the office to visit when I'm ready.
I promise. I know many of you are dying to meet the little munchkin, and I am equally excited to share the amazing cuteness with you. I'll let you know when I'm ready to come, but don't expect me to be able to predict my arrival or departure times. My new little boss has a mind of his own about timetables.
I love my baby. And my career. I'm not conflicted about loving both.
This isn't a zero-sum game, folks. You know how you can start loving someone in your life without losing any love you had for someone else? Same thing here. Yes, I'm now pulled in more directions than before, but it doesn't mean I've given up my passion for the work I knew and loved before baby arrived on the scene.
My dear boss, I'm learning some new skills with this motherhood thing that are going to make me an even more amazing employee than before.
No, it is not true that I've somehow lost value to you. While you may not see it yet through the bleary eyes or ponytail, I am and will be a leader in your organization. I anticipate the needs of others (clients, screaming babies) in ways you've never imagined. I now prioritize like nobody's business. I will prove to be more efficient than anyone on the team. And I have a newfound superpower of connecting with people thanks to this fundamental thing many people do called having children. If you thought I had some of those qualities before, you haven't seen anything yet.
My dear direct report, hang in there.
I'm excited for you to be a leader, and I know you will grow in my absence. While I may have been nervous to let go of the handlebars a bit as I exited, I know you will thrive while I'm gone. You're smart and you have good instincts. Trust yourself and know you are learning new skills. Let's block time for some good conversations when I'm back in the office so we can figure out our respective paths moving forward. Just because I did something before I went on leave doesn't mean I necessarily need to take it back upon my return.
To all my colleagues: I want you to believe in me for the long haul.
My transition back to work is probably going to be rough. I'm going to be a different person than when I left, and I'm going to need a few months (okay, make that about a year) to navigate this new world of juggling work with motherhood, interrupted sleep, caregivers, bottle washing and kiddo sick days. Cut me some slack the first few months, and please, please grant me some flexibility. I won't be sleep-deprived forever (or so the experienced parents tell me), but for the moment I am.
Ask about my child. When my baby gets sick, tell me to take care of her first. And mean it. Don't expect me to return unchanged by motherhood, but do expect me to continue to be an amazing, talented, intelligent and thoughtful employee.
Keep me around and engaged in the work that's going on. I promise you won't regret it.