Those days, weeks, and months immediately following your maternity leave often pass in a blur. You’re tired, you’re stressed, you’re missing your baby, or you’re feeling guilty for not missing your baby. Most of all, you’re not alone!
Here are 10 common thoughts among women returning from maternity leave that I’ve had or heard:
1. ‘None of my clothes fit’
No one tells you that the months (and sometimes years, let’s face it) after pregnancy are still hard on your body! You’re not with child anymore so most maternity wear is out, yet your pre-pregnancy clothes seems like they must have belonged to a supermodel. Do yourself a favor and go buy some decent clothes that fit your postpartum body…for now. Your body changes forever with each pregnancy, but you can get back to healthy, beautiful you in time.
2. ‘I’m failing at work and at home’
When you are up half the night with a crying baby, it makes it hard to feel like a rockstar at work. The opposite is true when late meetings force you to miss your baby’s bedtime twice in a row. Unfortunately, those situations are sometimes the reality for working mothers. The key is recognizing that it does get easier. Your skills will resharpen and the haze will dissipate after a few months. As your baby grows, the maternal bond will be more than strong enough to withstand some missed bedtimes and you will be more than strong enough to assert your boundaries.
3. ‘My baby is trying to kill me via sleep deprivation’
While sleep deprivation can, in fact, kill you, it does take a prolonged term of little to no sleep to create lasting harm. As everyone says, try to sleep when the baby sleeps. Take naps on the weekends (they’re nice, if a little disorienting). Although it’s tempting to stay up late and take advantage of the adult time, force yourself to go to sleep earlier than you would like if your baby is still waking in the middle of the night. Adding that extra hour increases productivity, reduces stress, and all around makes you a better person.
4. ‘How can I physically be apart from my baby for 8 hours?’
Some days are tough. As time goes on the ache won’t be as strong. Ask your childcare provider to send pictures and videos. Cherish the time you do have with your baby. Create an atmosphere of attention and love from the moment you walk in the door, until at least bedtime. Studies have shown the incredible impact of reading, singing, and talking to your child from birth has on later development.
5. ‘Who has time to pump?’
Never in your life will you empathize more with a cow than when you are hooked up to your breast pump. A beautiful experience it is not. But, pumping is a means to a great end, especially if breastfeeding is important to you. Put pumping sessions on your calendar so that you and others hold them sacred, even if they’re done in a creepy old supply closet with a flimsy lock. Many women pump on their drives to and from work, during conference calls (remember to hit mute), and get extra accessories to save cleaning time. If you can, use this time as a break for yourself to read, relax, and think about your sweet baby.
6. ‘Everyone else seems more put together than I do (and doesn’t have dried spit up on their sleeve).’
Looks can be deceiving. I bet more women than you think feel this way about themselves. No one notices other people’s mistakes, as we are all so focused on our own. Try to forgive yourself the pressure of perfection at this delicate time. Be kind and generous with your body right now. And keep some baby wipes handy for all the yogurt, poop, oatmeal, and whatever else you find caked on your person throughout the day. Try to institute small self-care regimens throughout the day, such as short meditation, or yoga practices.
7. ‘When am I going to feel like myself again?’
Everyone goes through this. You aren’t the same person, you’re a mother now. That experience forever changed you (and your body, see #1). That said, be patient and you will eventually get your groove back. However, post-partum depression can be a very serious issue. Often women ignore warning signs or are too ashamed to admit what’s happening because of the stigma associated with mood disorders. Pay attention to your own wellness and make it a priority.
8. ‘There are not enough hours in the day’
No, there aren’t but we do what we can? Prepare as much as possible the night before-outfits, diaper bag, purse, lunches, etc. Implement routines that work for you and your family to save valuable energy, emotional and otherwise. When you can, make meals in advance for freezing, consider outsourcing grocery shopping through Instacart, using a service like Hello Fresh or Blue Ribbon or ordering from a local meal delivery service (cheaper and healthier than takeout).
9. ‘Is my baby going to hate me for leaving him/her?’
No. In fact, a recent study showed that daughters of working mothers completed higher levels of education and earned higher incomes, while sons of working mothers spent more time on child care and housework. Sounds pretty good to me! Be secure in the knowledge that you are doing what is best for your family. As long as you can create some separation from work and focus on your baby when you are home, the teenage years should definitely maybe be a piece of cake.
10. ‘How does everyone do this?’
If nothing else, take heart in the idea that 70% of mothers in the United States participate in the labor force. Given the continuous attention paid to whether women can (or even want to) have it all, you can be sure that most of those mothers struggled at some point. Organize your home life as you do your work. Make a daily to-do list and make sure you’re not the one doing everything. Despite the early hour, try to really enjoy the one-on-one time with your baby before going to work and create a calm morning environment. Giving yourself extra time avoids the morning mania and allows you set positive intentions for the day.