The 5 stages of returning to work after maternity leave

Last week was my first week 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 inevitable cringe-worthy moments of working motherhood.

Wallowing

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

Suddenly, the piercing screeches that typically had me shuffling and shushing across the house like a crazy person turned into sweet little lamb cries.

I lamented 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.)

Organizing all the things

The weekend before I returned to work, I decided that if I was going to do it, I was 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 made myself a handy to-do list, including: 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.

By Sunday evening, I was an unstoppable superwoman.

Falling back down to Earth

Monday, Monday.

Mothers who have to 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 breastfeeding and coaxing a 2-year-old off my leg, I chugged some coffee and gave myself an internal pep talk.

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

Sucking it up, sucking it in + pretending 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—breastfeeding really helps.” (I’m still wearing my maternity pants.)

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

Letting it go

The first Monday back to work, I ran home twice.

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

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

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

I gushed over video clips their sitter sent me from story time at the library.

I allowed 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 could.

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

I made it through the first workweek with an nearly complete to-do list. I experienced my son’s first giggle fit. I had a tea party with my daughter. I drank 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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