When you become a mom for the first time your reality changes almost instantly. Four months ago I was a twenty-something, career focused, double income no kids professional. Today I am a thirty something, working mom who spends her extra money on adorable baby clothes and saving for family friendly vacations. It has been a monumental transition and it felt like it happened over night, which it did on September 25, 2014. in the labor and delivery wing of Swedish hospital.
For some moms having a child brings another huge life change, becoming a stay at home mom. For others, like myself, having a baby means enjoying a brief stint as a stay at home mom while on maternity leave and then BOOM hi ho hi ho its off to work we go!
When I am away from my baby I work in the HR department of a real estate company. Every day my team processes paperwork for maternity leave requests and we are constantly working to figure out how we can best support the working parents in our company. While I have always considered myself pretty decent at my job, I now know that I knew very little about what it meant to be a working mom.
I knew that having a child would change me entirely. I hoped it would make me a better person. But what I didn’t expect was that having a child would actually help my career. I recently came across a quote I feel explains exactly how having a child has contributed to my career development.
The best organizations…are those with emphatic cultures and managers who are able to step outside themselves and walk in someone else’s shoes.
-Dev Patnaik author of Wired to Care: How Companies Prosper When They Create Widespread Empathy
While I am not yet a manager, I do work with them on a regular basis and part of my job is helping them to be the most effective leaders they can be. Before having my baby I probably would have had to rely on a Google search to find “managing working mothers best practices”. But now that I know what it’s like to walk in a mother’s shoes, if asked, I can offer suggestions based on experience. I know what it feels like to leave my baby behind and return to work after maternity leave.
I feel like some companies, managers and even women have the opinion that babies get in the way of women’s professional career. I would argue that having my baby has helped me gain empathy for other working new mothers that will in turn help me become a more empathetic and caring co-worker and possibly one day manager. It feels like such a career accomplishment that I feel like I should write it on my resume, so that employers will see that I have a valuable life experience that can help an organization become a place where new mothers want to return and do their best work.
Being a new mom has provided me with not only an adorable baby, but also the ability to relate on a maternal level to a significant portion of the work force. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Characteristics of Families Summary, The labor force participation rate of mothers with infants was 57.3% percent in 2013. But what about the managers and employees who have never been a new mom? How can they understand and support the women on their teams who return from maternity leave? It’s not rocket science, but its not necessarily easy either. Which is why I wanted to share my experience of returning to work after having my first baby. Not every employee is going to be open and honest about the emotional roller coaster they are on when they return to work, but I believe so completely that it is important for employees to understand what new mothers are going through that I decided to share my own experience.
Being a new mom is messy
I used to get up every morning shower, do my hair and put on makeup. Most of the time I looked put together. I would curse if I dribbled toothpaste on my shirt. Now spit up has almost become a wardrobe accessory. There are days when I can go until noon before I realize its there. I shower at night and have to “do” my hair the night before as well because there isn’t enough time in the day anymore. By the end of the day it is likely that I will have circles on my shirt where I have leaked milk through my bra. I now wear a cardigan (thank God they are back in style) so that I have a cover-up for my ever leaking boobs. Most days I don’t look the part of professional badass, but it’s okay because most days my daughter is dressed in the cutest clothes, has coordinating headbands and looks freaking adorable!
I miss my baby all the time
I may not realize it and I may be really good at hiding it, but I miss my baby all the time. I have a picture of my baby on my desktop and it makes me smile every time I see it. When I am checking my phone, I am hoping that the sitter sent me a picture of her so that I feel connected to her. When someone asks how my baby is doing, it takes all my strength to hold back and not launch into a 30 minute schpial about how amazing she is and all the new things she is learning. I watch the clock to make sure I am on time to my meetings, am managing my time well and to see how long it is until I am reunited with my baby.
My schedule is no longer centered around me
Deyton doesn’t care if it’s a work day. It used to be that I would go to bed early when I had a big presentation the next day or I knew the day would be long. Now, I drink more caffeine. Because no matter what time I go to bed, my daughter still gets up about every three to four hours to eat and since I am breastfeeding, I do ALL the night time feedings. Tired is my new normal. Even when I am away from my daughter she still controls my schedule. I still have to pump when she would normally eat otherwise I will dry up and I will have to give up my goal of breastfeeding the first year. And sometimes when I think about her or see a picture of her, no matter what time it is or what important meeting I am in, my milk rushes in, usually springing a leak. It is one of the coolest and weirdest things about being a mom, having another human take over your body and life, but it is also exhausting and often inconvenient.
I know my baby is in good hands, but at the end of the day they aren’t mine and that kills me a little
My baby has the best caregivers in the world, but they aren’t me. They will never have the bond that I share with her. They don’t know the small differences in her cries. I am the only one who can anticipate and fulfill her every need and so there are days when I feel guilty for leaving her. I know that she is fine but it still kills me a little that I can’t be with her. It kills me that there will be days when I miss her “firsts”. Every day I come into work there is the potential that I will miss her first roll over, her first word, her first steps. So, if I am a little grumpy, sad or just quiet, it is probably because I am feeling a little guilty and bummed out that she is at home and I am at work.
Pumping at work totally and completely sucks
In some companies pumping is better than others, but it still sucks no matter what. The fact that some women have to pump in a bathroom horrifies me. Just washing my equipment in the bathroom is embarrassing enough. I am lucky that my employer offers a private, clean mother’s room, but it still sucks. Before I became a nursing mom, I enjoyed lunch and easy conversation in the cafeteria with the rest of the company. Now, I take my lunch up to the empty, white walled mothers room, hook myself up to the milk machine and eat my food while this noisy machine tugs on me. Walking to and from the nursing rooms feels a little like the walk of shame because everyone knows what I am going in there to do, bare my boobs. We recently got a fridge in our mothers room which spares me from having to put my breast milk next to my co-workers’ sandwich in the kitchen refrigerator, which is greatly appreciated and something I would strongly suggest. Like many other moms, my day is busy so I attempt to work through my pumping sessions. This means sometimes I get distracted. I have spilled my milk, forgotten to put the milk in the refrigerator (thus wasting all the effort) and walked out of the room forgetting to button up my shirt exposing my lovely nursing bra to a few of my coworkers (who I hope to God didn’t notice). Like I said, pumping at work sucks!
Working from home is my saving grace
My office is 2 hours from my home. This means that every day I go into work my eight hour work day is automatically a 12 hour work day. I leave the house at 6:00AM and I get home at 6:00PM. My baby gets fussy and is ready for bed at 7:00PM. Which means that when I go to the office I only get to see my baby awake smiling, giggling and wiggling for one hour, ONE HOUR, and in that hour we have to fit in a meal and get her ready for bed. That schedule, five days a week just wouldn’t work, which is why the two days I get to work from home are my saving grace. They are a huge reason I didn’t look for a job closer to home when I was on maternity leave. I know that other moms realize how important this arrangement is to not only my happiness but more importantly, my sanity. The fact that my manager has offered me this working arrangement has made me more loyal to this company than any other employee benefit.
It means the world to me when you make an effort
Whether you are a co-worker who stops by to welcome me back and ask about my baby or you are my manager who has gone out of her way to make sure I am returning to a job or project that I am excited about, your effort means the world to me. My manager is nothing short of amazing and the week before I came back she sent me an email about a few of the exciting projects she was looking forward to me starting. Rather than assigning me with a huge and super boring internal audit or worse, not having anything for me to work on when I returned, she took the extra effort to consider what would help me feel like an important part of the team. She choose projects that she knew I would enjoy and would challenge me, making me feel valued. Additionally, my team went out of their way to welcome me back at a team meeting and ask me about my baby. They oohed and awed over my little one and filled me with a sense of pride. I returned to a company and job that made the sacrifice I was making worth it and the small and large acts of kindness I felt when I returned helped me feel a little bit better about my decision to return to work.
But of course, these experiences are mine and I cannot speak for every mother who leaves a piece of her heart at the sitters house and returns to work. Every mother is different in the way they raise their children and cope with all the changes that come along with having a new baby. So, my final words of advice to anyone who works with a mother who is returning from maternity leave is this, say thank you for coming back to work and let them know that you truly do appreciate the sacrifice they are making in returning to work. Be understanding that some days she may need a second to cry because leaving your child is hard. And for all the working mamas out there, don’t be afraid to be open with your manager about what would make your transition easier and make sure you know your rights when it comes to your maternity leave, pumping at work and other laws that help protect the most important job you will ever have, motherhood!
Pregnancy Discrimination: http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/pregnancy.cfm
Pumping Laws: http://www.dol.gov/whd/nursingmothers/faqBTNM.htm