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Organizing my thoughts about going back to work after maternity leave has proved to be more of a struggle than I realized. Between trying to carefully word things so as not to offend anyone (LOL) and struggling with my own feelings and guilt about the issue has made it nearly impossible to start writing this post. And every time I get started, I end up going down a path lamenting parental leave in the United States, which is a massive post in and of itself, so I’m not even going to touch that here. But after a sweet follower on Instagram reached out to me about wanting to hear about my experience, I knew that it was worth working through those issues and putting my thoughts down on paper… er… screen (?).
But before I dive any further, I just want to lay a few things out there:
1) This is not a “how to” guide. I’m simply sharing my experience, so please don’t mistake this for me telling you what to do (except for vaccinating your kids, because you should absolutely 100% do that.)
2) Let’s get one thing clear… whether you’re a SAHM, WAHM, or WOTHM (work outside the home mom) you are amazing and wonderful and cherished and nothing about your status of “working” or “not” can diminish that. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Both are equally hard and rewarding at the same time.
3) Fed is best. Breastmilk or formula, bottle or “from the tap,” as long as your baby is healthy, you do you.
Alright back to our regularly scheduled post…
I returned to work one day after Maggie turned 12 weeks old. I started dreading leaving her in the weeks leading up to it, but to be honest, I was so excited to be able to be out in the world again. Until Maggie received her shots at her 2 month appointment on Dec. 19, she stayed at home 95% of the time. With it being cold and flu season, we didn’t want to risk her contracting something that may cause a serious illness. I’m insanely lucky because Nick works from home and if I needed to run errands during the day, I could leave Maggie with him and work out my cabin fever that way. Still, I felt a little bit like a mom in secret. Never taking my daughter anywhere or interacting with people who I could talk to about her was a strange feeling.
So when the day came for me to return to work and for her to go to daycare, I didn’t cry like many people said I would. I was told by probably half a dozen people that I needed to wear waterproof mascara that day because I would cry, but surprisingly I held it together. Sure, I felt sad leaving her, but I knew that 1) she would benefit from this new environment and 2) I needed an outlet to do something outside the home. I love my job, and looked forward to going back.
For me, getting back into a routine was a huge help for my mood. I really enjoyed being on maternity leave, but I knew it would end eventually, so I didn’t spend tons of time doing housekeeping or other tasks. Instead I soaked up the time I had left to spend with Nick and Maggie. Now, even though I only see them for 4 or 5 hours a day, it really makes me cherish the time we do spend together. I haven’t exactly gotten a handle on the whole housekeeping thing yet… hopefully that will come eventually. (Though I can say, outsource as much as you can if possible. We needed our king sized comforter to be washed and instead of spending an hour or two at a laundromat, we used a laundry service. Definitely worth the money, and we only had to spend one night without it.)
Something that helped tremendously with the transition was the fact that we were comfortable and confident in the daycare we chose. In addition to being one of the highest rated daycares in the area by the state’s DSS, we knew one of the women who worked there, so we immediately felt good about taking Maggie there. After three weeks of it so far, we’ve all been sick (of course) but Maggie seems to like it and we still feel like we made the right choice.
As for breastfeeding, we’ve been exclusively pumping since Maggie was about three weeks old. Because of that, going from pumping at home to pumping at work really hasn’t been a huge adjustment for me. In fact, I’m able to take a few minutes each day at my desk to think about Maggie (as if I don’t think about her constantly already) which helps tremendously. I’m extremely lucky in that I have a private office with a door that I can open and close as needed. I simply place a sign on the door (a very cheeky one featuring a photo of a cow) and plug in like normal. I do find that when I’m pumping, it helps to look at photos of Maggie instead of continuing to work. But the number one thing is to be comfortable.
As for gear, these have been the most helpful:
Hands-free pumping bra – If you don’t already have one, what are you doing with your life?! The first few days of pumping without this thing were miserable. My hands cramped and I was so bored not being able to use my phone. I tried a pumping bra from Target but it wasn’t large enough for me, so I ended up buying this adjustable pumping bra from Amazon. Highly recommend it!
Pumping tote/backpack – Many pumps come with a super cute and portable tote, but I registered for this Bananafish backpack and it has been super helpful.
Medela Quick Clean Breast Pump Wipes – Since I don’t have my full cleaning set-up at work, these wipes have been incredibly helpful. I use two per day, once for my morning pump and one in the afternoon.
Breastmilk cooler bag – Since I have to store my milk in a shared fridge, I’d rather keep it hidden (not that there’s anything to be ashamed of, just my preference) so a cooler bag has been a great thing to have. I’m using one that a friend passed down to me, but this one is super cute too!
So far, things have gone well and it hasn’t been as big of an adjustment as I expected it to be. I’m lucky to have a supportive partner, a fairly laid back baby (knock wood) and understanding co-workers. Ask me again in a month if I’m as optimistic as I am now, and we’ll see if my answer changes.