As my maternity leave comes to an end, I find myself with conflicting emotions. This is the longest I have gone without being in school or working since I began working at age 16, so it seems reasonable that my hiatus would be both a welcome break and yet unfamiliar waters.
My first feeling is that of sadness. Holding my precious baby girl each day, I am sad that I will soon have to hand her over to strangers to care for her. Since her birth, we haven’t been apart for more than an hour, so an 8-hour work day feels like an eternity. When I went back to work after N was born, his father was taking care of him for a few months and then we had a nanny (see nanny fiasco here). G, however, will be going straight to daycare. I know that daycare has its advantages– multiple caregivers provide a variety of experiences, a new environment provides novel stimuli, and similar aged children offer opportunities for socialization. I have done my homework in choosing the right daycare for G too. It is clean, bright, and fun and comes with good reviews. Regardless, I know that handing her over will be difficult for the first few days… weeks…. months.
My next feeling is excitement. While bonding with my infant is a privilege I am enjoying, I miss adult interaction and the stimulation of academic work. I recently found myself on the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) website doing a Maintenance of Certification self-assessment questionnaire and enjoying the challenge of multiple choice questions! Time away has given me new appreciation for the minutiae of my work day. I also miss my patients. After running into one of my patients recently, I was surprised about how big he had gotten since I last saw him and found myself wondering about how my other patients were doing. My coworkers keep me apprised of major events, but in general they have protected my leave time from work (as they should) and so I am excited about reuniting with these families.
I also feel nervous. Prior to my leave I felt like I had finally found a good work-life routine and now a second child changes that. I’ll have another daycare drop off/pick up to coordinate, another lunch box to pack, and another child to worry about getting sick. It feels like a flaming torch was added into my routine just when I had mastered juggling bean bags.
There is also frustration. Feeding my baby right now is easy: she cries, I give her my boob. After returning to work though, I will have to adjust the timing of feeds to coordinate with our morning routine and travel. Then, there is pumping, which takes all the beauty out of breastfeeding. Pumping at work also consumes any potential free time you have, impacts your ability to socialize due to segregation during pumping sessions, and adds the potential for exposing yourself to colleagues. When N self-weaned at 12 months, I couldn’t get rid of my pump fast enough. It came out of storage recently though to prepare for my return to work so as to stockpile some milk for G. Being prepared with frozen milk takes off some of the pressure of pumping at work, so I am grateful that I was able to do this during my leave and hope that it makes for less frustration later.
Despite all these feelings though, I am grateful. I am thankful that I was able to take an extended maternity leave, that I am returning to a job I love, and that I have a partner who supports my work-life balance and helps make it successful.
How did you feel about returning to work?