The struggle of returning to work after maternity leave

Four months after bringing life into the world and nurturing my baby girl, reality came knocking at my front door and I had to return to work. This literally marked the end of an era. An era of endless newborn cuddles, baby care, sporadic naps and the likes. We had built a cocoon and our own reality, which was far from that which I had been used to.

Before my daughter, I was a career woman with plans to take the engineering world by storm. I always thought I would pick up where I left off after the baby and strive. This did not happen. I hadn’t realised that being away from work for an extended period didn’t just put a halt to my career, but I had regressed as well. The first couple of days back at the office triggered my anxiety and really left me demotivated. I started questioning my career choice and whether I was still cut out to perform like I used to. My job was slowly turning into a place where I’d do what I needed to and collect a cheque on the 25th.

In addition to the anxiety at work, my responsibilities had doubled and I basically had two full time jobs. I was swimming in deep waters and I was drowning. I never expected my world to change this much and I definitely never expected to be thrown off course this way. This was probably the first time I had a taste of what it’s really like to be a parent and an adult.

But I didn’t want to give up and just be a mom. I wanted to keep the parts of me that still made me, me: the sister to four siblings, the colleague who’s willing to help and a caring friend. So, I realigned my stars and grabbed myself towards myself because although the battle was lost, the war was definitely not over.

“THE FIRST, MOST DIFFICULT STUMBLING POINT WAS NEVER ACKNOWLEDGING THAT MOTHERHOOD BRINGS WITH IT A NEW SET OF PRIORITIES THAT ALTER YOUR PERSPECTIVE.”

To all the mothers returning to work, these are the two vital lessons I learnt from my experience and two simple ways I got out of my own way.

1. Realigning my goal posts

The first, most difficult stumbling point was never acknowledging that motherhood brings with it a new set of priorities that alter your perspective. Sit and have a conversation with your new self to determine what you want out of life. You may find that you actually don’t want to pursue that full-time career like before or that you’d like to go back and do even more than you did before.

Whatever you decide, express this clearly to yourself and those who will be affected by your decision. For instance, schedule a meeting with your manager and let them know what you need from them and your shift in priorities, and find out what are they expect from you. Had I done this, I would’ve been spared anxiety and feeling overwhelmed. I wanted to be everything and more, instead of trying to find my happy medium.

2. Adjust my expectations to real life scenarios

Whatever your new goals are, always remember that you have the responsibility of keeping another human alive and happy, and this a full time job on its own. Be realistic with your expectations and remember the importance of self-care. You can’t pursue your dreams when pouring from an empty cup. A great idea before diving into the world of work is to take a few days to do a ‘dress rehearsal’ of your new routine or new normal. Refine it to suit you and schedule some time for yourself.

Although a struggle, going through this experience has allowed me to reintroduce myself to myself. After baby, I am definitely not the same person and I have different wants out of life. I may still want the career, but I now know it will never be at the expense of my own time and my time with my family. I’ve accepted the change in life and the change in me, and I look forward to writing the story of my new era.

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