What it’s like to go back to work after baby: The 5 emotional stages

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Life after maternity leave HoneyKids Asia
It's not easy to go back to work after baby. Does the mother’s guilt ever end? From pumping milk in the office, to answering emails from hospital or adjusting after seven years at home, here’s how the HoneyKids mums have made the transition back into working life.

I must admit that I used to think: “How can that cold-hearted woman leave her little baby and go back to work?” I’m now one of those mums I used to judge. And guess what? It feels very different from the inside. It’s only been two emotional weeks back in the workplace, so it’s all feeling a bit fresh. I’ve careened from such intense tight-chested anxiety that I’ve questioned whether I’m having a heart attack, to bouts of road rage (MOVE, PEOPLE! Don’t you know I’ve left my baby at home?!?) to finally, a modicum of calm. It’s okay. I’ve got this. The reality is, for many mums, going back to work is not a choice, but a financial necessity. But let’s be honest, we all work 24 hours a day; some of us just don’t get paid.

Now I’ve chosen to b a working mum, I’m loving our Ed’s article about how Harvard research proves kids benefit from having a mother following her career, and I’m all over checking out cool co-working spaces in Singapore like Treehaus, which has a children’s atelier (check out our review!). I’m also intrigued to hear other women’s stories about how the manage to juggle work and home, so here the HoneyKids mums have shared their own experiences…


The 5 emotional stages of going back to work post-baby:

1. DENIAL
From the moment I sailed out of the office to maternity leave semi-retirement, I felt a blissful fog of hormone-induced nesting wash over me. Enter baby Ted, and this feeling of sheer happiness only intensified. Sleepless nights, boulder boobs, leaking… none of this even registered as I nuzzled his warm, fuzzy head in the quiet of night. Even the prospect of returning to work could not disturb my reverie. Six months stretched out like an age before me, so far away as to not seem real. Work? Schmerk.

2. ACCEPTANCE
Two weeks before D-Day I finally faced up to the truth that time had come to reboot my working brain. Daily rambles around the Botanical Gardens, giant lattes (and cake), and indulgent lunchtime sleeps would have to be relegated to weekend pursuits. It’s on.

3. PUMP, PUMP, PUMP
Panic at the thought of baby Ted hangrily wailing for milk while I was work sent me into a pumping frenzy. As any pumping mum will know, the cold, plastic milking machine bears no resemblance to your child’s warm lips. Now I know how sore, tender and generally drained our poor bovine friends must feel.

4. FREEDOM
On my first morning of work while slowly sipping a piping hot coffee, I tapped away at my keyboard and felt the familiar stirrings of inspiration. I had a full, uninterrupted conversation about something other than the best brand of nappies, nipped out to a non-pram-friendly restaurant, and I went to the toilet ALONE.

5. OH, THE GUILT
Around the time I gave myself a fist pump for finishing my first article, the dreaded guilt set in. Guilt about my helper rocking my son to sleep. Guilt about missing my six-year-old’s Easter Hat Parade (whose face will she seek in the crowd?). Guilt about not responding to that email before racing off to collect my four-year-old from kindy. Better get used to the guilt, as just like my new mummy muffin top, it ain’t going anywhere soon.

Enough about me and my journey back to work. Grab a cup of tea and a comfy seat and read about how the inspiring HoneyKids mums are chasing the dream (of course it isn’t easy!).

 

Selina Byline (1)Selina Altomonte, editor in chief, mum of Maxton and Grayson
I took three years of ‘eternity leave’ and freelanced from home after having my boys in London: after two high-risk pregnancies, two premature babies and a lot of time in hospital, what I seriously craved from my ‘old life’ was working with a lovely team and the buzz of working in-house. (Don’t get me wrong, that city is one brilliant place to be on maternity leave, and I think pregnancy and birth had clearly wiped my mind clean of the emotional roller coaster that comes with deadlines.) I had all the self-doubt about getting back into my career full swing, but landed my dream gig much sooner than I thought (thanks, Chris!) and really do think I’m working with a bunch of good eggs. I also know it’s only possible to do what I do because I have an amazing helper who’s stepped in as my one-woman family support network. My advice if you’re having returning-to-work panic? Don’t catastrophize. Never forget that you’re good at what you do. And you will land on your feet.

 

Chris Edwards – founder and editor at large, mum of Evie, Louis and Darcy Chris-Head-shot
“I launched Honeycombers before I started having kids. So, as sad as it sounds, I only took four weeks off with my first and second kids, and returned to working at home. By the time I had my third, I was back in the office after two weeks. I remember a girlfriend called me on the way into work and asked “What are you doing?” and I just broke down. I pulled up on the side of the road, took a few deep breaths, and then headed into the office. I was so tired and didn’t want to go back to work, but I really felt like there was no alternative (I had to pay my staff). It wasn’t an easy time, but we got through it. I love my jobs and I love my kids, so right now I feel I have a very full life, which is awesome. I feel guilty if I leave my kids on the weekend as I have such precious little time with them, but I’m learning to deal with the guilt, steal an hour or two to myself and get some balance back.”

 

Lindene BylineLindene Cleary, associate editor and mum of Edie
I took seven months off work to have my daughter. It was really tough deciding whether I could bear to leave her, and also weighing up whether to make a career change AND stay in Singapore. In the end, I decided to take the leap as it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. The older I get, the more important it is for me to do something I enjoy. I’m a mixed bag of emotions, missing her gorgeous cackling laugh, excited to have some time out in the ‘real’ world where I can just be me instead of ‘mum’, and relieved to use my brain again after months of thinking mostly about poo, spew and goo of various kinds. I’m also fortunate to have the flexibility to work half my day from home, and I’m grateful for it every time I can scoop Edie up for a quick cuddle, and be there for bath and bedtime.

It’s important to me that we set an example for her of an equal world. I want her to one day find it completely weird that there was a time when women did all the child caring and men did all the earning. And I want her to do what she loves, so I can’t really go to work every day in a job that I hate, can I?

 

AniaAnia Carvouni, account manager and mum of Oliver and Lucia
I went back to work after nine months with my son, and then two years with my daughter. I moved from London, to Sydney, and then to Singapore in that time! Had I stayed in one country I would have gone back earlier, as I think it’s easier when you’re either going back to a previous role or have networks. Second time round I was more than ready. I was really looking forward to adult conversations, drinking a still hot coffee, and using my brain for strategic thinking about something other than how to get my kid fed, clothed AND out of the house. The kids have adjusted better than I’d hoped. There’s still separation anxiety, but they’re growing up and are super excited to see me when I come home (something my husband used to always enjoy, while I seemed like chopped liver as soon as Daddy walked through the door). I now have my kids running down the hallway, arms open wide for me too. It’s the best of both worlds for me now.

 

TracyTracy Tristram, writer and mum of Angelica, Jack and Rafferty
With my first baby (nearly 14 years ago… gosh, that makes me feel OLD!) I took just six months maternity leave before heading back to work far earlier than I wanted to. I was a wreck, and I was definitely not ready to leave my baby.  Financially, at that time, I had no option, so I got on with it and made sure that the time I did spend with my little one was about quality over quantity. With number two, I managed to wrangle seven happy (but hard!) years as a stay-at-home mum, and it was when my third child was three years old that I started thinking about firing up the old grey matter again with a possible return to work. That decision fell into my lucky lap through the wonders of Facebook of all things! HoneyKids were looking for part time writers, and my friend tagged me to suggest I apply… and voila! Here I am! From a personal perspective it really has been wonderful to get back to work this time around, and even more so with working in a new career. Of course I still get pangs of guilt when the constant juggling act of life gets a bit fraught, and school holidays can be a logistical nightmare, but being in work makes me happy. And being happy makes me a better, calmer mummy! Well that and a really rather amazing helper…

 

KateKate Reynolds, senior account director and mum of Harrison (and bump!)
I took four months out of my career to have my son. While there are always plenty of factors involved when going back to work it was a personal decision for me. I felt strongly that my identity required a balance of work life and home life. Having both work and family made me appreciate my precious time at home more. I am truly lucky to have a wonderful support structure in place at home, namely a helper I trust completely. She is fantastic with my son. As a result, I have been able to really balance both spheres of my life without having to try too hard or give up too much. There are of course moments when I feel stretched, and when the dreaded mother’s guilt seeps in (I’m only human). But overall, it works really well. Fingers crossed the feeling continues as I’m pregnant with my second!