Returning to work after having a baby

This post is about my experience. I returned to work after being home with Baby S for 7 and a half months. Each mother (or father) is unique, each family is unique and so too is each situation. Yet, I find that all of them have similarities. I am also drawing more on a woman’s perspective, because although times are changing, most of the times it’s the mums who take mat leave. I would be very interesting in having feedback from daddies who stayed home with the babies so the mums could go back to work!

In Portugal we can take shared leave, 180 days for the mum and 30 days for the dad, with a bit of a wage loss, but not much. I then took extended leave for another 30 days, as I wanted to breastfeed exclusively (as per WHO guidelines) and this would land me on the 6-month mark. I would’ve loved to have been able to take the full 3 months we’re entitled for extended leave, but being paid 25% of my salary during that time was simply something we couldn’t afford. So we took a bit of a hit for one month and I still used up a month of holiday leave. And since this only counted from the time Baby S was discharged from hospital, there you have it: almost 7 and a half months.

Returning to work sticks in our mind. When we are home with the baby we seem to be in a sort of “bubble” where life outside is different. The schedules are different, the routine (or lack thereof) is different, we are fully committed to this new being and everything this entails. For some mums, returning to work stands for freedom, for regaining some independence, becoming “human” again. Being able to talk to grown-ups. And this doesn’t mean that they love their babies less, in any way! For others, returning is a moment of almost rupture, where they leave their baby in the care of someone else, a nursery, a relative, a nanny. They fear this day, the suffering is huge and so too is the feeling of guilt. In fact, guilt seems to go hand in hand with being a mum. Guilty for being with the baby and neglecting other areas, guilty for not being with the baby because she’s working or caring for herself, guilt, guilt, guilt… Ladies, we need to break this cycle! Each mum does the best she can with what she knows and is constantly being bombarded with the advice of others when frankly it’s none of their business. Did I feel guilty for leaving him with his grandparents (in tandem, as this was what we came up with to keep everyone happy)? No. Why? Because I’d started my acceptance early on. Can I change the circumstance of returning to work? No. So would should I get upset with what I cannot change? Would I have liked to have stayed at home with him for longer? Yes, of course. However, I know that a stress- free and happy mum send her baby peaceful vibes and meets their needs. Plus, babies are resilient. We are more heartbroken than they are, as they are getting to know the world and everything is new!

At the end of the work day (we are entitled to 2 hours off for breastfeeding so I leave early) I am fully focused on him. I know I’m quite lucky. I stayed with him for quite a long time and I have reduced working hours. My employers are understanding. I know I’m lucky in the knowledge that my precious
baby is with his grandparents, who love him and treat him well. And I always know what he’s up to. I know that I’m lucky that I didn’t have to start weaning early to put him in a nursery. I know all that. I could do things calmly and peacefully, introducing solids little by little while still breastfeeding. If he didn’t want to eat one day, it was fine – he’d eat the following day. And when it was time for me to get back to work, he was eating well. And when he’s with mum he still breastfeeds on demand. You know what? The night before I came back to work, perhaps sensing my anxiety, he fed many more times than usual… He’d latch on for about a minute, perhaps for reassurance and then turned around and went
back to sleep. It’s amazing how they sense things, isn’t it?

So, on my first back I “trialled” a new routine. Getting up earlier, leaving the baby in bed with his father
while I got ready, had breakfast, walked the pug… then change his nappy, get him ready, play with him
and nurse him before going to work. That smile first thing in the morning… it still melts me every sing
day. Our routines have been constantly changing, it’s only a matter or adjusting.
And the introduction of new routines for going back to work is, in my opinion, a good thing. It gets us
ready for what lies ahead, with given times for feeding, for school, for other activities. Ironically, the first
feeling I had was that I had more time. My work hours are mine alone and defined by me, not by that
tiny human who wants to be fed – NOW. Who wants to play – NOW. Who wants attention – NOW. Someone else is meeting those needs and I can meet some of my own. I have to note Mr B’s role in all of
this – I have an amazing partner who had my back every step of the way.

Perhaps I wasn’t gagging to get back to work because I’ve always been quite active and in touch with other people. I’d hit the gym three times a week (a specialized ante and post-natal care clinic that offers babysitting service), I’d go for walks, have lunch with friends… and always with Baby S in tow. I was so
happy the day I could sit him down on a feeding chair while I ate!

How did I feel going back to work, actually being in the premises? The expression that best describes it is Twilight Zone. And why, you may ask? Because I had the feeling of doing the exact same thing I had been doing all those months before, whereas everything was different now. The drive to work was the same, perhaps some roadworks and new buildings… the hallway to my office was the same… the feeling of being stopped in time. The constant questions about the baby, which a week from then no one would remember. Yet the change was in me. Now, I downplay a lot of what happens. My behaviour is one of observing, watching, not judging, only pay attention to what really matters. Some say motherhood changes us. Yes, it certainly does. What I care about now is going home to my baby.

And what about you? Have you returned to work? What was it like? Aren’t you back yet? What do you think will change?