I’ve gone back to work after maternity leave three times. Each time it was an emotional wrench and a logistical nightmare rolled into one.
Each time, I learned bits along the way to make things a little easier, mostly by trial and error if I’m 100% honest.
Here are some tips I have to make the first few weeks a bit easier for you.
1. Get something new to wear.
Get your hair done, do your nails and check that you still own makeup. Yes, the first tip is a shallow one, but sometimes shallow things help your confidence. It’ll stop you fussing about what fits and you’ll know what you’re wearing the first day back. It doesn’t have to be expensive, I went back in a skirt and top from Tesco to many compliments, just get something that you feel good in. And find your work shoes. And buy spare tights.
2. Get family to mind baby the first few days or part time the first few weeks to ease yourselves into your new childcare regime, and to work through the inevitable sickness that comes with a baby starting creche.
3. Make a lunch date for the first week, have something to look forward to and a reason to leave the office.
4. Don’t go back on a Monday. That makes it a long week. Wednesday is a good day to return, long enough to feel you made a good stab at it without being as tiring as a full week.
5. Don’t expect too much of yourself. It is perfectly acceptable to spend the first day back mostly drinking coffee and eating pastries while catching up on all the office gossip. If you work in a large organisation the likelihood is that you’ll be three or four days back before you have access to your email and other work-critical systems and they’ll have resassigned the direct dial number you’ve had for the last two years to someone else when you’re on leave. True Story.
6. Expect tears, bring tissues, easy on the mascara. It is 100% normal to start to cry when someone asks you in your first week how your baby is or how you are getting on without them. You’re exhausted, you miss baby, and someone is being nice to you. Perfect formula. Try to get the tears out of the way with colleagues rather than clients though. And don’t feel bad if you don’t want to cry either, we’re all different.
7. Ring the tax office just in case you’re due any refunds from maternity leave that would be a good news story on the first week back.
8. Expect your baby to be sick or teething the night before you go back. You have Glenroe fever at the thoughts of going back and then baby is awake all night. You’ll need all the coffee I told you to drink above. If you can get your partner to be on baby duty the night before you go back, especially if you’ve a very early start or a long distance to drive.
9. Go easy on others. Remember that people who remind you about the hot cups of tea and solo toilet breaks don’t really think that those things make up for leaving your baby behind so try not to resist the urge to make sarcastic comments back or punch them in the throat. They’re trying to make you feel better, they’re just bad at it. And truth be told, hot cups of tea and solo toilet breaks are nice.
10. Believe in yourself. After my first maternity leave I remember going to court the first day and taking out all the law books to check every last rule before I arrived. Imposter syndrome kicked in. Most of the stuff I’d read I’d never read before. It’s a confidence dip, expect it and roll with it. Remember – you are good at your job and you can do this. It just takes a while to remember that yourself.
11. Book your next day off in your diary. Some weeks I got through five day weeks by looking at my calendar and seeing when the next bank holiday was, or booking a day’s leave.
If you’re about to go back to work after maternity leave you might like to read this piece that I wrote on going back my third time “The Bittersweet Return to Life as the Other Me”.