When I went on my Maternity leave, I set out my out-of-office email at work to say that I would be returning August 2016. At that time, 12 months felt like an eternity. And more so in my case when I got a chance to club those leaves with another 12 months of sabbatical (yup, lucky me!). But even in the very best of circumstances — perhaps I was lucky enough to take as much time off as I wanted — going back to work can be challenging for most women.
Just as I was getting used to being home with the kids and professional work life felt like a distant memory, the realisation of maternity leave coming to an end started dawning upon me early this year. The thought of waking up at 7 am and going to a job leaving two kids behind seemed impossible in the beginning. And then there’s the “mommy’s guilt” : How can you spend so much time away from your little ones?
No matter how long and hard you’ve thought about your decision to return to work, and how sure you are that it’s the right choice, you need to be prepared for mixed emotions. Am I so damn eager to get back to my professional life or financial freedom or independent self? Who’s going to feed the kids or check if they finished their meal at school?
When it came time to go back to work, it was no less than an emotional rollercoaster…a new feeling, a new emotion, a new guilt, a new fear- every single day! And this is how each day progressed-
One month to go before I resume work-
So here I am with only a month left from 24 months long leave! And the reality is starting to hit me- this world I know and love is about to change, whether I’m ready or not. My kids are no longer infants. They are walking, climbing, talking and are almost independent in most ways. Boy! it’s tearing me apart!
The smallest things have started breaking me- watching them enjoying their bubble bath, hearing them giggle in the other room doing some mischief together, even when they are busy watching TV while I am feeding them.
Those who know me would understand how I am feeling at this point. I know I would be with my kids at the end of each day, but things won’t be the same…because I will no longer be this person….
One week to go before I resume work-
Everything is an emotional trigger. I break down even while I open their cupboard. Every. Single. Time. My mind keeps going to all the “last times”: the last week together, the last cycle of our daily playdates, the last weekend of family-time.
On one side I am not ready to go back. I am sad. But then there is a part of me that is excited to get back to a job I love…perhaps that’s the only thing holding me together. I indulge in back-to-work shopping, lunch dates with bestie, revamping my wardrobe- this way I am trying to cover up the overwhelming guilt that’s trying to overshadow every other feeling.
One night before I resume work-
This might sound too dramatic, but this is one of the most gut-wrenching moments of my life. While putting kids to sleep, I am preparing for the big day- bag, clothes, lunch. As for kids, I cuddle & squeeze them and whisper in their ears- “Mommy won’t be here in the morning, but it’ll be OK. We’ll be OK.” (I think I need to say those words out loud more for me than for them.). Then begins a long horrible night. I can’t stop thinking about how everything is about to change. I question if this is what I really want. Am I even ready for it?
First day back at work-
Everyone told me that this would be the toughest day. But hey, my whole life I’ve been a work-horse and have always found great satisfaction and passion in my career. So how could returning to it be that hard, was my belief.
And you know what? My first day back to work just felt surreal. Everybody around me was welcoming and happy to have me back. As a matter of fact, those first few days were surprisingly easy. From meeting old colleagues to dressing up everyday to setting up the workstation- it just felt
kickass wonderful! I was wearing something other than my favourite denim shorts. And heels…for the first time in months I was wearing heels! I had a cup of coffee I could drink whenever I wanted, adults I could talk to all day about adult stuff, and I wasn’t getting to hear “mumma..mumma..mumma” (read : Shankar Mahadevan-style Breathless). It was awesome!
The end of my first week-
It’s Friday, and I survived. While it might sound to be a positive sign, in reality, as days are progressing, reality has started hitting on me.
I’m not going to lie: I’m tired.
While getting ready in the morning, it feels like I am putting on a disguise. My work/role, even though is so familiar, yet it feels alien! I forget passwords, names and even the basic commands of the software we use at work. I need to refer back to teammates for latest regulations, new product features, circulars etc. Everything seems so foggy. I question myself several times in a day- Will I be able to pick up where I left off?
I am getting to meet a lot of clients and colleagues from older times. The most obvious question of how I am feeling to be back at work has become the most difficult for me to answer. While in the first place I simply reply with a smile – ” It’;s good to be back, but it’s hard to leave kids behind”. However when someone really looks me in the eye and asks how I am honestly feeling, that’s when I fail holding back my tears. My moist eyes scream out loud- “I made two human beings and that’s all I can think about!!!”.
My learnings from this phase of my life-
- Be patient with yourself
- Be kind to yourself
- Don’t make any big decisions about work in first few weeks
With each passing day, I am undoubtedly feeling more confident of my skills at managing both work and home. But, I am yet to discover if mere “management” of these 2 critical aspects of my life will go a long way or not.
There is no downtime in my job, leaving me totally exhausted by the end of the day. From a full time job at work to a full time job of parenting- I wasn’t quite prepared for the physical exertion I would have to go through. I am in awe of all the other parents who make it look so easy.
It’s only been about a month and a half that I’ve been back, and I still feel like I’m not being my usual self. I’m worried that I look like a stereotype of a mom who doesn’t have her act together and that it shows in my work. But like I said, I’m still working through the transition.
It’s great being back at work: collaborating with team, learning new things, feeling that incredible adrenaline rush of achieving targets. But the best part of my day, hands down, is coming home and getting that warm bear-hug from my munchkins.
What helped you make the transition back to work from maternity leave? Please do share in comments below.