Returning to work from maternity leave isn’t a one-dimensional issue. If you ask the average person what a new mom has to grapple with upon her return, the first thing they’ll probably say is pumping at work. Or perhaps child care. But returning to work after maternity leave isn’t just about pumping. Or about all those logistics and details that need to be figured out to make it work.
Yes, of course, to have a successful return to work, a new mama needs to figure out how to nourish her baby, how to find a child care provider she trusts, and how to get out the door on time and without spit-up all over herself in the morning. And Mindful Return is about navigating all of these important logistical topics as time goes on. (I’ve got my own “Planes, Trains, and the Halls of Congress” pumping stories, to be sure.)
But to have a calm, mindful, and well-planned return, a new mama needs to think about much more. So many aspects of her identity, physical and mental health, work skills and strengths, and support network are suddenly on the table, and it’s worth spending time thinking about these other elements of returning, too. That’s why the Mindful Return e-course I created focuses on a new mama’s mindset, her ability to use her leave as a leadership opportunity, and the importance of staying connected to a supportive community – in addition to covering those logistical questions.
When I was returning after maternity leave, I certainly didn’t view my return in the 3-dimensional way I’m advocating here….though I wish I had. I spent entirely too much energy, particularly during and after my first leave, worrying about how I would get “caught up” on the work I missed. About the idea that my value to my employer was somehow declining as I left work at 4:30pm each day and took time out to pump. Or about how my baby could possibly be faring okay in my absence. I didn’t connect much with other moms who were going through the same thing. And I certainly didn’t view it as important to carve out time for myself. As you might guess, these aren’t particularly empowering lenses to look through.
If you are returning to work and want not only to “get through” this period of time but to live it fully, love it deeply, and radiate as the brilliant mama and professional you are, I encourage you to ask yourself these questions, in addition to figuring out how many ounces of milk to pack for your baby the next day:
• What small (even TINY) thing do you can you do EACH day to take care of yourself – both physically and emotionally? (Remember, if mama ain’t happy…)
• What skills have you gained since having a baby that are valued at work and make you better at your job? How can you communicate those skills to others?
• What can you do to take credit at work for a well-planned leave and return? Can you build planning your departure and return into your annual goals? Write about your successes in a performance evaluation?
• What pre-baby community in your life do you commit to staying connected to, even after baby is born? What other working mamas can you turn to for support, advice, and inspiration as you return to work?
Taking a look through all these lenses at the whole return – rather than just one piece of it – will help you feel more prepared for returning. It will also help keep in perspective those many dimensions of the beautiful mama you are…and keep you focused on savoring that miracle of a being you’ve created.
Want help with your own return to work after maternity leave? Join the next session of Mindful Return and get a 4-week curriculum and a peer mentoring community all in one.