Why did I create Mindful Return in the first place? Because I truly believe the return to work after maternity leave can be a better experience than it currently is for so many women. Here’s my story:
I’m a planner by nature. And when I was pregnant, WOW did I nest. I had name lists ready to go the day we learned the baby’s sex; visited a daycare per month; took a weekly prenatal yoga class and soaked in a few pages of Mama Zen each night before bed; ordered and set up the crib before I got too big; and read Happiest Baby on the Block on the beach on our “babymoon”. I also did the requisite nesting cleaning, managing to find and remove dirt from every slat in our bathroom window blinds. Pregnancy does strange things to the mind.
So it was only natural I would give some thought to my maternity leave and my ultimate return to the office. During my first pregnancy, I had a vague notion of how long I wanted to be out, a boss who was flexible about my return, and a few thoughts about not wanting to check my work e-mail until I came back.
But I really didn’t think much about going back to work – how my return would go, how I wanted it to look and feel, or how I could plan a meaningful return. I did some web searching for advice on returning to work after a maternity leave, and I didn’t turn up much that I found helpful.
There were endless lists, of course – “5 Top Tips” here, “10 Survival Strategies” there – but nothing that actually helped me plan a mindful return. Some helpful practical advice? (Bring extra breastpads, you might leak) Yes. Funny stories about inabilities to carry on adult conversation? Yes. Snarky advice I couldn’t relate to? (Don’t show your baby pictures to anyone lest they never take you seriously…really?!) Absolutely. But nothing that truly spoke to me.
I concluded from this dearth of intel on what it’s really like to go back to work and how to make it go more smoothly that (a) this must be something people don’t think too much about; (b) it can’t possibly be all that bad; and (c) I’ll just figure something out. And for the most part, I muddled through. The first time my return had its challenges, but enter second child, and I was in for a shock.
Perhaps it was that by baby #2, I had a more demanding job; perhaps it was trying to juggle a toddler and a baby on even less sleep than before. Perhaps it was a lot of internal pressure and unrealistic expectations. Perhaps it was feeling isolated and not talking to other moms who were going through the same thing at the same time. But my most recent return was a real low point for me, full of more mommy meltdowns than I’d care to admit.
Since my last return in the summer of 2013, I’ve given a lot of thought to how to make the experience of returning to work less stressful. Less anxiety-ridden. Less exhausting. And I started a community at my office where I’ve heard the stories and picked the brains of women who, like me, had gone through the same transitions. Now I am engaging a community here, online.
No matter your reason for returning (this is not about mommy wars), and no matter how long you’ve been home, my goal is to support you mamas who are returning to work after your maternity leave. Mindful Return a haven for thoughts from someone who has been there done that 2x, inspired by the wisdom of many wonderful mamas who have juggled the same thing.
Returning from leave shouldn’t be something you have to “get through” but something you get to create. You’ll return to work a different person you than when you left, with new skills that are – yes indeed – useful at the office. You’ll have different priorities. Different goals. And likely you’ll be sleep deprived those first few months and just trying to figure things out. But it’s a new, exciting phase of life worth being thoughtful, intentional, and not terrified about. Let’s explore here, together, how to create a mindful return.
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.