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'When my maternity leave was over I cried when I dropped my son at crèche for the first time'

It’s ok to not feel ok when you return to work after maternity leave, writes Tracey Gunn.

Tracy Gunn

I CRIED WHEN I dropped my son off at crèche for the first time. I cried the next day too. In fact I cried every day for about three weeks when I went back to work.

I felt overwhelmingly sad. Sad that the days of it being just me and him were coming to an end; sad that I wasn’t going to be the one with him all day every day anymore.

You never really know how you’re going to feel about going back to work from maternity leave until it’s actually happening. Even the most practical and rational of women can find themselves suddenly emotionally hi-jacked and struggling to put on a brave face.

If this has been you – or could be you if you haven’t gone back to work yet – take comfort in knowing that you’re not alone.

Many of the mums who attend our Mumager workshop talk about the range of emotions that they feel about going back to work.

One of the most common things we hear is how difficult it is to leave your baby with someone else – and how guilty we feel because we’re not the one at home looking after them. (Of course, there are also many mums who feel guilty that they don’t feel guilty because they’re really looking forward to going back to work – and that’s ok too).

So where does the emotional hi-jack come from?

Louann Brizendine describes in The Female Brain how when we have a baby we get a huge surge of the hormone oxytocin in our bodies. As well as helping us to bond with our baby, it also actives a part of our brain that becomes highly attentive and protective towards our baby.

For our cave-dwelling ancestors, the stakes were life and death. For us modern women who are leaving our babies to go back to work – it creates a profound internal conflict. Should we stay or should we go?

If you’ve decided to go back to work but are surprised by how you’re feeling, let’s look at what you can practically do to help you cope.

What can we do?

Short term:

  • Easy does it. In the weeks before your return to work start by leaving your baby for an hour and then gradually build up to leaving them for a full day with whoever will be looking after them. This gives everyone a chance to adjust and means you won’t be coping with your first day back at work and leaving your baby for the first time.
  • Recognise that the first few weeks are hardest. Most women say that after 2-3 weeks their emotions have settled down. Once everyone gets into a new routine and you can see that your baby is happy – you’ll feel less torn.
  • Are you ready? Some women have already decided their return to work date before their baby arrives. If you feel you’re not ready to go back to work talk to your employer about extending your leave.
  • Feel confident in choices you’ve made. Do your research and choose the best childcare option for you and your baby. Remind yourself of why you’re going back to work – whether it’s for financial reasons, because you enjoy your job, or both.  Being a working mum doesn’t make you a bad mum.
  • Go easy on yourself – this is a time of transition.  Think about who can support you as you’re finding your feet. Whilst you may not want to confide in your boss find another working mum or friend who can give you a sympathetic ear.
  • Focus on what you and your baby are gaining – not what you’re giving up.  I realised that my little boy was benefitting from having even more people in his life who loved him. He was also getting the chance to interact and do fun activities that I may not have done with him at home. I was getting the chance to do a job I love and use my skills.

Longer term:

  • Think quality not quantity. Avoid the trap of counting the hours you’ve spent with your baby versus the crèche or childminder. You’re their mum and nothing or no-one will ever replace that. Make the most of early mornings, bed time and weekends and be present when you’re present.
  • If after a couple of months you’re still struggling to come to terms with being back at work – take some time to reflect and review. It may be time to make a change – either to your working hours, the childcare you’re using, or you may feel you want to take a career break and spend some time at home. Do what’s right for you and your family and don’t worry about anyone else.  We’re all just doing the best we can.

Tracy Gunn is from Mumager, which support mums returning to work after maternity leave.  You can find out information on upcoming workshops  at www.mumager.ie or by emailing info@mumager.ie.

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About the author:

Tracy Gunn

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