I’ll never forget the first day back to work post-baby. I was still breastfeeding and my boobs (and heart) were aching for her. We had been joined at the hip for twelve months and it felt like a limb was missing. (I say that, I also really appreciated going to the toilet solo and drinking hot coffee instead of the perpetually microwaved stuff.)
But it was an ache. Deep and primal while equally wanting to prove myself at work. You return to the same desk with the same coffee mug stains and, yet, you are an entirely new person having created a whole other person. It was - and still is - a paradoxical time of pining for her and delighting in holding a highlighter pen again.
Before coming back, I definitely felt like I was losing myself in raising her. I couldn’t sing ‘Say Hello to the Sun’ at baby sensory anymore and Iggle Piggle was driving me up the wall. As much as I loved what soft play did for her, it was truly hard for me towards the end. I wanted to get back to the job I’d grafted my derrière off for.
But then that day lands and you prepare like a GCSE student for that first exam. Although there’s someone else to prepare for, too. Dropping her at nursery on that first day was complete mix of trauma and elation. Having to turn on my heel towards PowerPoint and Excel while she hollered my name is ingrained in my mind, body, and soul. The nursery worker called me five minutes later to say she was playing with an oversized T-Rex and had moved on, but that cry sat with me all day and I think it always does on some level. It’s called separation anxiety for a reason.
What I’ve found helps now they are talking is explaining what I do and why I do it. I don’t just stare numbly at my phone when I’m with them, I explain to them I’m working or clear my inbox in another room - or ideally when they’re snuggled up with a steady row of Zzzzs. They know I love working. They love listening to me on the radio and now I hear them on play dates explaining to friends what I do. I’m also hearing more about what they want to do. It’s a conversation where family and work ebb and flow. Right now, my daughter wants to be a seagull catcher because she got her chicken nuggets nicked on Brighton Pier by a hungry bird.
I found in the two times I’ve returned to work post-baby that reaching out to other mothers in the office helped my anxiety levels. By buddying you with those who have just trodden that exhausting, maternal path at work, you feel less alone. In fact, if any manager is reading this right now, please suggest to your pregnant employees that this is a good idea. Sitting alone and pining at your office chair shouldn’t be the norm when there’s a whole women’s circle awaiting you just a desk or two away often.
Having a friend internally to hold your hand when the leaky boobs and aching heart gets too much is a mind and life saver. Failing a work mate, make sure to reach out to someone - to be honest anyone - who has navigated what can seem like the unnavigable.
But the biggest shift has been in myself. In recognising that all mothers are working mothers - whether you go to work or not - and that however you balance your life with kids is yours to balance. Be done with the judgement of Aunties suggesting you should ‘be there with your baby’ or society weighing ‘having it all’ upon your shoulders.
For me work is my ‘something’ while they remain my everything.
Anna has teamed up with @maltesersuk as part of #TheMaternityReturn to help break down the stigma of discussing the struggles of returning to work post birth. Were you worried to return to work following the birth of your child? See Anna’s Instagram post to share your experiences.