Work demands that we plan and strategise, mitigating risks and rolling everything out to plain, right down to the last detail. Whether you are in the service sector or juggling multiple million dollar projects, there are SOPs and SLAs to follow. So we approach our motherhood that same way.
Our prep work for parenting is done in a classic and systematic fashion. We spend an agonising number of hours charting our motherhood journey in a progressive roadmap. Giving birth, confinement, nursing, and daycare, all culminating in a glorious return to work. Life has to go on without a hitch.
Yet, nothing can truly prepare us for motherhood because baby refuses to be put in a neat compartment. It takes a lot to keep another human being alive and thriving, and mothering lies so much in those small, tedious, seemingly unimportant details. Does baby need a diaper change? Is his colic acting up? Does she need to be elevated or rocked? Won’t he cry all day at daycare? Will she get used to being with her grandparents? Motherhood is demanding, with little to no downtime, and completely exhausting. Now couple that with a career and there is chaos.
So if you’re headed back to work quickly after delivering, what can you do to be on top of things and ensure things stay in a state of manageable chaos?
(1) Deal with your feelings
It is common to feel fearful, wondering and worrying about what you’re returning to. Has my role changed in my absence? What will my colleagues think of me? You may start to doubt yourself of have second thoughts about whether you can handle both your job and your family, and the biggest concern of all: Am I a bad mother if I’m not taking care of my baby? Before anything else, you need to make sure that your head is in the right place. Help yourself to be emotionally ready for this next step. Keeping away from baby is a hard thing, especially when you’ve only just given birth. Those feelings may be more intense if you are dealing with the needs of a toddler as well. Talk to your spouse, family and friends. and make it a point to reassure yourself that you are doing a great job.
(2) Set up and get used to a new home routine
Give yourself time to balance your new roles and be prepared for those initial teething problems as everyone settles into a new system. An efficient and well organised daily routine can do wonders to your sanity. So what is the best way to make sure your new schedule works? Practise! Do this for a week or two before you are due back at the office. If your helper is going to take on that role, ensure that she knows what to do. If your baby is going to grandparents, a caregiver, or childcare centre, arrange for your child to start a week or so early so that they can get used to the new location and people. You too must try out your routine and get used to parting with baby. This may be the hardest of all. So set your alarm extra early during the first week back to give yourself time to work out the kinks. Be mindful of the caregivers too and come up with a backup plan for days when your baby is sick.
(3) Know your body and make work comfortable for yourself
Your body has just delivered a child; it needs to recuperate, and that recovery takes time. So if you feel like work must start right away, make the transition comfortable for your body. Get the right chair, something with a headrest that allows you to stretch out or lean back for longer periods, a doughnut shaped cushion to support your bottom, something with good lumbar support or even a footstool to elevate your legs. Make yourself comfortable at work so that you don’t tire easily. If you’re looking to continue nursing, you’ll need to find a suitable place to pump, decide what you need to bring and where you will be storing the expressed milk.
(4) Discuss work expectations with your boss and talk to your colleagues
There are times when things will get too hectic and you feel like an absolute wreck behind your desk. Perhaps baby didn’t sleep all night or not feeding well. You’re worried, physically and mentally exhausted, and daunted by the work that have built up in your absence. So make it a point to juggle, you will be surprised at how productive you will become. Many working mums find themselves better able to empathise, delegate and multi-task. Have a good chat with your boss to set healthy work boundaries if you need to avoid weekends or specific nights for a while, and see if that works. Your colleagues are also usually winning to help. So visit your office before you return officially and talk to your colleagues about what is happening there. Share what is happening with you at home too. That will help to make the transition back to work much easier.
As with all things, there will be days where you feel like you can’t manage and are ready to quit. But take a deep breath and hang in there. Even the experts need time to get used to new routines. At the end of the day, we need to find a healthy balance that works for us, a career that we can progress in and time to look after the most essential needs of the family.