Monday, May 14, 2018

What it’s really like coming back from maternity leave and 5 things your company can do to make it easier.

This past Monday I got dressed for the first time in 12 weeks. I put on jewelry and makeup and I didn’t smell like throw up and baby poop. I left my sweet baby daughter, my third child, and drove to work for the first time in 84 days. I’m lucky because my husband is home during the day, so I didn’t have to face the heart-wrenching feeling of leaving her with a nanny or at daycare, but it was painful to be separated from this tiny being who has been essentially living in or off me for 52 weeks.
I have a 45-minute commute, so the first thing I did when I got to the office was re-apply my makeup because I cried on my way in.
In this post, I will give a perspective from a new mom and give some suggestions to make the experience easier.
Note: The following context is from my personal experience and may not reflect the experience of all moms. However, based on my conversations with my new mom friends, my experience is pretty common. 

A year ago I learned that I was pregnant with my third baby. The feelings that come over you when you learn this news are really hard to describe and different for every woman. For me, it was a combination of pure elation, cautious optimism, and some amount of trepidation.

Whether you have had a horrible pregnancy full of vomiting and hip and back pain, or if your pregnancy was 40 weeks (give or take a few) of glowing bliss, you tend to get used to those little perks.

Then it happens; the day comes when this human finds their way out of your body and into the world. As you may know, or have probably heard, this is a big deal. Whether the baby comes out through surgery or the other way, that baby does come out.

This being my third baby, the delivery was the fastest of all three and the least scary. But even with that being the case, I was suddenly transformed into this gooey, gushing, glowing mess. Just hours ago I was making a miracle, but now I am an unrecognizable empty shell that can easily be compared to the bloodiest of Greek tragedies.

Once my baby and I were released from the hospital, there were many days to weeks of recovery. Trying to heal while getting almost no sleep and feeling every emotion in the book can take a lot out of a person. Even if you are as lucky as I am to have a hard-working equal partner to do this with, the weeks after giving birth can seem like the hardest part of this whole epic saga.

They didn’t hold doors open for me, they didn’t know how hard it was for me to even get to the store, and they no longer offered to help me with my bags. Suddenly, my royal status was revoked and forgotten. It’s not only at the store; even when people who knew I had been pregnant came over to visit, they didn’t even make eye contact with me! Not that I blame them — babies are much cuter!

The first couple of months of my babies’ lives are spent immersed in trying to figure out how to feed them and how to get them to sleep for more than 20 minutes. All while figuring out how to take care of myself, my other kids, my home, laundry, and all of the other pieces of life.

Of course, I was thinking about what it would be like to leave my baby and all of the possible ups and downs of that experience. It all brought so much angst that it seemed impossible that it would actually happen.

The morning arrived. I set an alarm for the first time in months. I showered, fed the baby, pumped some milk for the day, ate some breakfast, and kissed my little baby (and my husband). While it was only goodbye for a few hours, it felt like forever because from this day forward, I knew that I would not be with that child all day, every day. Someone else will become a large part of my child’s life. Someone else will influence and impact her growth. While I knew that I would remain the most important person in her life (at this stage), it feels like my role has been extremely diminished by this act of returning to work. 

This past Monday when I returned to work, I was 15 minutes late because I sat in the parking garage drying my tears and preparing myself for walking back into the office. I really wanted to give the illusion of strength and let everyone know that I was happy to be back. I work at a really great company full of lots of friendly people. I was greeted with hugs and heartfelt greetings. It all felt so nice, but after I was there for an hour and had figured out the ins and outs of pumping in the mom’s room, I was exhausted and ready to go back home. Instead, I sat down and opened my laptop and was greeted with many pop-ups for security and software updates.

While I promptly ignored all of them (sorry IT), I then went on to begin wading through over 1700 unread emails. It took me all day just to get caught up on what I had missed during my leave and delete the unnecessary emails in my inbox. Not a very glamorous job, but one that needed to happen so I could get ramped up.

It seemed like everything was slightly different; like I was returning to my life, but I was different, and so were they. Who are the new employees? Who moved on to their next job while I was gone? Who was promoted or changed roles? Where does everyone sit now? What is the first thing I should work on? Where is the bathroom again? Do I even remember how to make an appointment in Google calendar? Where is the conference room for this meeting on my calendar? What is this meeting about? Can I go home yet? Is my baby missing me? How much is she eating? Am I pumping enough? Can I sneak out to my car to take a nap? So many questions!!!

I struggled to care about the structure of our old and current databases (this is my job) and whether we have signed a certain client or cemented a partnership. Of course, I will care again (I know because I’ve done this twice before) — but to go from caring for my new baby to caring about a small fragment of a business is a tough transition. There are some moms who cannot wait to focus on something other than their baby for a while, but that’s not me. I can’t get enough of my babies, and when I am away from them, I just want to be with them.

For me, each day, week, and month after maternity leave gets a bit easier; I know that I will start to get back into the swing of things, start to care again about making an impact at work and the sting of leaving my baby every day starts to mellow. I’ll get into a pumping routine and start to feel like a superhuman for successfully juggling it all (depending on the day, of course). However, this is not always the case. According to this WebMD article 1 in 7 new moms struggle with a more dramatic postpartum depression.

For you employers out there who have these amazing miracle workers turned Greek tragedy turned superhuman employees returning to work, here are 5 things I recommend doing to make the transition easier for everyone involved:

1. Treat her return to work as a re-onboarding. 
She may not need a tour, intros to everyone, or a review of the history of the company, but she does need to get reacquainted with things. Greet her at the door when she comes in. Take her by IT to drop off her computer so they can take care of all of the updates. Walk her to her desk to reassure her that she still sits in the same place, or let her know if her desk has moved. If you want to go the extra mile, have a small vase of flowers waiting for her. Walk her around to introduce her to any key new employees and catch her up on anyone who may have left. Walk her through the mother’s room and the breastfeeding policy. Set up meetings with her manager and teammates right away. If her job role has changed at all, be sure that it is in writing and review it on her first day back.
2. Cut her some slack. 
On this first day back you should encourage her not to push it. She should feel free to end the day early and get back home to that baby when she is ready. Some moms will jump at the chance to leave early and some will enjoy a whole day away. Either way, she should take it at her own pace.
3. Make sure she has access to the mom’s room and knows the other moms using it. 
There can be a lot to figure out here. If you have more than one pumping mom sharing the use of one room you should have a way for them to schedule the space. You should introduce them to each other so they can coordinate. It’s likely that these ladies will talk frequently and get to know each other well. They may even rely on each other for support over the next many months that they will be pumping.
4. Make sure her direct manager and teammates understand and support the mother’s need for time in the mom’s room. 
This is not flexible downtime. This is the time when a nursing mom has to attend to her body and her baby’s needs. It is not optional time, it is required. Read this article for more info. Do not expect her to move her scheduled pumping time unless she offers, and ensure that the company culture is not one that expects her to work while pumping. You don’t want her on a call with clients while the lovely squeaky repetitive sound of her pump motor steals the message out of the conversation.
5. Last, but not least, follow up with her periodically to make sure she is settling back into things. 
Just like any other employee she just wants to do meaningful work, be excellent at it, and go back home to her baby proud of what she did while she was away. This feeling of strength and empowerment makes her a better mom and a better employee. Win-win I would say.

In case you need it to be “mom-splained”, here is a very short list of reasons for why you should go the extra steps to make your employed moms happy in their job:

 • They are experts at time management
 • They are multi-multi-multi-taskers
 • They are happy to be at work (regardless of what I said above)
 • They don’t care about office gossip or politics
 • They are responsible
 • They don’t slack off
 • They can handle all personality types
 • They embody efficiency, empathy, and determination like no other
 • They are excellent role models
 • They speak clearly and comprehensively
 • They thrive under pressure at all times
 • They work well on a team
 • They are approachable
 • They strive for perfection
 • They don’t take up petty issues
 • They are very economical
 • They have a point to prove

As an example of some of the above bullet points, I found the time to write this article, with my two thumbs, on my phone, at about 4am while I was nursing my newborn. When there is work to be done, moms know how to make it happen!

If you don’t have a mom’s room for your moms at work, we should talk. I will be happy to provide resources and review the business case with you. Just reach out to me in the comment section below.

To all of you new moms out there — Congrats and go get ‘em!

To all you lucky employers out there — Treat your moms right and you will reap the benefits!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Judge me by my size do you?

We've been to every Disney park Orlando has to offer this week.  We got souvenirs for everyone in our family.  I got a hoodie with Minnie Mouse on it, David got a hoodie with a Goofy on it, appropriate, huh?  Baby girl got a couple of Harley Davidson onesies, and Will got a black t-shirt that says, "Judge me by my size do you?"  A direct quote from Yoda himself.  I can't even explain how appropriate this shirt is for Will.  He is still such a little guy but in many ways and many times a day he surprises me with how much he has learned and can do.  Just today, he started wiping his mouth with a napkin between every bite of yogurt.  I don't know where this came from because admittedly David and I aren't very good at doing that for him.  :-)

Sunday, May 5, 2013

New job

I started a new job this week.  I do this pretty frequently, about once every two or three years, sometimes less.  So I am no stranger to being the new guy in the office.  This particular company has a very interesting onboarding experience.  It is a week long scavenger hunt with about 80 items to find or do.  It included things like sit in on a sales call, challenge someone to a game ping pong and go have dinner (reimbursed) at the restaurant where the company celebrated their opening.  I have to admit that while it was awkward for me to be so "out there" in my first week at a job, it was certainly an eye opening experience.  I learned more about the company in one week than I did about my last company in the three years that I worked there.  The most interesting thing to me is that at the end of the scavenger hunt, the company offers you a chance to gracefully back out if you decided that you didn't like what you learned in that first week.  They will pay you $2000 to leave if you decide it isn't a good fit.  Crazy but a great way to get rid of people who don't like the culture but do need the money.  Well, i'm glad it's over, but I'm glad I did it.  Now time to start the real work.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Viva Fiesta!

What a great day today was. We went to the RiverWalk in San Antonio and enjoyed just about everything there is to enjoy. We had breakfast with Mimosas, walked the entire circle of the RiverWalk, did some shopping, ate Mexican food, went on a riverboat ride and watched some TV in the hotel with a baby sleeping soundly right next to us. Will was such a trooper all day. He didn't have anything according to his normal routine but he just went along for the ride with a smile on his face. Since we came to San Antonio during Fiesta we got to experience several additional treats, the first was a river parade and then the Mariachi Bands on the river boats. We also went to the Mexican market for a bit.

Even though we were so close, we didn't see The Alamo this trip, unless you count the Alamo in the play area that Will conquered (see picture). Again I declare, today was a great day and I look forward to many more like it in the coming years. Viva Fiesta!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Bumper Sticker

I am an Oboe and English Horn player. I am married to an Orchestral conductor. We find this bumper sticker to be funny. I think some people would agree and find it humorous while others would think we are geeky. It doesn't matter if you know the pieces mentioned on it or not. It's really about the absurdity it represents. Mixing terms usually heard in context with modern day music like "blows away" and the absurdly long titles and descriptions of the pieces. I guess this is a funny concept to us because this makes me laugh every time I see it.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Why do I need a personal website?

I am setting up a personal website for myself.  What a strange thing to do.  I have never needed a website before.  I guess I feel like putting myself out there more, for some reason.  It's not done yet, but as I am designing it and filling it with meaningful content, I am wondering to myself.. who is ever going to look at this and if they do why are they looking?  I love my life and I think it is a great thing to make a record of, why would the rest of the world find it interesting?  Maybe they won't.  Maybe it will just be my husband, and my parents who read this.  That would be OK.

I'll share a link in my next post.  Look out WWW... here I come :-D

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Hello World!

Hi!  My first blog.  I feel so um... I don't know... Grown up?  Maybe that's it.  It's like my first time ordering from the regular menu, instead of the kid's menu.  It's like buying my first used car.  It's like paying my first insurance bill.  You don't mind doing it but you secretly wish you didn't have to.  I am most likely going to post a lot about my son so let me introduce you to him now.  His name s a will and as of today he is 13 months and 18 days old.  These past 414 days have been the best of my life.  I am looking forward to sharing all of the great moments yet to come.

Talk to you again soon!