The ambiguity of coming back to work after having a baby

I love work. I love the intellectual stimulation, the sense of accomplishment, the financial reward. I love business, I am genuinely interested by stories of corporation that rise and fall, by the strategic evolutions of markets, by the business models and the unexpected players. So starting work again after mat leave, I should be happy, right ?

My state of mind today, two days before going back, is ambivalent.

A part of me is craving the sense of routine and achievement that work provides. Getting back to thinking about numbers, theory, strategy is exciting indeed. This is especially true as I start this new chapter of my career back home, in Paris, where opportunities are plentiful. Also, I cannot wait until my child’s naps is the nanny’s problem and not mine…

But the other part of me, the dominant one these days, is shit scared. Terrified. There is no shortage of things that scare me. Will I sleep enough that my brain actually works ? What if I am bad at the job ? What if the job is boring and I am demotivated ? Will my baby be happy with the new nanny ? Will the daily family routine be disrupted for the worse ? Will I be able to pump enough milk to keep breastfeeding ? Will I be able to have dinner with my kids most nights ?

And then there is the obvious : I don’t want to leave my baby. With every fiber of my being, I wish I had more time with her. It is something that I experienced with each baby but I struggled to admit it, because this feeling of loss did not fit with the image I wanted to projec : that of the power woman who couldn’t wait to get stuck in again and who was definitely not cut for the housewife job. But Pebble is my last baby, and I have matured, so I will own the missing her terribly bit. I might even cry.

I wrote one day a list of reasons why mothers may want to keep working with ambition. I stand by it wholeheartedly. But I now draw from my own experience that resuming work after mat leave is probably amongst the most anxious time a parent can go through in their career.

The heart is split in two, between being true to oneself and being a role model and staying home with the little one(s). And the actual going back to work bit is a struggle, from a logistic point of view (childcare, new routing) to the emotional and physical one (when a baby is 4 months, his/her mum may not be sleeping very well…) to the professional one (there are still a lot of people who carry prejudice against new mothers).

It takes a year to recover from welcoming a new child, and to feel, not the same as before, but somehow as solid. I am not advocating for a year long maternity leave as I don’t believe it speeds up recovery and I have observed it can do working mothers a disservice. However, I am advocating for kindness, empathy and protection for the new parents stepping back into the (virtual or actual) office.

Bosses, pay particular attention to your young mothers and bear in mind how much of a heartbreak it may be for them to leave their child, however much they enjoy their job. Understand that their coming back is an evidence of strong motivation, not despite, but because of the sleep deprivation, the heartache and complications that resuming work brings. Even if they cannot bring 100% from day 1 or even by month 3, remember it costs them much more to get up in the morning and commute to the office. Respond to this, not simply by cutting them some slack, but by supporting them, advocating for them and protecting them. Give them good projects but give them a bit more help than usual to run them. Recognize and amplify their wins, however small and however early.

And please please please, give fathers equal paternity leave, at full pay to level the playing field and help build more balanced families.

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