I spent my entire maternity leave fearful of going back to work and crying about the thought of putting my baby in daycare. April 4th was burned in my head as though the world was ending that day. Because of how much time I spent dreading it, I wanted to reflect back on how my first week of work actually went, both for my own memory but also for other moms who are heading back to work dreading the inevitable.
I really like my job, so the dreading of the return wasn’t about actually going back to work; it was about no longer getting to spend every second with Olivia. I would imagine that if someone was returning to a job that they didn’t like it would be even harder to go back.
My first week back at work after maternity leave
After taking Olivia to daycare the week before a couple of times, I didn’t have to worry about bringing diapers or wipes or things like that; I already had them stocked up there. Sunday I spent loving on my girl and getting the other things prepared. I want to breastfeed for as long as I can, so it meant defrosting milk from my freezer stash, planning my pump routine, organizing my pump parts, getting Olivia’s bottles ready, etc.
I took Olivia to Target and got her a new book and a toy as a little first day of school present. I read it to her when I got home, because it talks about the fact that I’ll love her no matter what no matter where she is.
I cried on and off that day, though not as much as I had expected that I would. I was so focused on getting everything organized that I didn’t have as much time to focus on the fact that I wouldn’t be there with her. I had to prep and plan for the week at school in addition to getting Olivia organized for the week. It was during that time I realized that being a working mom was going to require a lot better time management and organization that I had ever possessed up to that point.
I cried as I put Olivia to bed Sunday night, because I knew that the next day would be especially hard. It’s hard taking a baby to daycare, because there’s no way to explain to them what’s happening or where you’re going.
I went to bed that night with a page long checklist of reminders on where to put what and when to do what the next morning.
The first day back to work
I got up at 6 Monday morning to get myself ready before waking Olivia up at 6:45. I fed her and changed her clothes and put her in the carseat to head off to daycare. When I walked in I did tear up, though I didn’t cry as hard as I had expected to given my feelings the week prior. When I finally tore myself away, I got in the car and called my mom on my way to work. I was upset, but, again, I wasn’t as upset as I expected.
When I got to school I went into the office and said hello to a group of colleagues. There was another mom where who had sent her babies to daycare at 3 months, and because she was in there and she knew what I was going through, she gave me a hug and it made me tear up. I found that for most of the day I was okay as long as no one asked me how I was doing or how Olivia was. When people I asked I teared up a little and only cried a couple of times.
I taught my two classes (I teach and have a couple of other responsibilities at my school, so I’m not in the classroom all day) and got excited about teaching again. It felt good to put that hat back on! I didn’t feel bad about being glad to be teaching again; I felt good that I was able to go back to enjoying my job again.
I pumped three times the first day and made exactly enough for Olivia the following day. That trend continued as the week went on, which is fine. I just want to continue making enough for her to eat the following day. During pumping I wasn’t as sad as I expected; I looked at pictures and watched videos of her, and it made me happy to know that I was still able to be connected to her in some way while I’m still at work.
Pickup that first day was the best! I rushed out the door as soon as I was able to leave and headed home. I almost feel like there should be a magnet on the back of the car that says, “Caution! Mom heading to pick up her baby from daycare!” When I got there Olivia seemed happy. She was smiling and chatting, and things had gone seemingly well. I couldn’t tell exactly because I’m not sure if the teachers felt the need to tell me that she was good or if she had cried a lot. After a few more days of hearing that things had really, truly gone well, I realized that things were working out better than I could have hoped!
Olivia’s First Days at Daycare
The first two days of daycare were pretty good. I don’t think they were great, because she only took 3 30 minute naps, and when she came home both days she crashed and had long naps. It made me sad, because I wanted to hang out with her when we got home; she just couldn’t stay awake that long. I put her down at 4:15 and woke her up at 5:45 those two days. I took care of washing bottles and getting everything prepared for the following day after I put her down for a nap.
After she got up those days I fed her and played with her a bit before putting her to bed still earlier than normal. Her bedtime has gotten moved up since starting daycare. She just gets so tired there.
I got pictures emailed to me from the daycare, and that made me feel connected.
My Second Day Back
For some reason, my second day back at work was a lot harder than my first. I missed her so much. I realized that this was the new normal. I would be doing this on a regular basis now. There was one 30 minute period that I sat in my office crying about how much I missed her and texting friends who also had the experience of sending babies to daycare. What I quickly realized was that I could either sit around and be sad or I could focus all my energy on my work while I’m at work so that I don’t have to take a lot of work home. Once I did that I found that the day basically flew by and I was home before I knew it.
Looking Back at Week One
After not being so sure of everything on days one and two, I looked at the daily report that the daycare sends and noticed that the awake windows were longer than I’d normally have for Olivia. When I went in to drop her off on day three I mentioned that she normally can’t stay awake longer than an hour and a half at home without needing to go to sleep. I asked if they’d be willing to try that to see how it went, and if it didn’t work then no harm no foul.
Our daycare follows the schedule that we want our babies to be on, so I just write down when I want the bottles given and the time that she last slept when we arrive each morning. They then follow cues and put the babies down at appropriate times. This change was huge for Olivia. Since Wednesday of last week she has taken at least one nap over one and a half hours each day, and some days she takes two long naps and a short one. Since Wednesday of last week she decided to make herself at home. She sleeps well and eats all of her bottles, and I feel an amazing sense that this was the right choice for us.
She’s comfortable there, and that makes me comfortable with this decision that is best for our family. Even Monday of this week I arrived and waited 45 minutes before waking her up to take her home. Our afternoons since then have included more playtime, only an occasional catnap, but still a slightly earlier bedtime.
Olivia is happy! She smiles and talks all the time when I pick her up and when I drop her off. I know babies don’t know what’s going on at this point, but if they make any associations with how they feel about a place I think it’s a good association that Olivia has.
Don’t get me wrong. I miss my girl a lot. I look at pictures of her all the time and show my colleagues more videos and pictures than they care to see, I’m sure. There are lulls in my day where I wish she was with me or I was talking with her. I have teared up here and there as time has passed. But, getting back to work hasn’t been as bad as I expected. There have been good things about it, like gaining my sense of self back a little bit. I enjoy what I do, and I truly love the people that I work with. That has made going back easier.
As far as Olivia getting sick, she has gotten a stuffy nose. We use the nose frieda to clear her up each morning and night, but we know that there is more to come that way. It makes me sad to hear her stuffed up, but is hasn’t dampened her smiley, happy spirits.
When this Monday rolled around it was hard to head back to work again, but knowing that my girl is comfortable where she is and can nap and feel relaxed there eases my mind so much.
If I can provide any encouragement for other moms returning to work from maternity leave, I would say that it really does get easier. Each day is better than the prior (aside from Tuesday), and we’re finding our groove. The weekend was so special with her, and I love the couple of hours that we have each night. I can tell that she misses me, and I miss her, but I love sitting on the couch with her when we get home and cuddling and reconnecting.
Thanks for all of your encouragement and positive wishes along the way. The buildup to my return was so much worse than the return itself, but I definitely am excited that I’ll have summer coming up in a couple of months to spend more time with Olivia as she keeps growing like a weed.
What were your feelings heading back to work? What did you do to make the transition easier?