THE END OF MATERNITY LEAVE
A note to my coworkers
There is an entire category of books and apps dedicated to every nuance of pregnancy and having a newborn. What (not) to eat, the variable produce size of your developing fetus, how to make them smart, sleep longer, raise them like a carefree French woman, breastfeed from different angles and of course, cry less. Rules, research, and most importantly for any first time mom- GUIDANCE.
Yet, I can’t seem to find a blueprint for one of the most gut wrenching and emotionally agonizing parts of being a new mama: the day you leave your precious little nugget with a stranger, walk out the door, and walk back into work as if nothing has changed. In reality, everything has changed. My sole focus for the last four months has been to keep a human alive, feed her every three hours, all while mastering new skills like how to pee while breastfeeding (never break the latch ladies, am I right?!). The mere thought of leaving daycare and strolling sans stroller into the subway and into work with a chipper smile tugs so hard at a piece of my heart that I truly didn’t know existed before my daughter was born.
I keep telling myself I’ve done everything I could so far: got her into a great daycare within walking distance (had to get on the waitlist when I was 6 weeks pregnant but never mind), got her sleeping through the night (thank you Moms on Call!) and made sure she was held by strangers and can take a bottle no probs (nipple confusion is a real thing people). I even took her for a daycare dry run and stayed with her for a few hours. She was fine. I left in tears. We both got a cold that week from our three hour visit.
Beyond the agony of the dreaded daycare drop off is the fear of returning to a job and wondering if I am still relevant. With the pace of a tech company, four months is like 4 dog years; we’ve had a re-org, a shift in strategy, a new product in the works and some turnover since I left which leaves a murky picture of what I am returning to and the real fear that my role has become obsolete. Do they still need me? Where do I fit into the new structure? What am I working on? When I sit down at my desk on day one, what will I actually do besides clean out my inbox??
This is hard for me. My career has always been my life force. I blame it on 8 years of being a news anchor and reporter and working every holiday, weekends, slapping on HD makeup at 2 in the morning, and basically doing whatever I had to do to get the story and “beat” the competition (side note: the moment I knew I needed to leave news was when I got excited that I had found a murdered child’s obituary photo before the other stations. Total empathy gut check.). I have always been passionate about my job and it runs in the family. My mom single handedly built her own business, and my big brother, Joey, built a 31 billion dollar company at Airbnb. I know it’s my job to show my baby girl what my mom showed us growing up: that mama works hard for what she wants, that being a female breadwinner is perfectly acceptable, and that life is about truly doing what you love and sharing your gift with the world.
The reality is I will go back to work, and leave the daycare with a smile so that my daughter doesn’t see me cry. But I won’t fake it at work when people ask, “how is it to be back?” I’ll reply honestly, ‘You know what- it’s hard and my heart hurts and I’m exhausted from this new routine, but ultimately I know it will get better. Thanks for asking.’ I might have some black mascara tears when I answer, but that doesn’t make me weak or wish I were a stay at home mom. It only marks the beginning of the emotional rollercoaster I signed up for when I joined the badass club of fellow full-time working moms.
My hope is that companies will allow the mamas coming back to feel all the feels and not expect us to put on a fake smile and bounce into every meeting that first few weeks. Check in with us on how we are doing and don’t always expect a happy answer. Give us a break when we don’t know how to deal with the foot and mouth outbreak at the daycare and a looming deadline on the same day. We’re figuring out this new normal in real time too. Know that when we leave to go pump for 15 minutes, we’re still online, on point and multitasking to make meals and money from the mother’s nursing room we’re so grateful to have.
When a new mom returns in tears please know that it doesn’t mean we don’t love our job, it doesn’t mean we don’t want to be there and it doesn’t mean we don’t believe in the company mission anymore. It’s just a group of determined women figuring out how to have their heart in one place and their sharp minds in another.