After nearly four months of maternity leave, I returned to work on a Wednesday in April. To my surprise,Â I was welcomed by a decorated desk, desserts, and congratulations from team members. One sign onÂ my desk read: â€śKeep Calm and Welcome Back to the Office.â€ť I couldnâ€™t have asked for a better reception.
Although I have been with my IT firm for almost six years, I felt like both a new and old student back atÂ school upon returning to work. Some things were familiar, but so much had also changed.Â For the first fewÂ days, I was fueled by adrenaline, catching up with coworkers I hadnâ€™t spoken to for months.
After a week of catching up and realizing that I had to use my brain to think about work again, I wasÂ convinced I was recovering from a stroke. It didnâ€™t help that my previous development team nowÂ ceased to exist and I was on a new team with some unfamiliar faces. In technical meetings, I couldÂ barely follow conversations since new acronyms and concepts might as well have been in Greek.
To cope with this unsettling feeling, I reached out to two other new moms who had also returned toÂ work a few months earlier than I did. â€śHow long did it take for you to get used to things? #forgotteneverything #slowandsteady,â€ť I messagedÂ on Slack.
Independently, they both responded that it took several weeks to get used to things. AndÂ there were even times when they would forget peopleâ€™s names. It was so reassuring to hear this. I wasÂ forgetting names too! From that moment on, I told myself that I had to be much more forgiving and self-Â compassionate.
With that mindset, returning to work had become a refreshing change (as Ali Wong says on Hard KnockÂ Wife, â€śI need to be (at work) to miss her!â€ť). But it was also a different level of exhaustion than being aÂ stay-at-home mom. I realized that I had to make my needs clear, setting the standard of leaving at aÂ regular time and sticking to that demanding pumping schedule.
From early on, I developed a love-hate relationship with it. For about a month, when IÂ pumped three times a day, I literally felt like I went to work to just pump. Even when I knocked it downÂ to two pumping sessions a few weeks later, it was still taking about an hour of my time. Some momsÂ would be productive while pumping, but I knew that, by the time I set up my laptop, my session wouldÂ almost be up. The best I did was craft a few work emails on my phone. But most of the time I used myÂ pumping sessions as a meditative time to repeat affirmations if I was having a hard time adjusting or toÂ look at baby photos and videos.
The other thing I learned about returning to work is that it was the best time to reinvent myself at work.
Whereas there are always team meetings that you canâ€™t get out of, I was more reflective of certainÂ meetings that I had on my work calendar in the past that didnâ€™t necessarily add value now. And althoughÂ I was fulfilling my work identity, I found myself engaging in projects that reflected my motherhood.
IÂ used this momentum to finish up an Expectant Mother manual that I had started while pregnant. It wasÂ a centralized guide that included our companyâ€™s insurance benefits as well as recommended providersÂ and my personal anecdotes. Since a large percentage of my coworkers were fresh out of college, theseÂ were resources that would be valuable later in their lives.
First off, your brain will never stop thinking inÂ trimesters. Second, you forget everything. But after you adjust your expectations and accept this newÂ identity, you learn that you can Keep Calm and Everything Will Be Okay.