Sunday, October 11, 2015
Anxiety Over Returning to Work After Having a Baby
There's plenty of information available online to help you to organise your return to work, from negotiating your hours with your employer to planning child care and managing your budget.
What I want to talk about is the anxiety over leaving your baby when this happens.
To begin with, I had been on a contract and so my return to the same workplace was never guaranteed. When six months after leaving my job had passed, I began to search for other ways to supplement our family income. In February we started our own photography business, Sea and Salt Photography and slowly it began to take off. We created a website, applied for our ABN and carefully, slowly grew our business and portfolio. Love was six months old and happily napped in the baby carrier on most sessions we booked. We told families in advance that we had a young baby and would bring her along if they were happy enough with the arrangement. Without fail, every family welcomed my little assistant. Byron and I took turns clicking away as Love slept peacefully in the carrier, gently rocking with every step I took.
During the next six months we booked work here and there, making sure that both Byron and myself were available to attend our family sessions. We scheduled the bookings around Byron's other work hours and I found time to edit the photos as Love napped during the day or long after she had fallen asleep at night.
I felt comfortable with our progress and relieved to be able to work from home, slotting editing time around my daily mother duties. I wanted to be present for Love and not miss out on those irreplaceable first months. It worked for us in the short term, even though I wasn't making the same money as my previous job.
Shortly after Love's first birthday I received a call from my previous employer with an offer for work in a similar role to my last. It was unexpected, but very, very welcome. I let her know that I was eager to start and we negotiated my new working hours. Fortunately, Byron was able to work on my days off so we did not have to worry about child care for Love, as many families do, unless we scheduled work through our photography business.
I felt as if everything was working out very well, except for one constant worry in the pit of my stomach. How was I going to leave my baby girl to return to work? The anxiety steadily worsened as my start date drew closer. I knew other mothers who had already returned to work and they seemed to manage quite well, no lingering heartache or tears. No one quit so far as I knew. How did they do it? How could I leave her?
The first step in managing my anxiety was admitting that as much as it pained me to think that my daughter might not cope without me, I knew that she would be happy in her Papa's company. My feelings were actually more personal and self-directed- I had grown dependent on her during her first year.
I prepared myself, portioned and froze breast milk in advance, made her breakfast the night before and laid my ironed clothes out. My bags were packed with my lunch, manual breast pump and steriliser and waiting by the door; my car had a full tank of fuel (and had recently been serviced). My mobile was fully charged, with two alarms set just incase I missed the first.
As I lay down next to Love the night before my first day back, my heart ached with a heaviness that felt something like guilt at the thought of leaving her, as if my arteries pulsated with blood thick with lead. I told myself to be strong, that it would be ok. I told myself that the hardest part would be picking up my waiting bags and walking out the door. I knew it would be difficult to sit in the car, back out of the driveway and turn out onto the street. I knew I would miss her.
The experience was dreadful. Despite my best efforts, Byron stood in the middle of our lounge room with Love in his arms. He had tipped my breastmilk in the sink and she had a look of despair in her eyes as she watched me walk out the front door. I was in tears and devastated. I called a friend on my journey to work, who listened and offered support. If I didn't speak to her, I wouldn't have made it to work that day. It was a sad, stressful morning and even though I had asked Byron for support, he didn't seem to understand how difficult it would be for me. I empathised with him as he had returned to work shortly after her full moon (first month) and up until two days prior, had been working six days per week. This was hard for him too as he wouldn't be able to rely on me. I wasn't going to be in the next room if he needed me.
From my experience, I found the following quite useful in reducing the anxiety over returning to work after having my baby girl.
• Be organised. Do everything you can think of to ensure your first day back goes smoothly.
• Talk to someone. If you have a partner, talk to them. Let them know that you're feeling anxious and ask for their support. Ask your partner to preoccupy your baby so they do not watch as you leave the house.
• Talk to your baby. Don't worry if they'll understand, tell them anyway, 'Mama is going to be away tomorrow, but don't worry because Papa is going to take special care of you and Mama will come back very soon.'
• Take some time for yourself. This is equally important as talking to your support person and baby. Remind yourself that you'll be ok. Focus your thoughts on how special your reunion with your little one and family will be.
• Don't rush. This applies to everything from being organised well in advance to avoiding speeding on the roads.
• Take care of yourself. Eat well, hydrate with water and exercise.
• Express. You should be entitled extra time to express milk at work. I avoided caffeine in favour of energy-rich drinks, such as my protein packed banana smoothie as I am still breastfeeding Love.
• Go gently. This can be a stressful time so go gently with it and try to avoid being overly critical of your progress and your expectations.
• Be patient. If it feels like the wrong time to return to work, give it the day or even the week. Whether you call this your instinct or gut-feeling, pay attention to it and discuss your concerns with your partner and employer before you decide then and there that you're going to quit.
• Listen. Try to be a good-listener at home and in the office. If you genuinely want to be back at work, then it's likely that you will need to learn some new skills. You'll need to be patient here too.
• Think about the bigger picture. Returning to work can be your insurance policy that you'll have enough money to provide for your family. However, for me it means that Love can learn some independence and my husband can enjoy this special time with her, without me.
• Snack. This applies to packing extra food for the journey home. It will ensure that you spend less time searching for something to eat when your stomach is grumbling before dinner (most likely something unhealthy, over-priced and packed full of sugar) and will mean you arrive home sooner, with a healthy blood-sugar level.
• Think about your reunion. When I arrived home, I peered inside the window and saw Love on the floor, watching her Papa cooking dinner. Within a few seconds she noticed me and as she recognised who was standing outside, the joy that lit up her face was so heart-warming that I almost burst into tears. I scooped her up in my arms as she stared, mouth open in a beautiful grin and I kissed her cheeks until she squealed with laughter.
I kissed my husband too.
What are your tips for managing the anxiety over returning to work after having your baby? Please share your experiences, I'd love to hear from you.