The period when maternity leave ends and you are going back to work is usually filled with a lot of anxiety. You’ve been home with baby all this time, you were probably personally in charge of everything in the life of your child, from feeding to play time. And now you have to relinquish some of that control to someone else, perhaps a nanny, because you will be at work for most of the day.
Many mothers are filled with What Ifs. What if the house help forgets to feed the baby? What if my sister drops the baby? What if the baby is kidnapped? What if by leaving the baby I’m unknowingly affecting their emotional development? What about breastfeeding?The fears range from the irrational to the most sensible. Some women feel guilty for leaving their baby and going back to work. Others feel guilty for being eager to go back to their jobs. Many can barely concentrate at work and end up calling home to check on things every hour. It’s easy during that period to visualize the worst things that can happen and make the experience far more stressful than it must be. Thankfully, there are ways to counter this and help yourself adjust to being away from your baby.
- Do it gradually
If your job allows some flexibility you can make going back to work a gradual process until your routine is set. Go a few days in a week at first or work part time. You can leave earlier than you normally would or go later. If it’s possible for you and you live close to home, you can even drop by to check on things then go back to work. Alternatively, you can increase your workload gradually, taking on light tasks at first and increasing this as time goes by and you are able to concentrate better. This helps you to slowly go back to your routine and settle into the new dynamic of your life without placing too much pressure or anxiety on yourself.
If you feel the need to check in frequently through calling home or even going back home physically, that too is okay. Some women find that this helps them settle into the new routine. With time you will need to check in less and less but if you feel that you need to then go right ahead and put yourself at ease.
- Begin adjusting early
As you prepare to go back to work you will need to adjust to a new routine and establish new relationships with the people under whose care your baby will be for most of the day. Some women opt to be leaving their babies in a daycare center. If this is the way you choose to go, you will need to start looking for one that you like early enough. A week or two before you are due back at work, start taking your baby to the daycare as you take care of other tasks. This will allow you to get comfortable with the new routine, the people who will be taking care of your baby, and the center itself.
In Kenya, the more common option for women going back to work after having a baby is to get a house-help who will take care of the baby and handle house chores. If this is the case, begin looking for a house-help early if you don’t already have one. While you still have time to be at home, train the house-help to manage your home the way you would like. This way you can have enough time to gauge whether the relationship will work or not. This is also important because it gives the nanny time to establish a good relationship with the baby under your watchful eye. Planning early on will help you be more at ease when it’s time to go back to work.
- Avoid Trying to Do It All
The argument about whether women can do it all is old and worn. Everybody has their own ideas about just how deep into their reserves of energy and sanity women can dig to find the strength to run a home, take care of a baby, kill it at work, maintain relationships with their friends and spouses, find time to exercise, and be sure to indulge in self-care. The truth is that you can try, but sooner rather than later your engines will start to fail.
As a new mother going back to work you are probably going to be tired all the time. Before your baby eases into a sleep schedule that is friendly to you, you might find yourself getting no sleep at night and still waking up before sunrise to get to work. That alone is bound to take a heavy toll on anybody, and we haven’t even factored in all the other things you need to take care of as per that very long list we’ve just mentioned. When you are already perpetually exhausted, dozing off and unable to concentrate, you don’t need to keep adding to the list of things you must do.
Furthermore, it’s common for new mothers to feel mentally foggy and slow, and this will manifest when you go back to work. You may find yourself frequently forgetting things or misplacing items. When you place pressure on yourself when going back to work, such things could frustrate you. Let’s not forget that if you really are trying to do it all, you are probably going to beat yourself up over it should you fail to meet these impossibly high standards. This is another reason why you shouldn’t try to do everything on your own. While the Superwoman act seems empowering at first, it is, in reality, the quickest way to fatigue and burnout.
The best thing you can do for yourself when you are going back to work is to take it easy. Be kind to yourself by not setting high expectations about what you will be able to do. Get help for the things that are low priority, like laundry and other errands. Give yourself, also, time to adjust to your new routine. Although it may prove to be easier said than done, take it easy and be gentle with yourself.
Author: Michelle Korir
Michelle Chepchumba is contributor at Wanjiru Kihusa. She loves cats and enjoys reading and writing in an attempt to discover the mysteries of the human mind. She also works in mental health and writes about life at www.thescroll.co.ke.