Mastering the Art of Maternity Leave: What 12 Weeks Taught Me Is Important . . . and Not Important at All!

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There is a huge part of me that doesn’t want to get “real” dressed on Monday and eat breakfast in the car on the way to my job . . . that I love.

The reason for my reluctance is 14 lbs. of chubby cheeks, snugly cuddles, heartwarming smiles, Hungry Caterpillars, and uninterrupted time with my nearly 3-month-old son, Christopher. Don’t get me wrong, there were certainly times I wondered if I would survive 12 solid weeks of newborn caregiving (cluster feeding, anyone?!). But more than anything, I’m grateful to have had these 12 weeks (recognizing that many working moms don’t get as much time).

For working moms (by choice or circumstance), weeks and months of unbroken time with our little ones can be an especially precious resource because it’s limited. So as I treasure the final days, I’ve found myself reflecting on those things that maximized my enjoyment of (and sanity), while also helping me prepare for the return to work.

office ready

Embrace Ambivalence

I’ve spent more than a decade training to be a clinical psychologist, and I enjoy my work immensely. It’s a true privilege. That said, I’ve been training all my life for the privilege of being Christopher’s mom. Both roles are an important part of me.  I’m a professional, and I’m a mom.

I’ve learned it’s okay to feel two (or 10) ways about leaving work for full-time motherhood, and again about going back to the 9 to 5. There were days that caring for my little guy felt overwhelming and isolating and I couldn’t help but think, “Wow, being at work right now would be so easy! At least I could pee whenever I want!” I felt guilty for thinking it. One of the downsides to having limited time is the increased pressure to love every minute of it. I didn’t, and that’s okay . . . there were so many more moments that I did love, and those will be lifelong memories.

Give Yourself a Break (and a Subscription to Netflix)

First-time mom that I am, I had all sorts of grand plans for what I would get done on leave: craft projects, books, work presentations, and on and on. Epic expectation fail! What I came to realize was that every moment I stressed over not making progress toward these goals, I was less present in my interactions with my son. Maternity leave is a time reserved for recovering from the wild physical and mental ride of childbirth and for bonding with your sweet bundle. I found I was a lot happier when I allowed myself to focus on reading picture books instead of research articles. The projects will still be there. Time for making memories (and sleeping, Netflix binges, and showering) is at a premium the first few weeks, and should be treated as such.

Have Carseat, Will Lunch Date

Like many women I work in a setting where I have the opportunity to talk with adults all day long. Rarely (if ever) do conversations touch on breastfeeding, spit up, or the classic inquiry, “What’s that smell?” One of the first things I noticed on leave was that most of my conversations (although endearing) were rather lopsided; no matter how much I talked to Christopher he could never seem to string a coherent sentence together. Go figure! I also noticed many of our visitors seemed reluctant to talk about their own lives since my family and I had just gone through such a major, life-altering transition. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled to share stories about Christopher (and text 10 pictures a day!), but I craved a connection to the “outside world” through my friends.

My savior? Lunch dates! I quickly learned that the sounds of a busy restaurant are like Ambien to newborns – puts them right to sleep! So I packed up my little one and met friends on their lunch hour, friends who work from home, and stay-at-home mom friends. And when we’d chat, I’d ask about their lives (after the much appreciated “Awww, he’s so adorable!”). Not only did it get me out of the house and give me something to look forward to, but it helped stave off the sense of isolation that can come with maternity leave.

Invest in Transitional Work Clothes, and Don’t Beat Yourself Up About It!

If you’re anything like me, then it’s going to be a while before you can fit back into those seriously un-stretchy work pants. I was tempted to feel bad about it, and then I reminded myself, “You just had a baby!” I felt so much better after a quick shopping trip to pick up a few items for my “transitional work wardrobe.” Dress up a maxi skirt (stretchy, yes!) and slowly (and guiltlessly) work your way back to where you want to be.

Connect with Other Working Moms

No one shares better tips than working moms who’ve blazed the trail before us. Chatting with other moms about the highs and lows of returning to work was such a comfort to me. I’m lucky to have quite a few in my life, but if you don’t, I’ve found social media motherhood groups to be quite helpful too!

So as the clock runs out on my maternity leave, I’m celebrating the experience with extra cuddles, more patience, and a glorious review of the four billion Christopher pictures I’ve taken in the last three months. And you can bet I’ve framed my favorites to bring to the office.

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Graduate school brought Laura from her beloved home state of Colorado to Texas (hard to beat the Rocky Mountains!), and meeting her beloved husband Jonathan convinced her to settle here. Now the two are overjoyed and exhausted parents to sweet Christopher (2015) and a little girl on the way (2017). In addition to her role as a mama, she also works full time as a clinical psychologist working with military veterans who continue to amaze her with their strength and humor. When she’s not busy juggling career and parenthood, you can find her cycling, enjoying local culture (and food!), baking, “hiking,” and embracing her love of travel.

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