Before I gave birth to my daughter, my career was my baby. I put its needs before mine. I worried about it late at night. I responded to the cry of my cell phone at all hours. I mothered my staff when a project or meeting left them with the equivalent of a skinned knee.
But as my due date approached, I was anxious, not only for labor and to meet my daughter, but also for my team and my career. I was determined to make sure everyone was left with all the tools to succeed and nothing slipped through the cracks while I was out.
As if that pressure wasn’t enough, my boss, the President and CEO, told me a good manager is judged on how well a team can perform without their leader. NO BIG DEAL!
My last day before maternity leave was emotional. I wondered if my colleagues would forget me, if they’d be able to do everything without me, and if they would even miss me.
The minute my daughter arrived those questions were replaced with mommy questions. “Is she OK?” “Is she breathing?” “Does she need a new diaper?” I didn’t know how much I could possibly love another person until I met her. The minute she arrived, she replaced every single priority or worry in my life.
The 3½ months I spent on maternity leave were nothing like I thought they would be yet exactly how everyone said they would be: like no other experience in your life. No sleep: check. No time or energy to eat: check. No makeup: check. If I had a shower and a cup of coffee each day, I considered it a success.
I’ll admit I didn’t completely unplug during maternity leave. I checked in with my team and Facetimed them so they could meet my daughter. They texted me with funny work stories and life updates, but rarely called with an emergency. I was so proud of them and couldn’t wait to be back at work.
Don’t get me wrong, my daughter is my whole world. But I missed people who actually responded when I spoke to them, and I missed thinking about things other than when her next bottle or diaper change would be.
My husband and I made the decision to hire a nanny to take care of our daughter and we spent my maternity leave getting to know each other so we would all be comfortable when the big day came. I knew my daughter would be in excellent hands, but I would be lying if I didn’t say I was feeling pangs of guilt.
I couldn’t sleep the night before I returned from maternity. I was like a little kid the night before school started. Only this time, it wasn’t a new teacher or playground crush I was afraid of. My life had completely changed in the span of a few months and I didn’t know what to expect as I prepared to go back to work.
When I was in the hospital after I had my daughter, my father joked that I should ask the nurses for the “How to be a Mommy” instruction manual.
It turns out, there isn’t one. And that’s because there’s no one way to be mommy—every parent and child are different. I soon realized that’s why there’s no “How to Come Back to Work After Maternity Leave” instruction manual either—every mother and every career are different. No one had cracked the code, I was in unchartered territories.
I am not going to lie and say that first day was a breeze. In fact, it was pretty much the exact opposite, I had knots in my stomach most of the day. Would my daughter forget me? Would I forget how to do my job? Could I really function on such little sleep?
The answers surprised me! After a few weeks, I realized I could function with such little sleep and my daughter’s face lit up every night when I walked in the door.
Before baby, 5:00pm meant absolutely nothing to me. I’d work till six, sometimes later, on any given night and was always ready to do work from home if needed. After baby, that changed. Not only did I need to leave on time so that my nanny could go home, but I could not wait to squeeze my little girl.
No one can prepare you for the juxtaposition of emotions you feel as a working mom. You want to be the best mom but you also want to be the best at your job, especially when it’s one you’ve spent a decade plus cultivating. And sometimes, that seems pretty impossible.
When you’re giving your baby a bath and are covered in bubbles but your boss is calling, what do you do? It felt like I was constantly encountering forks in the road and never knew which way to go. Until it hits me. My daughter comes first. End of story. I wipe off the bubbles and shoot my boss a quick text, “call you after I put my daughter to sleep.” And guess what? That’s more than ok.
Is it easy? Ha. Not at all. Is it worth it? 100%. Will you feel awful when you leave your baby home with a cold or a low-grade fever because you have a meeting you just can’t miss? Of course. You might think to yourself “I’m such a bad Mom…” but you most certainly aren’t. Remind yourself how strong you are. If you have a daughter, you are showing her that she can do and be anything and is not defined by her gender or the roles society once identified for her. If you are raising a son, you are teaching him to respect and admire women and their abilities outside of what they can do in the kitchen.
It’s ok to go for that extra cup of coffee in the morning, that glass of wine or bowl of ice cream at the end of the day. You deserve it, mom. You may not get a cape, or a parade, but you are a superhero.