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Back to work after baby: Tell us your stories

This morning, Olivia heads back to work, her maternity leave for her third babe concluded. I think I'm feeling all of the things she must be feeling, for her: it's so hard to go back to work! (Plus, we loved having her extra energy here on urbanMamas.) We know how many things are on a mama's mind when she heads back to work, and the more children at home (at least for me), the more conflicted I felt.

We've chatted before about some of the mechanics of going back to work; whether struggling to bottle-feed a baby who'll be without mama's breast for several hours a day, the logistics of a nanny share; some thoughts on how to return to work after a long absence; and about how much leave we'd want (were we to have a say in such things). But today, let's tell stories about returning to work: how long had you been at home? How did you feel? What was the first day like? Did you feel a little guilty enjoying that unencumbered walk to the coffee shop, the feel of "nice clothes" on your freshly-showered skin? Or did you sit down at your desk that first morning and resolve to fight for laws requiring longer, paid leave for parents everywhere? (yeah!)


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This topic is so fresh to me. I just came back to work in November after having my second child and it is hard emotionally and physically. I'm pumping twice a day, which seems to take up any "free" time I might have had at work. Plus I miss my kids fiercely. It was so nice to have the summer to spend with my baby and by 6 year old, I'm still fighting the transition. MY husband was home with the kids until the first of the year, now my daughter is in daycare three days a week and and home with dad two days a week. And although it's so great for the family, I'm a tiny bit jealous because I wish I was the one home two days a week, but we couldn't swing it financially since I'm the primary bread winner. ANYWAY, long post to say I'm still mentally struggling although it's getting easier.

I went back to school and work last fall when my daughter was 5 months old. I had to put her into fulltime daycare because my class schedule changes every quarter and I got a precious slot at the excellent PSU daycare. I took a not-so-great, poorly-paid temporary job because I couldn't pass up work, both for the income (to pay for the fulltime daycare) and the connections. Now, four months later, I'm sorry that I took the job. The breastmilk pumping is awful, the long days away from her are awful, and she turns out to be pretty unhappy in daycare. My first day at work, I missed a bus connection that would have gotten me home 10 minutes earlier, and I stood at the bus stop and cried uncontrollably, feeling completely crazy.

I can't leave the job now, because we need the money, and I desperately need the connections and experience that give me at least a very small chance of getting a permanent job when I graduate. It breaks my heart a little bit every day.

With all that said, though, I do like working, and I want to have the choice to work. When I went back to work when my older daughter was two, I was so happy to re-establish my independent, productive working self. But she was ready to establish HER separate self at that point, and the little one isn't yet. So even though I am enjoying many things about working, I really wish that I hadn't had to do this. I'd like my paid parental leave, universal daycare, and universal health insurance now, please. Please!

Sarah - I'm not sure what your line of work is but uMamas just posted a great link the other day for a job share that is hourly at gdiapers and I believe they have childcare on site. I really feel for you. I just went back to work but am AT work so more on that later! :)

I took my daughter's birth as an opportunity to quite my hated dead-end job but new that eventually I'd have to look for a new one. Job hunting while adjusting to a new baby when I didn't even want to go back to work at all was incredibly stressful. My husband pressured me some but quickly learned that he needed to treat the topic very, very gently. When my daughter was 6 months old I got a job in my desired field that I was really excited about and it was very part time, increasing hours each month until it became full-time for 4 months and then the hours dropped again. I feel really lucky because it was the perfect scenario. At 6 months, I was starting to want a job again and the schedule allowed me to ease into leaving her and working full-time. It was still a shock to work full-time though and I missed my just-turned-1 year old terribly and was so tired in the evenings! I'm also lucky that while she was still nursing, she was old enough to go the day without breast-milk so I didn't have to pump. I did enjoy the freedom this gave me and the adult contact and responsibilities other than just mama duty were nice. I think the key to any working parent scenario is to find care that you and your child are happy with. Dropping off a cheerful child in the morning is a nice start to the day and coming home to a happy, playful baby made me feel much less guilty.

To Sara, who said, "It breaks my heart a little every day:" I so feel for you, and feel your pain. That is exactly how I felt when I went back to work after having my first baby. With my second (who is six months now; I just went back to work part-time in October, when she was three months old), it didn't hurt so desperately badly. But I think that's just because my heart had already been broken with the first experience. I had so many situations like the one you describe with the bus: being stuck behind a slow driver on the way home, desperate to nurse her (because I wanted the closeness and because the pump never got all the milk out. I ended most days at work feeling like I was going to explode).

With the second one, we were so lucky to have already found amazing in-home childcare for my older child, so leaving her at daycare didn't feel awful, like it did with my first.

What surprised me with the second was how little I was able to pull it together at work. I went back to work part-time, but even on the days I was there, I didn't really feel like I was there. I manage a large department, and I am thankful that my co-workers didn't just completely write me off. Most days, they were reminding me what had to be done, and who should do it. I truly couldn't have cared less about work. I was just showing up for the paycheck. I felt like a complete imposter of a manager.

Suddenly, however, when she turned six months, I felt like my old self again at work. I actually care about things that happen now. I feel like we have reached a good balance.

It leads me to think that, if there is a third child in my future, I will take six months of leave, no matter what.

Or, in my dreamworld, FMLA will be revised to include 6 months of paid leave. Oh, if only . . . .

I went back when my first and only baby, a girl, was only 8 weeks old. I went back only half time, but it was really, really, hard. My daughter is now almost 8 months and I am working 2.5 days a week... oh, and this is my dream job. I worked HARD to get it and absolutely love it. Though I just can't shake the piercing, aching, doubting feeling that I have all day at work. I want to be with my little one sooooo much. I am considering resigning from my job and therefore screwing my career completely, but I just want to know- do moms who stay home EVER regret it? Honestly? I wouldn't in a millionn years have guessed I'd EVER consider resigning, but I just want to raise mY OWN KID! Thanks for listening :)

To Amy, I am a stay at home mom. My kids are teens now and busier than ever. I do not regret living off one income at all. It has been an amazing ride. I'll get a job in a year or two to help with college expenses, until then.. I'm the mom who is "there".

I am struggling with this very issue as my son is about to be 6 months old. I was supposed to go back at the beginning of December but found my workplace to be very rigid about my schedule, and that I really didn't want my job back that much. That said, my husband and I agreed that I would look for a better (mentally better)job that was more part-time (20-25 hours/week). I haven't had the time or desire to look much, and when I've seen something interesting, I haven't come up with the energy to apply. I am just feeling like being separated from my son for some hours during the day might be ok, so I will resume looking soon because I fear being out of the workplace for too long, and feel like we do need my income. I have been shocked at the degree of my attachment to this child (and how much I love being at home with him) and I really feel for the moms who've had to go back so early. I really think we should be able to take 6 months minimum... ideally paid, but even unpaid or partially paid would be a welcome improvement. sigh...

Amy-Honestly? I loved my job, but was sure I'd love staying at home even more. Everyone does, right? Turns out, this is not my gig. I know what I am doing is valuable for my child, but I truly miss the emotional rewards of a career. I feel like there is something missing in my life. At this stage, getting a new job vs. child care costs just doesn't pencil for us. I'm a good Mom, but I. Can't. Wait. For. Preschool. I never would have found this out until I tried. If we have another child, we will have a different plan in place and I will work part time. This Mommy needs to find her stride! Balance!
I realize this is not a poplular thing to say, but I wish someone would have told me that I might not love being a SAHM and achieve instant fulfillment. It's such a personal choice, so don't feel guilt or pressure. There is no right answer.

Amy, I have been home with my 2 kids full time except for a one year stint in between babes where I had a great part time job. Staying home has been a choice that I am SO lucky to be able to make. My husband has a secure job with a generous income and great benefits. We don't have a lot of extra income for extras, but our life is very comfortable--we pay the bills, eat out once a week, and manage to save. I know that I am doing the right thing for my kids and my family, and I know that years from now I absolutely will not regret my decision to stay home. My boys are 2.5 and 5, and with my oldest headed to Kindergarten next year, I already have that feeling that these years have flown by. However, almost daily, I wish I had a bit more balance in my life. I miss my old part time job, where I was able to leave the house a few mornings a week knowing that my son was in good hands. After paying for childcare I'm not sure I actually made a lot of money doing it, but the balance it provided for me mentally was perfect. I loved being in the working world again--talking to customers and putting together big deals. I travelled about once a quarter and although I missed the babe, I also relished the opportunity to sleep alone for 7-8 hours straight and eat out in nice restaurants again! I love my kids, but there are days that I envy my working friends. At the same time, I know that many of them envy me!

I know that working full time is not an option for me while my kids are so young. The dinner/bath/bed time hours are stressful enough, and I cannot imagine coming home after a full day of work to 2 kids who are tired, hungry, and needing attention and have to quickly cook dinner and race through to bedtime. I also know that unless I went back to my first career in 100% commission based sales, I would not be able to find a job that would pay enough to cover the daycare expenses and let us really feel an increase in income. But I would seriously consider taking a part time job, even if it meant that we were only breaking even financially just to add a little balance to my own life.

As Anon says, there is no right answer. Listen to your heart, feel lucky that you have a choice because so many families don't right now. Good luck with your decision.

Amy - I don't know if I regret it, but there has been a price to pay...you basically decide to give up adult aspirations on many levels, and while you're playing with play-doh and trains, you realize, damn! Those aspirations haven't gone away --now what?

That said, I will always be thoroughly thankful that I was able to be at home for a considerable period of their upbringing...

I've done the SAHM deal a bit backwards -- I was in grad school (and they in an excellent in-home situation) when they were infants and now that they are a bit older, I'm home. I'm deeply thankful to be able to volunteer in classrooms, be here if they'e sick, have calm summers and holiday breaks, do the half-day preschool because the school is *that* good, etc.

I understand what anon is saying. I went back to work when my daughter was 8 weeks old -- I was covered by FMLA, but we couldn't go another month without my income. A few months later, my husband lost his job, found a new one that paid better, but it meant we had to move. Instead of looking for a new job in a new place in a bad economy, I stayed home.
I've been home for more than a year now.
I loved it for about nine months. Then I really started to freak out about what was happening, or not happening, to my career, my life, my identity. I loved my job. I would have kept it if we hadn't moved. I was lucky in that I had a lot of flexibility. I worked full-time, but I could bring work home, work after she went to bed, etc.
She just started nursery school, twice a week, last month. And I'm trying to freelance. I feel like I'm starting over, and it's hard, but I shudder to think what I could miss out on if I were to go back to a normal full-time job without the seniority to demand such flexible hours.

I returned to work after my son was 5 months - I was lucky to find a daycare at work so I was able to see him practically everyday at lunch and feed him. Now he is nearly 4 and at preschool full time. We are trying for #2 and I know any guilt I might have felt with #1 and daycare will not exist. This works for me/us. Sure would I love to be independantly wealthy and do volunteer work and stay at home part time - sure but that is not a reality. I have a lot of stay at home moms in my neighborhood and I simply cannot relate to them - I see them camped out in their front yards every day - looking up every time a car goes by - to me looking for adult contact. I enjoy being able to work and spend quality time with my family - it is a balance.

Mary, you don't have to be independently wealthy to stay home. And those moms who look up when you pass by are not pining for your company, they are looking to wave at someone they recognize, like a neighbor.

I went back to work full-time when my son was 3 months old (3 years ago), leaving him with family four days a week. I cried my eyes out at work for the first 2 weeks. I even cried in front of a patient (I am a physician assistant) the first day back. It just hurt so much to leave him even though I knew he was with family and family I really liked and trusted. All I wanted was to quit my job and stay at home with him.

Flash forward to 2 months ago when I left my daughter (she is 5 months now) to return to work again. The family member who watched our son wanted a job outside the home so we were forced into looking for day care. I was so stressed about putting my kids in "public school" when it had been family up until this point. We found an amazing center for both kids. I am slightly guilt ridden about saying that this time around I didn't cry a single tear. And I haven't looked back either.

I think the biggest difference (besides it being the 2nd time around) is that I am currently at a job that I really love. The job I held with baby #1 was terrible. No flexibility, jerk supervisors, annoying commute, the list goes on. My current job is supportive of parents, challenging, and overall just a great place to be. My career is important to my well being. And a happy mom makes for a happy home!

I had our daughter in October and returned to work after a three month leave. She is now at home with my partner for 9 weeks, and although that is very comforting (and quite privileged), I still miss her terribly. What I want are a range of options: a flexible schedule for me and my partner; 6 month leave (paid/unpaid, protected); the ability to work from home; the ability to go part-time then return to full-time status. I want true "family-friendly" policies. Note that we are a same-sex couple so often we are not recognized as a family - broadening the definition is vital. (And we would be ecstatic if we could get married in our lifetime - to be able to have the same equal protections, privileges, securities as other couples, as our neighbors, as other family members would be just, fair, democratic, profound.) It's difficult because I wasn't sure how I would feel, what would be best for me, our family - we're still figuring it out and will for some time. We are incredibly fortunate to be able to debate these issues at all - for too many, there aren't such choices.

I went back to work after baby no. 1 the usual 12 week leave. It was so painful. I cried every day and was miserable. When she was about 18 months old, I was able to find my dream job - challenging and interesting and in my field, but only 3 days a week. We are very lucky to have a nanny that we love and trust, so leaving my little one was not nearly as hard as the daycare decision. After no. 2, I went back after about 8 weeks - I honestly needed to get back to work for my own mental sanity, and again, having great childcare made it easy. No question it was hard to manage the job, the kids, and finding any time for self-care; and pumping/keeping up my breastmilk was a joke - no time on the job it felt like to do this reasonably. We are now expecting no. 3 next week, and I am taking 6 weeks of leave, transitioning back part time (which means 12 hours a week) for about a month, and then back to 3 days.

I truly respect those mamas who love staying home - it is a really tough job and requires a skill set I don't know that I have - I also respect those women who work full time - I did it for a little while and it was so incredibly hard to find balance. For me, working part-time is the answer - I love my 3 days at work - they are like oxygen; at the same time, the two days (and weekend) I spend with my kids are also nourishment for me and allow me to feel connected to my kids and grounded as a mom.

I do think it gets easier with each child (or at least it has for me) in terms of knowing who you are as a mother, what you need, what your kids need, what your spouse needs, and figuring out where that balance is. Good childcare goes a long way, and I know I would not be so confident and secure about our plan (or how we did it in the past) if I didn't have a great nanny who loves my kids as her own and has been with us for over 5 years. I think the bottom line is that when you do find balance, it isn't so hard (whether that is the decision to SAH or work).

There often seems to be a lot of discussion around family leave and our desire as parents to have the option of a longer break from work when new babies come in to our lives. We've discussed it here on urbanMamas before, and I do wish our country placed a higher priority on this and could make this happen. Maybe some day...

In the meantime, the other BIG wish of mine, is for companies to offer more part time options to current and prospective employees. As I mentioned in my previous post, for me, taking a full time job is not something I have any desire for at the moment. (And thankfully, it's not financially necessary for our family right now either.) But our family balance is seriously "lopsided" right now--my husband works long hours and has a very demanding job. I, in turn, have very long days with my kids and long for an opportunity to get out of the house and bring some balance to our days. As I mentioned before, I love my kids and I know I'm doing the right thing by staying home with them, but I also know that we could all benefit from a change of scenery too! I know for a fact that I could bring value and revenue (!) to an organization if they opened their minds and made part time a real possibility, but it just doesn't seem like many companies are all that willing to go this route yet. For the people (mostly mamas, in my circle) who I know that work part time, their "gig" seems to be more of an exception than anything, but part time seems to also work for so many people too. I'd like to see more...

Thank you, philomom. You are exactly right. I'm not someone to be pittied when I look to connect with you. I'm just being friendly.

I was set to go back to work when my little one was 5 months. I was devastated when she spent the entire day at care crying and refused to take a bottle all day. My husband and I did some adjusting and decided that I would stay home until she was a year. This has been the best year of my life. I would give ANYTHING to be able to stay home longer but after this year w/o my income we are pretty desprate. I find being at home highly fullfilling. I also find that there are tons of opportunities to interact w/other adults. Believe me, I'm not hurting for activities or interactions. It's almost like there is a party going on during the day for stay at home moms. Anyway, I think being a SAHM is the best job in the world and I envy all of you that are able to do it long term.

I went back to work part-time with both of my children when they were 3 months old. We were fortunate to have family close-by and I had in-home grandma-given care. Who could ask for more! Now my kids are 5 and 2 and with a long distance move I have decided to be home full-time. I don't stress about losing my professional self, I know the work world will still be there when my kids are in school. I love that being home allows me to slow down the clock, to watch them grow at their pace, to rediscover myself through them. You do not have to be wealthy to stay at home. We live off of a one income (a teacher's no less!). And in many ways, being forced to simplify our lives has made us realize how much we can go without. We save more now than we did on 1.5 incomes.

Staying home is a big adjustment, it takes a good year to settle into the pace (at least for me) and to realize that you have to be clear and organized around the goals for staying home and for your kids.

I think maintaining and creating the balance of giving to your kids and giving to yourself is critical. I am involved in an activity that challenges me physically and mentally and allows for lots of quality adult time. So many evenings, when my husband returns, I am off to class.

I know for some staying home is not an option and for others staying home full-time is not a goal. But for those somewhere in between, I think it's worth giving it a shot. Simplify and you may find that it is possible.

(And thanks philmom for your spot-on response above.)

I've been a SAHM (for about 7 yrs) since before I even gave birth b/c once I got to be about 5 months pregnant, I was no longer able to perform the duties of my job so I was let go. I would give anything to go back to work in my career - part time, full time, on call - even though the wages are low. Being a SAHM has been so depressing, isolating, and I feel like I'm drowning from the drudgery. At least at a job you occasionally get noticed for doing a good job. Never have I heard, "wow, fantastic work on that butt-wiping!"

I guess I'd feel differently if I had the option to go back to work?

For some families, 12 weeks would bea luxury. I've had friends go back to work the NEXT week because they had to. And mamas that carefully planned to take some of their unpaid leave only to find themselves pushed out when they attempted to return.

Most UMamas that post are so incredibly blessed to have choices that many mamas and families don't. Your barista, waitress, receptionist, retail worker, etc. don't enjoy many of the leave privileges that are being discussed.

It's really hard to leave our babies no matter what our income level. Just take a minute to think of the mamas for whom it is not a choice and maybe have to leave their precious babes in less than ideal child care circumstances. Until family friendly activism and policies encompass all families, there will be too many left-behinds.

Amy, I've been a sahm for 10 years and I don't regret it. But the thing is, unlike you, I didn't have a dream job to leave. I was burned-out and jaded from my job and all too happy to leave it. Staying home is very hard, especially at first, and I think I would have been just as conflicted as you are if I'd had a job I loved.

For me, the opportunity to sah was a welcome change from what I'd been doing. And I was lucky to find a great group of mama friends who have made these years really rich and fun for me. Whoever said that it's kind of like a party at home all day was right - well, on some days, anyway.

At the same time, I know full well that being out of the work force has put me in a precarious position, financially, in case of death or divorce. Not that I anticipate those events, but who does? We've all read Ann Crittenden's The Price of Motherhood, right?

If I had a career I truly loved and the opportunity to do it part time, I would jump at the chance. Amy, you ARE raising your own kids. Don't ever think you're not.

Amy, I'm in a similar position.

It has been almost 2 years since I returned to work after maternity leave. I was able to add on vacation time for 16 weeks off & returned part time to a career I love. My husband was able to provide most of the childcare for our son & the baby only had to be w/ someone else for 4 hours a week. But going back to work was awful. I was waking up at night, having panic attacks for the last six weeks. Partly because it was really hard to find someone to care for the baby those 4 hours that my husband & I couldn't cover.

I think I would have quite if I wasn't returning to a job share position. I felt like quiting would reflect poorly on all mama's and reduce the likely hood of job share possibilities in the future. And I did/do love my job. It is a limited field and pretty competitive to get into so I didn't feel like I could quite and come back in a few years.

I was a bit shell shocked by the 'new mom' role & feeling isolated at home, so it was nice to get back into my 'old' world a little bit. But I was just starting to figure out how to be a SAHM when I went back to work, so I think I probably would have found social outlets.

In the last 6 months the organization has undergone a huge restructuring and the changes made job sharing very challenging. I'm starting to wonder if continuing this is even going to be an option. I'm torn on whether I want to figure out how to make things work or just quite. I am lucky to have financial resources that make staying home an option. And it is still a stressful choice. 75% of the time when I'm at work I'm happy to have a job & 75% of the time when I'm home I don't want to go back to work. I do recognize that it is a luxury to be in this situation, but it is still stressing me out.

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