I Sobbed Going Back to Work, But Can Smile About it Now

After an amazing ten months on maternity leave, I'm now back at work. I dreaded it for months." Yet despite her fears and first-day tears, Mary has learned to relish both work and the precious time she has with baby Jasper

I can honestly say that my maternity leave was the most enjoyable time of my life.

If there was any downside it was simply the thought - the ever-looming prospect from about five-months onward - of returning to work.

Never the same

I think my fear was that going back would be a case of 'that's that' - and that as well as losing all my special time with Jasper; I'd now barely see him or have the same relationship with him.

My workplace was wonderful in accommodating a three-day-a-week role for me. That said, I was worried that the work days would seem endless, and the non-work days would disappear in a flash.

What's more I was very concerned about my long commute. Being out of the house from 7am to 7pm would mean I would not even see him awake on work days!

A great surprise

I'm pleased to say however, it's not quite as bad as I feared. For one thing, on work days he is still sometimes awake when I get home. He might also wake with me in the morning, so I do get to spend some time with him at both ends of the day. What's more, time at work also seems to just fly by, and I am truly enjoying becoming familiar with concepts, people, and delivering work again.

It's been a great surprise to me - it even feels a little bizarre not to be at work on a Monday or a Friday. Of course the four days at home do feel like a lovely long break!

Changes at work

At work, I'd have to say, you are never quite the 'old you' again. There are the obvious physical changes. I'm still breastfeeding so the day is very long for me in that respect. Also, your thoughts flit back to your little one regularly, and there are restrictions on commitments you can agree to.

I'm having to be strict with my hours, just as many other parents are. But I'm trying to change my mind set so that - although I may feel guilty leaving at five-thirty to try and get home for around ten-past seven - I set a positive example for my team around work hours and flexibility.

A more confident approach

My aim is to become more confident in my approach and to not talk negatively about my hours. I shouldn't say "I ONLY work on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays". I should drop the "only" and I shouldn't apologise for leaving on time, albeit sometimes earlier than others.

Having now experienced my new working and non-working week, I feel pretty comfortable with the arrangements. I also know that Jasper loves being with me four days a week.

Worried about letting go

Another worry I had before returning to work was that when Jasper started nursery or was looked after by my mum, he would become 'different'. After all, he would now be experiencing new things without me. I'd always had control over his experiences and now I wouldn't have.

I guess this is part of letting-go; allowing him to grow-up and experience the world for himself. I've now accepted this is a really positive step for him, and that ultimately he is still the same little boy when I see him, even if I now notice his development a lot more.

Crying, grieving, and pining

I'm not going to lie: those first few days back at work were incredibly hard. That first day, I cried when I left the house; on the train when my best friend wished me luck; again when I arrived at work and my colleague asked me how I was feeling; again when my manager asked me how I was; again at lunchtime in the loos; and pretty much all evening when I got home.

Perhaps I'm a wuss but I have to say it was quite a cathartic process, almost like I was grieving for the wonderful time I'd spent with Jasper. Either that or I was simply pining for him, wanting him with me there and then.

Getting to grips with him being at nursery that first day was tough too. I felt like I needed to tell people on the train and the tube that I am a mum and have just left my baby at nursery for the first time! I felt like I had to justify myself to strangers, though don't worry, I didn't!

Adjusting at work

I remember walking through the building and feeling like everyone was looking at me; wondering why I was there, and surely able to see I just didn't have a clue what I was doing in my new role. I just felt so different to everyone around me. And when I got to the train station I was still instinctively heading toward the lifts as I used to do with the pram.

By week two however, I was already feeling far less vulnerable and much stronger about being back at work. And now, four weeks in, it feels completely normal walking to and from work, walking about to meetings, and grabbing lunch. Also his nursery is such a positive place for him to be, and he loves interacting with the other babies despite being the youngest one there.

Linking up with others

Something that really helped me was a colleague setting-up a small working-mum's group for myself and another colleague. She had returned a few months before the two of us, but we're all working flexibly and share the same 'mental mummy' struggles.

It was a breath of fresh air to speak to them and be able to support each other. I'd recommend linking up with others in the same boat at work if possible.

Easier and more enjoyable

On reflection, I think it is incredibly hard to return to work after having a year totally consumed by your baby and being a mummy - certainly so much harder than I ever expected. But, as hard as it is at first, it really does get easier and more enjoyable - even if little things remind me of him all the time.

Like most changes in life though, you just have to work through it. Just as pregnancy comes to an end, maternity leave does too - but feeling like a mummy does not need to. Whenever I have felt vulnerable or missed Jasper I have just told myself it's normal to feel like this, normal to be back at work and having a new routine.

It's a big positive step for both of us. I get to show him a multi-tasking working mummy and he gets to make new friends and experience things I wouldn't show him.

And of course, our time together now is even more precious.