It’s been more than a year since I went out on maternity leave for the second time. A little over a year ago, I was starting to figure out double daycare drop off and pickups, our new routine, and how to juggle life as a now working mom of two. And, a little over a year ago, I came back to work and came back to a variety of comments from coworkers, clients, friends and family.
Before having a baby and going on maternity leave, I didn’t know what to expect. And I didn’t know what to say to colleagues who were on maternity leave or had recently come back. But after coming back, I can share some of the things I heard and some tips on things NOT to say to someone returning from maternity leave:
How was your vacation?
It was surprising how often I was asked this. And while I am very grateful for my FMLA-type leave, it was hardly a vacation. The days and nights were full of feeding baby, changing baby, laundry, repeat. The first few weeks, my body was recovering. Neither of my kids have been great sleepers, which meant a lot of time awake in the night trying to figure out what the baby needed. My toddler went through a sleep regression after baby #2 was born, which meant we had double the screaming at night for a few weeks.
Did I LOVE the ability to bond with my newborn? Yes. Did I cherish the moments? Indeed. But let’s just say it wasn’t much of a vacation.
How are you planning on losing the baby weight?
Yes, I also was asked this. While not directly commenting on my new mom bod, it’s rarely appropriate to ask a colleague this. Or comment on anyone’s body — especially someone who has just given birth.
Isn’t it great to be back and with adults again?
Was it nice to have conversations with adults again? Yes. Was it nice to be hanging out with other adults? Sometimes, yes. But some days would I like to be home, snuggling with my little baby? Yes. Adults aren’t always better companions.
It must be so nice to get a break from the baby!
Wait, what was that you said? I couldn’t hear you – I was halfway falling asleep at my desk and also thinking about the diapers, bottles, milk, etc. that I need to buy before heading to daycare pickup, while also calculating how much longer we can have this conversation before I can figure out a polite way to excuse myself to go pump. While I may not physically be with my baby, it didn’t always feel like I was getting a break.
So glad you’re back — we’ve been waiting on you for [insert names of 7 projects].
While it’s nice to feel needed, it’s also nice to get back into things slowly. I’m not saying you need to give working moms a break and be easier on them, but the first few weeks I was back were HARD. My first few days back consisted of nearly back-to-back meetings where I had to make time to find breaks to pump. I was tired (see: aforementioned lack of sleep). I had to leave right on time to make daycare pickup. It was hard for me to work late nights as I had done before kids (again, see: aforementioned lack of sleep). I had serious mom brain some days. And weekends became much more precious — they were time I longed for to spend with my new family. So when I had to work some of the first weekends that I was back and then travel out of town a month later, it was hard. If you know a mom recently back from maternity leave, at least tell her how much you appreciate her being back and understand her new schedule — and priorities — may be a little different for a little while.
So what CAN you say to a mom who’s back from maternity leave? Here are 3 things I’d recommend:
- You look GREAT. I don’t care if she hasn’t lost any baby weight or looks like she hasn’t slept since giving birth; we all need to hear it sometimes.
- We missed you so much. It’s nice to feel the love at the office, especially when you’re missing your baby.
- Here’s _____ for you and your family. Where ___ = healthy dinner, gift card for dinner delivery service, diapers, a frozen dinner, etc. Basically anytime someone dropped off dinner — or diapers! — they were my new favorite people. Especially after having kid #2; it seemed as if everyone forgot that we were still struggling — sometimes more so — than after kid #1, but we were more forgotten.
Please note – I am INCREDIBLY lucky to have an amazing group of coworkers who for the most part are supportive and understanding. My first day back, one of my coworkers baked fresh cookies in the office! But not everyone is so lucky. AND note that I do not speak on behalf of all recently-returned-to-work women. All women are different. Some may enjoy talking about their post-baby bodies. Some may have felt like their time off was a vacation. So please take these as suggestions and think how you’d like to be treated, as well.