There are several firsts you’ll have as a brand new mom–the first time you see your new baby, the first time you bring your baby home, and the first time you venture out into the world alone with your little bundle.
As a working mom, there are several other firsts you’ll have as well.
At some point, instead of worrying about how you’ll survive an outing with your little one, you’ll wonder how you’ll ever survive your first full day without them.
If you’re anything like the average American working mother, you’ll probably face this reality much sooner than you’d like.
I’ve written before about steps you can take to have a happier return from maternity leave.
I’ve also featured helpful advice from a chief authority on this matter, Lori Mihalich-Levin, of Mindful Return.
However, I have not yet tackled advice for the big day itself: the day you finally return to work after having your baby.
Regardless of how long your maternity leave was, you will likely feel it wasn’t long enough.
Even with a lengthy leave, however, ripping off the Band-Aid and going back to work that first day is likely to stir many different feelings.
I had a four-month maternity leave with my son, loved my job, had an incredibly supportive employer, and I still remember the fear, dread, and uncertainty I felt leading up to my return.
For months, I couldn’t even bear the thought of returning and being separated from the little baby I nurtured and loved so much.
The last month of my leave was a final countdown toward a future I couldn’t quite conceptualize.
When the big day finally came, I summoned all the bravery I had, stepped into a cute pair of shoes bought during my leave, and courageously walked into my new life as a working mom.
That first day was not easy, but it wasn’t the end of the world either.
Here are my tips for how you can make your own first day back a little more bearable.
1. Set out everything you need the night before.
Early on, the pure logistics of getting yourself and your baby ready will probably make your head spin. It will help if you set out everything you’ll need for your first day the night before–outfits, lunches, bags (the baby’s and yours), and anything else you’ll need for the big day.
2. Give yourself lots of leeway the morning of.
Having been a mom for at least a little while, you’re likely aware that things rarely go according to plan with a child.
Give yourself time to put yourself together in the morning and get out the door.
If you have flexibility with the time you can arrive at work, use it! You may need a few extra moments to compose yourself after saying goodbye to your little one, or you might want to just take a little time to yourself before your big arrival.
3. Treat yourself on the way to work.
On my first day back, I made a little Starbucks detour before heading to the office.
I didn’t stop in or stay–I just pulled into the drive-thru, ordered my favorite drink, and sipped it on my drive while soaking in the sounds of the radio and my newfound quiet time.
If you need a similar pick-me-up, go for it!
Your morning and afternoon commute will be one of the few moments you’ll truly have to yourself from now on.
4. Be honest.
When you arrive at work, put on your professional face, of course, but be honest about how you are feeling if people ask.
If you’re an emotional wreck, you don’t have to lay it all out on the table for them, but it’s perfectly healthy and fine to say something along the lines of “this morning was a bit tougher than I expected, but I’m happy to be back” or “it’s tough, but I look forward to what lies ahead.”
Owning your feelings may better help you process them, and it also lets your colleagues know that you are proactively working through the transition.
5. Don’t try to get through everything at once.
On your first day back, don’t try to get through everything you missed during your leave all at once.
Give yourself some time to ease back into a routine.
Schedule times to check-in with your boss, co-workers, direct-reports, and anyone else who may have handled some of your work while you were away.
Begin clearing out your inbox, catching up on office mail, voicemail, or anything else that piled up–but ease into it (provided you have the flexibility to do so).
On my first day back, I looked through emails, revised my to-do list, and briefly checked in with colleagues, but I didn’t try to get through everything that day.
I spread the workload out over the course of my first week, tackling the most pressing issues first.
Ensure your pace is natural and not frenetic.
6. Bring pictures of your baby.
Bringing photos of your baby or other mementos from your time away will help as you begin to unite your two worlds together.
On my first day, I brought a photo collage with pictures from my son’s newborn photo shoot.
Our office building had a policy that required we ask for assistance when hanging pictures (probably to avoid damaging the walls), but I didn’t care about policy that day. I grabbed a hammer and set of nails and got to work.
I still missed my son, but seeing him on the wall helped me feel like he was there with me too.
7. Check in with your caregiver.
You’ll want to create a comfortable relationship between yourself and your caregiver, and calling to check-in every 5 minutes might not accomplish that.
But, early on, it’s perfectly normal to check in a few times a day as needed.
On that first day, check in as little or as often as you need. You may find yourself checking in less as time goes on, but those first days and weeks are all about ensuring you and baby are secure in your new arrangement.
8. Enjoy your lunch.
Your first day back to work may very well be the first time you’ve been able to eat a meal with both hands since the birth of your child.
Take advantage and eat something that requires use of both hands–bring on the big salad!
9. Leave the office on time (or earlier).
You will likely be hyper aware of every second that ticks by on that first day.
Don’t feel guilty if you decide to leave the office promptly at 5 PM, or even a little earlier if your schedule permits.
You survived your first day back, and that’s worth celebrating.
10. Take a deep breath.
Finally, whenever you need to, take a deep breath.
Whenever you feel like crying, whenever you feel overwhelmed, just take a deep breath and center yourself.
Then close your office door or take a walk and let it all out.
Let yourself feel whatever you’re feeling.
As the days and weeks pass, things will likely get easier.
And if they don’t, you still have choices.
Your plans can always change, and no matter what you do, you are still mama.
Have you had to navigate a return from maternity leave?
What advice would you give to a mom on her first day back?