If you’re a pregnant and planning on going back to work, you may be wondering what changes other moms go through when they return from maternity leave. You probably know you have to learn the ropes about diapers, feedings, and sleep schedules, but you may wonder how the rest of your identity and life will shift.
To make matters worse, there tends to be a lot of hand-wringing about “working moms” who have work-life balance issues. Does that have to be your situation? If you’ve always been career-oriented and care a lot about your job, you may want to get a better picture about what changes — and what doesn’t —after your baby arrives.
While every woman and mother is different, here’s my perspective on the 5 major things that change for ambitious women who return to work after their first babies.
1. You will go through a period of adjustment.
I’m a mom of two and while each child and mother is different, I can assure you that you’re not alone if you have moments where you feel overwhelmed by the new experience. It’s perfectly normal! When you add something as big as a baby to your already-full life, you will naturally go through a period of adjustment.
On the physical front, your body just went through something energy-draining and demanding, and if you’re like most new moms who’ve given birth recently, you will feel tired and experience physical and hormonal changes.
All of these changes mean that if you’re returning to work soon after childbirth (or even weeks or months later), you will be navigating these things at the same time as the usual stresses of office politics, client deadlines and meeting project milestones.
That said, this adjustment period is a finite one. Millions of moms have gone back to work and they are good moms who have ultimately figured out something that works for them, their jobs and their families. So rest assured that if things feel hard initially, they will get easier.
2. You will have new feelings of conflict.
“Mom guilt” is real. I’ve rarely heard from new parents that it’s easy to go back to work — particularly on the first day. Sometimes this feeling persists and is more painful than you might expect. It’s very normal and you should be kind to yourself during this period.
Knowing that the intensity of these feelings typically subsides over time may not make it any easier at the moment but pretending that it will not happen is not particularly helpful either. Find a support group at work — perhaps it’s another colleague who you trust, take steps to maintain a connection via text check-ins with your daycare or babysitter, or even try to negotiate an adjustment period as you transition back to work.
Ultimately, you will get better at managing your feelings as you get used to your new life and the multiple roles you play. You may be surprised but things evolve to the point that many women get to a place where they truly enjoy taking time away from their kids at work. That day may still feel far away, but we assure you that it may happen at some point!
3. You may be judged and treated differently at work.
The best case scenarios are those where companies and employers provide a supportive environment. Typically this means not pre-judging you for being a mom in the form of giving you less challenging work, fewer promotion and job responsibilities or assuming you want a lighter schedule. If you’re lucky enough to work for a company where many moms have successfully returned back to work, you will have role models all around you that can reassure you that it will all feel easier with each week and passing month.
However, some of us may not be as fortunate. If you believe you can address the issue of bias and correct it with a conversation, you should try to discuss the problem with your manager or HR.
However, sometimes, you simply have to go elsewhere in order to be appreciated the way you deserve. You may have to start looking for another job. Rest assured that there are many companies women rate highly, where women feel satisfied with their work, and would recommend to others.
4. You may feel you have to prove yourself even more.
Because you may feel pre-judged or simply worry it will happen, many ambitious first-time moms try to deliver more and work even harder than before. Every situation is different, but remember that your overall reputation and good work will speak for itself and everyone is entitled to a bad day or a bad week(!).
Just remember that there are many other issues that affect employee performance where nobody necessarily expects someone to “make up” for it (at least right away). Family illnesses, divorces or even messy break-ups can all temporarily affect employee performance.
While it’s a personal decision and perfectly fine if you feel like you need to boost your work performance, don’t kill yourself during an already stressful time. Be confident in what value you add and if you do want to demonstrate your commitment, be sure that it’s being noticed — don’t just put in extra hours and assume others will be paying attention to your sacrifice!
5. You will become more conscious of your time and time management.
This is another cliche that tends to be true. You may think you’re pretty productive already, but just wait until you become a mother! Working moms are notoriously efficient when they realize they can’t simply extend the day if they’re not finished with a project by the time they have to pick up children from daycare or relieve their nannies.
Deadlines have a way of focusing our energy and time. If you’re like a lot of other moms, you will surprise yourself by these newfound abilities. It doesn’t necessarily have to be more stressful because you will also pick up new delegation, prioritization and time management skills.
You’re not wrong to suspect that your worldview will change when you return to work as a new mom. However, it’s certainly far from all bad news! Life won’t be the same, but that doesn’t mean everything has to be harder or stressful (for very long).