This is an article in our Pregnancy Week by Week series, a resource to help you manage your job and life, through and after your pregnancy.
Week 42: Maternity Leave As A Second Time Mom
You already have a baby or toddler at home, so you may think you’ve gotten the hang of this mothering gig. And compared to baby and maternity leave #1 when you discovered that newborn baby poo goes from black-to-yellow (Can someone please explain how that is supposed to be intuitive??), you are a seasoned mom.
During Your Maternity Leave
Most women we spoke to tend to agree that maternity leave with Baby #2 tend to go more smoothly. For example, our founder Romy Newman explains:
“In many ways, the arrival of the second baby was much smoother than the first. Simply put, I basically didn’t get dressed for 4 weeks after my first baby was born. After Baby 2, I was dressed - and taking my son to school - the next school day.”
However, brace yourself for different challenges since having a new baby is never exactly a piece of cake. As Anjna Mehta, a corporate attorney in Palo Alto puts it,
“I thought I had everything figured out for my second baby: how to nurse, how to sleep, how to maintain some order amid the chaos. It turned out that I was wrong, and each aspect presented new and unforeseen challenges.”
Not that it’s all bad news. She says, “One positive benefit I didn't anticipate was the added time with my toddler. Although my primary focus was my infant during maternity leave (we still had a nanny to help with our toddler), being at home gave me a wonderful opportunity to play and generally be with our older son, which never really happened before, other than on weekends.” Romy, too, found herself very happy to have more time to spend with her older child -- and do things like be at his school for special events.
For those of you using daycare, you may not want to disrupt your older child’s routine. Plus, it leaves you with more time to bond with your new baby. Moreover, some moms find that having an older child actually really complicates the way they spend their maternity leave. A new person has joined a family so it’s not just the bonding between parent(s) and baby that needs to happen. Romy, for example, was very concerned about helping her toddler adjust to the arrival of his new sister.
Similar to Anjna, she realized that she was getting to know and see her toddler in a much different way during her second maternity leave. And this is when the challenge of a new, louder version of mom guilt can come into play.
Feelings About Returning To Work
“Mom guilt” is a very, very real thing. And being on maternity leave with Babies 1 and 2 can challenge even the most career-oriented of us with amplified longing to spend more time with both of our children.
As Romy puts it, “I had always felt small tugs of guilt about leaving my first child while I was at work. I assuaged the guilt by telling myself that he wasn’t really doing all that much while I was away. Mostly sleeping. Then, when I was finally home to see what he was doing, suddenly I felt like I was missing so much while I was away at work...it made it much harder for me to go back to work the second time. I didn’t feel like I was leaving a sleeping baby -- I felt like I was leaving a fully bonded and aware 2 ½ year old and missing his “baby” years.”
The moms we spoke to felt mixed about whether it was easier to go back to work the first, versus second time around. Many spoke of their different feelings about leaving two children at home (versus their first baby), while some also saw a different financial trade-off having to support 2 children in daycare.
Still others went back to different jobs, teams or managers, so those circumstances ended up being the factors that made the most difference. For example, Romy’s company underwent a large corporate reorganization while she was out on maternity leave. Therefore, her coming back after her second leave was challenging for completely unrelated and unexpected reasons.
Anjna went back to the same company after both her children and found coming back after her second maternity leave to be easier than after her first leave:
“Coming back as a second time mom was definitely easier. I cut myself more slack and gave myself a longer runway to get back to speed (I jumped right into the deep end after my first and definitely suffered). Sleep was still hard, and even though my second wasn't sleeping any better at 5 months than my older one did at the same stage, it felt easier knowing that sleep would indeed return, eventually.”
Our co-founder Georgene felt less guilty about going back to work after her second maternity leave. “Since my son had not just survived but thrived despite my going back to work after a relatively short maternity leave, I figured that my daughter would also follow in his footsteps. In other words, I just became more relaxed about what I really needed to do in order to be a ‘good’ mom.”
Whether you plan on having more children also plays into how you will feel. For example, Sarah O’Grady told us:
I thought it would be easier the second time around, but it was actually harder. I think because I knew she was my last, I felt an even stronger urge to savor every moment a bit longer. The first week back crushed my soul. But, like I imagine it does for every mom, each day it got easier and easier. By week three we were in a groove and everyone was doing great!
Ultimately, each child and maternity leave is unique and it’s hard to predict what maternity leave will feel like the second time around. This lack of predictability is part of what makes life as a growing family so special, so embrace the unknown. Things do settle down into a rhythm so enjoy your leave as much as you can!
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How do people manage maternity leave when they already have a (slightly) older child?
I've got a toddler at home who is really demanding and I'm not sure whether to take her out of daycare while I'm on maternity leave. On the one hand I think it'd be awesome to spend more time with her but on the other, I'm worried that will not leave...
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