The emotions of returning to work: facing the end of maternity leave

Baby dressed in professional office attire crying at her desk

I like working. I love the sense of achievement, the thinking and doing, the mixing with people, and the routine of being up early and home tired after a productive day. I never thought about not returning to work after baby. It just wasn’t an option.

And then herself arrived. All cuddly and bundly and helpless and needy. I was her nourishment. I was her warmth. Without me, she would not survive. Or so the hormones told me.

I lay awake all hours, willing her to sleep, sometimes getting up to load dishes at night, all the while thinking, how could I ever leave her? How would anything get done? How could I possibly abandon this most precious thing?

Tearfully I discussed it with the husband. You’ll feel different in a few months, he said. And he was right; kind of. The utter panic about leaving my helpless newborn abated a little. She grew into a sturdy baby, a little independent soul. I could leave her for an hour or two and we even starting going out the odd night.

But the alarming change in my attitude to work didn’t go away. My job just didn’t hold the same level of importance it once had before. I felt different. I wanted to be different. I wanted more time with my baby. I needed a change.

I began to look at other options, all part-time. And in just a few short weeks, I was lucky to secure a role which suited my new criteria of nine-to-five, guaranteed. Leaving my current job was very difficult; I felt upset about it. I was attached to the place, the people and even the buzz of the heavy workload. It was like I was making an ‘adult’ decision, a family decision, where it was not all about me anymore.

My husband and I didn’t discuss childcare during pregnancy or in the months after the baby was born. We mosied along, with our maternity leave deadline looming ahead of us. It’ll be grand, I thought. She’ll sort it out, he thought.

In our situation, Daddy day-care will be open three days a week, and there’ll be no need for a crèche just yet. This pleases me very much. I just can’t imagine leaving baby behind in a centre, even though I know thousands of families have to do it, day in, day out.

What does upset me is leaving baby behind, when we are still exclusively breastfeeding. 26 weeks may seem like a long time for maternity leave, but because she wasn’t born until three weeks into my leave, she won’t be six months before I return to work. It would be wonderful if all women were entitled to six months leave, after the baby is born.

This week I met with my new employers and brought baby along. We planned out our strategy, while I stuck a toy in baby’s mouth, patted her head and rolled the buggy back and forth. It felt good to introduce my little girl to the corporate world. I want her to grow up with the determination to succeed.

It may have been a risk to bring her to the office. But I wanted her to make her mark. She may still be in nappies, she may only weigh 15 pounds, but we all know now, who’s the boss.

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