Question for smart mama:

“I just had my first baby three weeks ago and I am already dreading going back to work. I have worked really hard to get where I am in my career and I really do love my job, but the thought of leaving my daughter every morning is starting to make me really sad. I am not scheduled to return to work until January 14th so I have some time to get myself to a place where I feel better about going back. Any smart mamas out there who have been through something similar? Any advice from them?”

– Amy M.

Amy, when I was reading your question, I couldn’t believe how much it sounded exactly like I felt three and a half years ago when I had my first child (also a daughter!). I went to college knowing exactly what I wanted in my career, and I had obtained that and more by the time I got married. When my husband and I decided to have a baby, there was no question in my mind that I would just go back to work after a six week maternity leave. Easy as pie, right?

Wrong! Oh, the feelings of guilt and abandonment I felt during those maternity leave weeks when I thought about leaving my little baby in such a short time. I remember watching my husband off in the morning, keeping my brave face on, and then just falling apart as soon as he left, thinking about how soon I would have to return to work myself and how I just wanted to stay home with my baby.

I ended up speaking with my OB about postpartum depression, and I would highly suggest talking to a professional about your feelings. Even if what you’re feeling is not postpartum depression, it doesn’t hurt to speak with someone who can help you navigate the best course of action for you and your family.

As for myself, I did end up going on medication for a short period for postpartum depression, and that helped a great deal. My husband was very supportive and wished I had shared my feelings with him earlier. I just didn’t because I thought I was a failure as a woman if I couldn’t have my previous career and be a wonderful mother.

I did end up going back to work after six weeks. For various reasons, I could not extend my maternity leave, like I wanted to, but it all ended up OK. And this is why – which leads me to my advice for you:

1) Find a daycare provider that you feel absolutely, 110 % comfortable with. My husband and I literally visited about 30 daycare centers and providers, armed with about a million questions for each of them. We didn’t care if we annoyed people with our questions. We wanted to make sure we were leaving our daughter with a person/people we felt would treat her like their own. We ended up finding a dear woman through a friend who was a dream provider for us. Our daughter thought of this woman, who she called “Nawnaw” as a special aunt, and leaving our daughter in her hands was the best decision we made. Our daughter is in pre-school now, and she still asks to see her “Nawnaw” often.

2) Be upfront about your feelings with your boss as soon as you go back to work, if not sooner. Even before I returned to work, I was in touch with my immediate superiors about my reservations about returning to work, and my postpartum depression. I am grateful to have such a supportive work environment, and my bosses really helped me during my transition back to work. I think that being honest and upfront as early as possible is just a smart thing, as it prepares your boss(es) for making you feel comfortable upon your return to work.

3) Take advantage of all your vacation time. I was one of those people who hardly took time off from work. I thought my whole company would just fall apart if I wasn’t there for one day! Ha! But having a child forced me to slow down, and see the benefit of taking time off. Now, any possible vacation time I can have, I take. It allows me to be with my beautiful daughter – and guess what? My company runs just fine without me!

4) Look to others for support. I give you a lot of credit for reaching out to smart mama with your question. I was very shy at first about my feelings, and I know I could have felt better about going back to work sooner if I had talked to someone sooner. You’d be surprised (I was!) about how common it is to feel what you’re feeling. When I started talking to people about it, so many people would say, “Oh, I felt the exact same way” or “My cousin went through the same thing.” It was comforting to know! So talk to people about your feelings!

I hope your transition back to work goes well for you. Enjoy the holidays with your daughter!

And just a note, I will have to be re-reading my advice to you in about four months, when I have my second child and have to face going back to work after a maternity leave again! 🙂

Today’s smart mama is Karen, an executive at a large retail company, who we are putting pressure on to start her own blog!