By WMM Contributor: Maura Metz
Dear Working Mom To Be,
Expecting a child? Congratulations! Extra hugs if you had a difficult journey to get to this moment. As you are looking ahead to the future and thinking about balancing work and motherhood, I would like to share some thoughts with you. My daughter is 17 months old, and I certainly don’t have it all figured out (who does?), but after going through the life-changing experience of becoming a mother, here are some things that I think might be helpful to consider.
Start researching childcare options early. There are many routes you could go: use a daycare center, go to an in-home daycare, have a nanny who comes to your house, rely on help from relatives like grandparents, or work opposite schedules with your partner to name a few options. However, it’s always a good idea to start investigating early on because many providers fill up quickly.
Save your time off. Unless you’re fortunate to have a paid maternity leave policy with your employer, you will probably need to use Paid Time Off (PTO) or vacation after your child arrives. You may be entitled to 12 weeks of job-protected leave under the Family Medical Leave Act, but it is unpaid. I had gestational diabetes, and toward the end of my pregnancy I had to go to two doctor’s appointments a week. Thankfully my employer allowed me to stay late or come in early to make up that time, so I didn’t have to use up my PTO. If you find yourself in a similar situation, ask your employer if they can offer you flexibility.
Take care of your mental health. If you will be giving birth, learn about postpartum mood disorders before your child arrives. You might consider asking your partner or close family or friends to check in on you and your mental health once baby is born. If you find yourself struggling, reach out to your doctor for help. As Mayo Clinic explains, postpartum mood disorders such as postpartum depression are not a“character flaw or a weakness” and can be caused by physical changes such as a drop in hormones after birth or emotional issues which can be exacerbated by sleep deprivation. We have to take care of our mental health just as we would our physical health.
It’s okay if you get “nothing done” on maternity leave. Taking care of a new child is no small task! If you have a newborn and they are anything like my daughter was, they will not want to be anywhere outside of your arms. Try not to feel guilty about the housework that isn’t getting done while baby is snoozing on you. Yes, life goes on after you have a child, and the house gets dirty, the dishes pile up, and the laundry basket gets full. But don’t be hard on yourself if your house is a mess. Caring for and loving a child is extremely important—in fact, it’s the most important work you can do.
People will have a lot of opinions. If it hasn’t already begun, people will start to give you all sorts of parenting advice. Maybe they are trying to help. Maybe they are trying to feel better about their own decisions. Either way, try to not let it drive you nuts. Take the suggestions that are helpful. Ignore the ones that aren’t.
It might be hard to go back to work. When my maternity leave was over, I didn’t want to leave my sweet, little baby. I wanted to stay with her. It felt so weird to be without her. She became my world. I felt really sad initially, but over time I felt better about it. More than a year later, I am confident that being a working mom is right for me. I enjoy the intellectual stimulation of my work and interaction with my colleagues, and I do my best to be fully present in the time I get to spend with my daughter. If it’s hard for you to return to work, know that how you feel is very normal. Try to be patient and give yourself time to adjust.
It might take a while for you to get your groove back at work. When you return to work, your world will have changed. You will now have a special human constantly on your mind. You may experience the lovely forgetfulness that is “mom brain.” Maybe you will pump breast milk which will disrupt your schedule. Hang in there! You will get back on your game again eventually.
Connect with other working moms. It’s helpful to make friends with people who can relate to what you’re going through. While the gift of a child is an amazing blessing, raising a child has plenty of challenges. And it’s not easy to try to be an awesome parent while being awesome at your job at the same time. Getting involved with Working Moms of Milwaukee is a great place to start. Chat with other moms on Facebook, or—even better—come to an in-person event!
You will experience moments of great joy and love like you’ve never known before. You will also experience moments in which you feel exhausted and at your wits’ end. Just take it day by day.
Good luck! I’m rooting for you, Working Mom to Be!
With love and solidarity,