After spending maternity leave gradually become less inept at the various aspects of the work of parenting, it was quite a shock to return to my job and once again feel out of it and at a loss in numerous ways. I have a new appreciation for how vulnerable new parents are when they return to work. My message to the world: be patient with new parents returning to the workforce. Be compassionate as your coworker struggles to take things one day at a time.
Although it had seemed that I'd thought through many of the potential challenges of a return to work, in actuality, much of my planning had been merely "what day will I return and what can I do to make that one easier." I did have some good plans it place: when I found out that Adam would have to be out of town the first 3 days I was back at work, I accepted my parents' offer to come to NC and help me out, and it made a world of difference to have people around to help out as I got ready in the morning and as I dealt with dinner and housework after work. I also requested shorter work hours those three days. I think I figured that once those 3 days past, I would have adjusted and all would be well. So here's my public service announcement: it'll probably take more than 3 days.
At some point during my late pregnancy or early days of parenting, I'd read an article about family-friendly companies in our area and how some of them offered not only maternity leave but a "phase back" period at work. I remember thinking, "hmmm, phase back, that sounds like a good idea" but not really thinking all that specifically about how or why that was necessary. As it turns out, I'm basically doing an ad hoc phase back, due in part to my own difficulties in being able to pump enough milk to leave Emmett for the full 9-10 hours I'd need to be away to for a full work day. I have some remaining leave time and will use that to continue leaving early as needed, but I would have been screwed if I'd exhausted all leave time in hopes of staying home as long as possible. It's funny, I spent so much of my career trying to break out of part-time work, and now I am totally craving a part-time schedule. And yet I need to stay full-time for the benefits and the ability to accrue leave time.
What I've found is that there are some of the challenges of being back at work are things that I wouldn't have been able to figure out until I actually got back to work. For instance, I've learned the hard way that a meeting longer than an hour is hard to manage without enduring breast pain; I've learned to make sure that my phone is with me at all times after missing a few calls from day care during the second week. I've found that I have to bring a ton of additional items to work with me each day and it's a challenge to even just remember everything.
Though some parts of my job have that "falling off a bicycle" ease to them, sometimes it feels like my brain isn't working all that well. I get tongue-tied on a regular basis. I try to do a lot of things right as they come up for fear that I'll otherwise space them. After spending the past several months on a Baby Time schedule. it's weird to be on a work schedule.
On the plus side, I'm starting to be reminded of some of the things that I like about work, and am finding it harder to get all that worked up about some of the things that typically drive people crazy about our workplace. I figure that if I have at least a few moments of competence every day or so, then I'm doing abou as well as can be expected.