To the mother returning from maternity leave; you are making one of the hardest transitions in your life. I see you. I feel you.
I’ve been there and done that. Not once, but four times. And I know that the past four months have profoundly altered the course of your life. You’ve just been through 9 months of pregnancy and brought a life into this world.
You’ve witnessed the most fulfilling, life-changing, and magical moment – when you first met your baby.
But that was just the beginning. Over the course of your maternity leave, you have spent most of your hours with your baby, in a sweet reverie of companionable silence.
You marvelled at her tiny fingers and toes and just how perfect she is. You spent many hours watching her sleep and have almost memorised how she breathes in and out, ever so softly.
You watched her fluttering her eyelashes and captivating you with her bright-eyed, toothless smile. You’ve listened to her cries and her coos and fell in love over and over again, every single moment.
You enjoyed that incredibly special bond that makes you feel so overwhelmed with love that your heart can barely contain it.
I watched as some of your close friends decorated your table with balloons and welcome-back notes. I smiled as I recalled that familiar bittersweet feeling that I experienced when I was the mother returning from maternity leave.
I see you walking into the office all excited to catch up with the friends you’ve not met in months. I see you walking from aisle to aisle, exchanging the I miss you’s and it’s good to see you again pleasantries.
And as I watch you from afar, I see that glow on your face that only a mother would recognise. A glow that is a concoction of the post-pregnancy radiance, the happiness of becoming a mother and the bliss that overcomes you when you think of your baby every two seconds.
The mother returning from maternity leave often has that telltale glow, that she just had a baby.
To the mother returning from maternity leave, I see that momentary relief in you – that you finally get a break from vomit and wet wipes and are in the company of adults. I see that drive in you to want to get back on your feet and to jump back into the driver’s seat of your life.
I see the fire in your eyes and that added motivation that you have to be the best version of yourself, for you now have a child who will look up at you.
To the mother returning from maternity leave, I see all of these but I also see the way the colour drains from your face and your brows knit together when you receive a call from home. I know exactly how you feel.
You are rational enough to know that it’s likely to be a call to just update you about your baby but you are emotional enough to worry yourself sick that something might have happened to your baby.
I see your fingers trembling as your swipe your phone to answer the call and I sense the anxiety and nervousness in your voice as you speak. I see the guilt that clouds your face when you hear your baby crying in the background.
Mummy, I want you to know that it’s all normal. No matter how many kids you have, you’re always going to feel this way. Don’t beat yourself up over the guilt of leaving your baby at home. Being a stay-at-home mum isn’t always an option and it doesn’t necessarily work for everyone.
You’re doing what you have to to give your child the best that you can. And someday, she will know that. She will appreciate you.
Your child will make peace with the fact that she has to share you with your job. Someday she will understand why.
It’s a long meeting, and somehow, instinctively, I look in your direction. I sense that you are uncomfortable for your breasts are likely to be weeping milk by now. You want to excuse yourself but you aren’t sure if it’s appropriate. You feel awful. You just don’t know what to do.
I want you to know that a mum’s got to do, what a mum’s got to do and you don’t have to feel bad for it. Some people will understand, some will remain apathetic and some will actively judge you. It’s impossible to please everyone. And you really don’t have to.
I see your smile fading as you return to the privacy of your work station. I see you sitting down and I hear you sigh and I hear the fatigue in it. I know that your body has barely recovered from the trauma of childbirth.
I understand how tired you are for you either woke up multiple times at night to feed your baby, or to gaze at her beautiful face when you could have been sleeping.
To the mother returning from maternity leave, I understand how stressed you are. I can hear the voices in your head telling you that you’re not a good enough mother. I hear the accusations from your conscience, that you aren’t giving your best at work.
Because you can’t help but think of your baby when you are at work. And you can’t help but think of work when you return to your baby. And every single day is a repetition of this vicious cycle. You’re constantly caught in the dilemma of just how much of yourself to give, or not to give, to each aspect of your life.
When you’re at work, you think of your baby. When you’re with your baby, you think of work.
Your feelings will constantly change and you might find yourself at odds with your own mind. It’s ok, don’t worry your pretty little head trying to be logical about everything.
Motherhood doesn’t always make sense but that’s just the way it is. Because in becoming a mother, more often than not, you will find yourself thinking from your heart instead of your head.
I want you to know, that you must only do what you can. If you need time to ease yourself back into the swing of things, talk to your boss. If you need to introduce formula milk to your child, go ahead. Do anything and everything that you need to, to make things a tad bit easier for you.
You must remember that your sanity, health, happiness and well-being are of utmost importance. Only then can you raise a healthy and happy child.
Lastly, to the mother returning from maternity leave, I want to leave you with this message. There will be a mother like me, somewhere in the office. Years after giving birth, she will look at you and reminisce what it was like for her when she was the mother returning from maternity leave. And it will remain fresh in her memory, as if it all happened yesterday.
And no, she’s not there to just write you an open letter to tell you that it’s ok and that you’re not alone. She is there to help you in whatever way she can. If you need help, advice, a shoulder to cry on, someone to admire your baby’s pictures with you or even to be the voice of reason when you think things are too much for you, go to her.
Because she was once the mother returning from maternity leave. She sees you. She feels you. She wants to help you to help yourself.