Here's what it's really like to return to work after maternity leave

We all know it's hard to return to work after maternity leave but what does it actually feel like? This mum shares all the little details with us. Read on to find out!

Having a baby is one of, if not the most blissful and beautiful thing that a woman can ever experience. But one of the most painful and difficult moments that you will experience is when you return to work after maternity leave.

See, for the 4 months of maternity leave, your entire world is only as wide as your baby’s tiny arms can stretch. The hours and the days go by in a peaceful reverie of staring into your baby’s bright eyes, feeling her breath on your face, kissing her eyelashes and falling asleep while marvelling at the beautiful creation that lies before you.

But alas, such delight does not last forever and in the blink of an eye, the 16 weeks fly by and it is time for you to return to work after maternity leave. And this is what it probably feels like, whether it’s your first or last baby. Here’s my story:

So there I am, standing in front of the mirror, close to tearing my hair out trying to find something vaguely presentable to appear in on the first day I return to work after maternity leave.

You see, I’m at that awkward stage where I didn’t quite realise that most of my clothes either don’t fit, or look mighty strange on me. My dresses fit fine until I try to zip them up above the waist and realise that my nursing boobs are eagerly waiting to burst through should I attempt to forcefully zip the dress up.

The pencil skirts and office pants look tempting. I mean, I’ve just spent 4 months looking like a wreck, with my hair permanently twisted in a bun, and dragging myself around the house in sweatpants and any top that is nursing friendly.

I welcome the idea of putting on some stylish clothes and a pair of heels and strutting into the office to make my grand entrance. But of course, given the current state of affairs, that’s not going to happen. Clearly the hips got a little wider and I’ve done absolutely nothing to shed any pounds.

return to work after maternity leave

Massive wardrobe crisis!

Ok, I get it. Fashionista’s got to wait. When you return to work after maternity leave, forget trying to emulate Victoria Beckham.

Moving on, the morning arrives and I leave the home only to return like thrice, because I forget my pump, or the cooler bag, or maybe I just need an excuse for one more kiss and one more glimpse of my baby’s beautiful smile. I’m sure you know how it is.

Then I get to the office and momentarily forget how difficult it was for me to get here. I’m busy exchanging pleasantries with everyone, catching up, almost feeling like I missed the office, ok maybe I did, and all of this isn’t so bad.

And then my breasts start to harden and hurt. Milk leaks from my breasts akin to the tears that my baby sheds as she cries when she wants to latch on. 

Suddenly everything comes to a halt and I sit at my workstation and stare into space. My breasts hurt, screaming out loud that my baby wants to feed. My heart hurts in this indescribable manner, where the pain is almost palpable.

I yearn so badly to hold my baby in my arms, and lie with her on our bed. I yearn for the comfort of my sheets, scented with a concoction of baby powder, oil and milk that at times dribbles from the side of her mouth.

I miss her. I realise at that very moment that I miss my baby so very terribly. Milk leaks from my breasts as I walk to the nursing room to express my milk. My eyes feel moist and there is a lump in my throat. I am about to cry.

return to work after maternity leave

Yes, you will cry at times when you return to work.

As I express my milk, I think of her cries, her mellifluous cooing and insanely cute babbling. I think of her feet on my face and her hands tugging my hair. My mind is filled with thoughts of her. I miss her. My eyes are no longer just moist. Tears slide down my face, milk flows into the bottle.

I finish expressing the last few drops of milk and look into the mirror. I wipe the tears and take a deep breath. I know this this is going to happen every single day, for a long time coming. This is my third child and I’ve experienced this for all my children.

If you think that this only happens initially when you return to work after maternity leave, then sorry to disappoint you.The feelings don’t ever get less intense or go away. We just learn to deal with it better.

We learn to accept and make peace with the fact that this is the way it has to be, and this is the way it will be because a mum’s got to do what a mum’s got to do. And at the end of every day that we get through, we hold our heads up high, triumphant that we made it.

Over time, we also come to realise that as much as we let motherhood define us, there are other bits of ourselves and other roles that we play. Motherhood may be the most part of us. Motherhood may predominantly define us but motherhood never completely and ultimately defines us.

This realisation is the light that will guide you through the tough parts of when you return to work after maternity leave. You work hard and do what you do and tell yourself that hey, I got this, I’m a mum and I’m all of this as well.

return to work after maternity leave

We learn to embrace the fact that we can be mums and still be good at our job.

You meet people, and have conversations with actual adults, away from diapers and wet wipes. You put on nice clothes, brush your hair, get a manicure every now and then and generally feel like a real person. You owe that to yourself!

Then when dawn turns to dusk, you go home and strip yourself of all of that, jump on the couch, and let your children, or your little infant, shower you with kisses, saliva, hair tugging, milk all over and whatever not.

Maybe you will cook dinner, maybe you won’t, but that’s what Deliveroo and Food Panda are for. Maybe you will shower or maybe you will wake up the next morning still smelling of your baby’s vomit and saliva and then scramble to shower and get to work looking vaguely like a normal human being.

But that’s ok mama, because between the time you get on that couch and the next morning when you leave to work, you’re in the safe haven of the little world that you created. And that’s going to be the best bit of you that motivates you to get through anything and everything.

It’s difficult to return to work after maternity leave. But you will get by, and I assure you, everything’s going to be A-OK!