How does it feel when maternity leave ends?

It’s something every working mum faces at some point – the prospect of going back to work after having a baby.

For some it’s a welcome return to a structured day and adult conversation. But for many women, the thought of leaving their baby or toddler in someone else’s care, and attempting to regroup their professional brain cells can bring up a range of unexpected feelings.

Senior Product Manager Laura Sands shares her feelings as she prepares to return to the office after a year of maternity leave – for the second time.

I’m returning to work in three weeks!

The thought of returning to work after a year off brings up a plethora of emotions. I’ve really enjoyed my time away – staying at home with a toddler and a baby is certainly grounding, helping me get a much broader view on life in general. But being at home all day can also be suffocating, and there are aspects of my returning to work that I am very much looking forward to.

In one sense, how I feel is irrelevant. Like it or not, in three weeks time I’ll be back behind my computer at work! But my feelings are important, and I need to get my head around the changes.

I already know I’ll miss my two little lads so much, as well as the network that has built around this change in my life. I also have serious confidence issues about my return to the working world, after a year out of the woods. In order to try and make sense the situation and my emotions, I’ve grouped my feelings into eight categories (see I really DO need to engage my brain on something useful again!).

1) The basics

Going to the loo, drinking a cup of HOT tea, eating a biscuit without having someone cry because they wanted that one… need I go on? Any mother will appreciate that going back to work really is quite a rest when compared to being at home all day with two small children.

2) Speaking

I’m concerned about this one. I generally refer to myself in the third person for most of the day, speak in a strange pitch and needlessly add the letter ‘y’ to the majority of nouns. Not going to go down well in a sales presentation is it? I’m also worried I’ve lost the ability to do business speak. Will I really be able to listen to people talk about touching base, stakeholdering and other favourite business terms without thinking of Dilbert cartoons and sniggering? Unlikely.

3) Fashion

Working in marketing, with lots of young trendies I will be returning as someone that is NOT in that camp, at least not anymore. And that does make me a little (just a little) bit sad. My wardrobe is mainly mail order, consisting of M&S, Boden and the odd charity shop purchase. In fact, my two year old’s shoes are newer and more expensive than the ones I wear.

I still have time to purchase a copy of Grazia to work out what I should be wearing, but the chances of any of it looking acceptable on my post-baby frame are slim. I think that this will have to be a case of suck it and see. I will in any case be wearing something other than jeans or leggings which will prove a novelty at first. But this is hugely offset by the thought of having to wear tights again. Men have no idea how lucky they are to get away with that evil – tights truly are the devil’s work.

4) Labels

At the moment I’m a full time mum. I’ll soon become a working mum, either responsible for all of society’s ills or the saints of our time dependent on how the Daily Mail is feeling at the time. These labels really irritate me – as if being at home with children is not working, or as if I am a part- ime mother because I stop caring about my babies the minute I drop them off at childcare. Men aren’t defined by their hours spent at home, so why are women?

5) Other people

OK, so I know that the official line is that you shouldn’t care what anyone else thinks, but does anyone actually manage to do that? I certainly don’t. So I’m just waiting for the looks I will get from my co-workers when I pack up and leave the office at 5pm to do the nursery pick up, or say that I simply cannot attend a meeting that is scheduled to start at 5.30.

I’m also eagerly awaiting the slightly judgemental ‘Oh!’ I’ll from some (generally older) women when I tell them that I am actually back at work full time, not part time. I know these shouldn’t bother me, but they will. Just as I know that women who have chosen to stay at home with their children feel that they are judged negatively for doing so.

How nice it would be if we could all just acknowledge that others make different choices, and we do so for different reasons. We are after all, our own people.

6) Grooming

I’m both looking forward to and dreading this one. After a year of being barefaced (note I didn’t say fresh faced), I will soon return to a life of wearing makeup, blow drying my hair and wearing jewellery. What a treat! I’ll look like a grown up again, not a sulky teenager (albeit one with serious premature ageing).

But this also poses the quandary of actually having to do this stuff in the morning. And what about my eyebrows? Should I go for the strange angular look that every 20-something seems to be sporting? Probably not…

7) Food

Eating while on maternity leave is an interesting subject. In early days you simply cannot seem to put enough food into your body to stop the enormous hunger that results from labour, breastfeeding and sheer exhaustion. More recently, finding time to actually eat seems like a feat of planning. A diet of toast, bananas and flat whites sometimes seems like a fairly balanced day.

A return to work has to be good on this front. Not only will my lads get the amazing food that the nursery kitchen rustles up (I have serious envy on this front), but I will also get to sit down and eat my lunch in relative civility in our lovely work canteen. Okay, so in reality I will probably be eating at my desk, but there will be no washing up, a choice of meal options and no-one throwing food around (or trying to steal it). Yum!

8) My family

Having spent a year of intense closeness with my youngest son, and fun and laughter with my eldest boy, I am fully expecting it to feel as if I am leaving part of my body behind when I drop them both off at nursery.

When I returned to work after my first maternity leave, I couldn’t bear to have a photo of my son on my desk as it made me too upset. It will no doubt be the same this time. But equally it will be lovely to drive home after a day of spreadsheets and Powerpoint to two cuddly little children – nothing in the world can beat that.

And it isn’t just my relationship with my children that will change. My husband has had a year of having clothes washed, socks paired and wholesome food cooked (okay maybe that one’s a stretch… sometimes I have made a decent dinner).

Now he’ll be back to hunting for a pair of matching socks and a weekly menu of jacket potatoes, pasta and sauce and stir fries. But hopefully this downgrading of his domestic situation will be offset by a wife that can hold a conversation about something other than what the woman over the road was doing, how many people came to view the house for sale that just isn’t selling, and the latest potty training incident.

Looking on the positive side

So, is a return to work just what I need? It won’t be life as I knew it. It will be more hectic, messy and sleep-deprived that possibly ever before. But also hopefully happier, more cuddly and full of love as well. Making the most of those times that we have together, without wishing away those times of independence and discovery that we will have apart.

At the end of the day, I know that my life will be what I make it. And if the choices I make are wrong then it will be in my power to change those choices. Bring it on!

You can find out more about Laura’s experiences as a working mum on her blog.