Candace, mom of Brody, 4 months; Omaha, NE
My job: Telecommunications sales rep
My maternity leave: Eight weeks
What I did to prepare for my return: I planned to come back midweek, so I only had to get through three days before I had a break. I started pumping the week before in order to store up milk. I also sorted through my work wardrobe. Luckily, some clothes still fit, but I ended up buying a few things that were a size bigger. To steel myself emotionally, I talked to a lot of other moms about their experiences. Almost every one of them said they'd cried on their first day. Hearing that, I decided I'd try my best to be strong, but at least I knew that if I did cry, I wouldn't be the only one.
How I handled that day: I threw myself into my work to keep busy. I was relieved to make it through the day, and I felt energized because I'd accomplished a lot. The best feeling was knowing that afterward, my baby was waiting for me to pick him up and take him home.
The smartest thing I did: I sought out understanding coworkers: other moms. It was tremendously helpful to get encouragement from those who'd been there. If they could get through it, so could I. I also carried a small photo of Brody with me -- one in which he has a huge smile on his face. Seeing him so happy helped. And it may sound insignificant, but I wore my new clothes -- there's nothing like a new outfit to help you feel better!
What I didn't expect: Even though my first day back went smoothly, I had hard days in the following weeks. I felt I had to be all things to all people -- my clients, boss, colleagues, husband, and Brody. One night when I had to work late, my husband called to see when I'd be home so I could feed Brody. I started sobbing, thinking about how swamped I was and how that would keep me away from my baby. In situations like this, I tell myself that Brody's going to be okay, and I will too. I'm not Superwoman, and I just have to do the best I can. There aren't enough hours in the day for me to do it all, so I focus on the time I do have. If that means letting dirty dishes sit in the sink overnight, that's how it has to be.
What I'd do differently: I would've pumped more during my leave and frozen more milk so I wouldn't have to worry about keeping up a constant supply.
Words of wisdom: I'm still struggling with this myself, but I say: Don't be so hard on yourself! It's okay to ask for help and to take care of your own needs once in a while -- whether it's going for a walk or a "girls' night out" with friends. Even a hot bath for 15 minutes works wonders!