Driving away from my work the last day before maternity leave I was part relieved that I was FINALLY gonna have a baby soon and part terrified that I was finally gonna have a baby soon. The reality that my life was going to change, labor pains were looming and my gigantic “nesting” list had yet to be tackled occupied my mind and heart.
Also the thought of being away from work for MONTHS seemed almost unreal. Work was my thing. I introduced myself as a Product Manager at dinner parties. I identified with my company as my “work family.” Work was not just a paycheck it was what I DID. The thought that my job would still go on without me for a quarter of year, frankly, worried me. If I could be gone that long then do they really need me? What important stuff would I miss?
So I looked down at my big ‘ole belly and mentally threw my hands up and said, “oh well.” I had way bigger priorities and way bigger worries at that point. What didn’t cross my mind as I drove home that day was what the heck did I need to know when I returned three months later. A little preparation before you leave, will help with the return.
Paperwork. I love reading paperwork as much as I love cleaning a poop explosion out of a car seat. BUT, knowing your rights and entitlements are empowering. Talk to your HR, principal’s office, etc. They will likely give you instructions and have you sign something.
Be sure to check out our “Maternity Leave Tool Kit” for additional tips and information.
Person. Who is going to do your job (terribly of course because you are AWESOME) while you are out? Is that person trained? What are a few tips that they need to know while you are out? This is the time to start practicing the art of acceptance of help. With your tired eyes and emotional brain you will need to ask for help after baby arrives. If it is difficult for you to ask for help, sister, this is a good opportunity to practice it!
Access. A recent client thanked me so much for one little tip… write your computer password down on a sticky note and put under your keyboard. When she came back to work and could not remember her password and her IT department was busy and she was leaking, big honking mess. If you have card keys, door key, or any other way you use to enter your work… put them in an envelope in your closet or nightstand with the words “Bring to work.” And put it in a place that you will not see every day because you want that mental break but not in a place that is so obscure that you will forget where you put it.
Attitude. Take a moment before you leave your work on your last day before maternity leave and silently acknowledge that you will return and be a great employee but that you will fundamentally be changed (for good!). Your baby will rock your world (for the better) and taking a minute to silently close the Pre-baby chapter on your life and compassionately be open to the unknown of the post-baby chapter will be helpful. Your employer will be fine, you will survive!
While on maternity leave you can prepare your mind and heart to return. I also suggest an attitude of what I call “being okay with okayness.” If perfectionism runs in your blood you gotta check that one out.
List. Do you have “baby brain”? Real or not, the mere fact that we are so sleep deprived for the first few or many months after baby is born has to impair our brains. All the more reason to write a list of daily/weekly tasks that you do, any long term projects that you will need to get updated on when you return, etc. Write them down and put that piece of paper in an accessible drawer.
Timing. Schedule a time to talk to your boss about your return. Reassure them that you are taking a certain number of months off and ask if there is anything you need to do before you come back.
Reminders. Use your phone as your personal assistant to remind you to notify your employer of the birth so that your insurance can be updated. Set a reminder for other tasks to do during maternity leave like starting to pump and freeze milk approximately one month after baby is born (sooner or later depending on what your lactation consultant recommends), start to look for childcare, etc.
Finally, before you decide to not go back to work, we encourage you to read Your Turn: Careers, Kids and Comebacks–A Working Mother’s Guide.
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