In the second half of the article, we continue our analysis of maternity leave issues affecting working parents.
Enjoy your time!
Repeat after me: you will never get this time back. You have a lifetime to work, but only a small opportunity to enjoy your children as babies. Therefore, enjoy your maternity leave, enjoy your little one, and know that your temporary exit and re-entry into work may feel a little bumpy, but know that things will work themselves out.
Arrange for childcare.
I suggest researching childcare options during the tail end of your pregnancy. Narrow your choices down, take tours of the facilities, or interview nannies if you are able. Give everyone a heads up about your due date and an estimate of when the baby would begin daycare. When your baby arrives, follow up to make sure they are accepting new children and secure your spot with a deposit. Getting this out of the way early on will make you feel better toward the end of your leave because you know everything is taken care of.
Plan ahead accordingly.
Make arrangements early on with your HR department if you are breastfeeding and will require special accommodation to pump and store breastmilk while at work. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was amended in 2010 to require that employers provide "reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one (1) year after the child's birth each time such employee has need to express the milk." 29 U.S.C. § 207(r)(1). Employers are also required to provide "a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk." Id.
Ease back in.
A few weeks before your leave is set to end, begin making arrangements for your transition back to work. My best suggestion for easing back in following maternity leave is to start back on a Wednesday. Starting midweek allows for you to slowly get acclimated, while at the same time know the weekend is just around the corner. Let clients know you are back in waves - maybe a few emails a day to prioritized clients. This will hopefully avoid you being bombarded with dozens of "emergencies" your first days back.
Ask about flexible work arrangements.
Another item to address before, during, or after maternity leave is whether your workplace offers flexible work arrangements for mothers and/or new parents. Some examples of flexible or part-time work arrangements include reduced billing hours, reduced number of days in the office, and work-from-home options. I would suggest looking into this before you begin maternity leave and talking to the HR department about your options.
Ask for help.
Going back to work after having a baby is a difficult transition, no matter how many times you've done it. This transition, coupled with the emotions and exhaustion you've experienced post-baby, can intensify and worsen any postpartum depression or anxiety issues you've been experiencing. Make a note to do a mental checkup every week to assess how you are handling this transition. Be honest with yourself about how you are feeling and lean on your partner, family, or friends for support. Lastly, don't hesitate to reach out to a medical professional or therapist to discuss your treatment options. Suffering from postpartum depression and anxiety is no longer a taboo subject that is casually swept under the rug. The priority is your mental health and safety of you and your baby. Know that you are not alone.
Pay someone else to tackle the to-do list.
When you bring your first child home, you will quickly notice that the concept formerly known as "free time" no longer exists. Whereas before you had plenty of time to clean, vacuum, laundry, do yardwork, etc., that same amount of time is no longer at your disposal. If you have the means, do not be afraid to delegate some of the pre-baby work to hired professionals. In the long run, you will spare yourself a load of stress.
Repeat after me: "The work-life balance does not exist."
That's right, the sham is up. There is no such thing as a "work-life balance." Any requirement to reach the pinnacle of working motherhood that is supposedly the "work-life balance" is hereby revoked. The quicker you realize this, the less you will feel shackled by what society expects of the working parent. Our personal family goal is simple: survival.
From day-to-day, your life will be hectic. There will be days when everything is balanced and at peace, and others when you might wonder if you'll be alive at the end of the day. Embrace the chaotic nature of life as a working parent and survive however you are able. No one will judge you if your dinner is cereal (for the third night in a row) and the laundry isn't done.
Share your experience.
Now that you're a working/parenting pro, reach out to your colleagues and friends when you see them going through pregnancy and returning to work. Use your experience to help aid their transitions and officially welcome them to the club.