I returned to work when my babies were 11 weeks old. Going back to work after maternity leave was incredibly hard, physically and emotionally, but I don’t regret doing it. In the long term, my daughters and I are better off for my having maintained my career through motherhood.
The photo above was the last one I took before returning to work. The babies were so little… only 4 weeks past their due date and still the size of newborns (around 7 lbs). I had to restrain myself from picking J up and holding her in an attempt to get enough baby snuggles to get through the day without crying. I didn’t quite make it through that first workday without a few tears, especially while I was pumping.
Why 11 Weeks Old?
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) gives many US employees 12 weeks off work for the birth of a child. This time is unpaid, but our employers have to hold our jobs for us and can’t give away our positions. To mothers in other countries, unpaid maternity leave is unthinkable, 12 weeks impossibly short, and the need to share this 12 week leave between both parents (if they work for the same employer) an abomination. Still, the law is what it is, for now at least, and I’m grateful that my employer is large enough to be required to honour it.
Many American mothers, too, see 12 weeks as an impossibly short period of time to spend with their newborns and therefore choose to leave their careers for a longer period of time. Some employers will agree to hold a new mother’s job longer than the minimum 12 weeks required by law. Others will expect a new mother to hand in her resignation if she intends to stay home longer than that.
One complication I didn’t anticipate was that bed rest-related absence from work also counted into the 12 weeks I was allowed off associated with the pregnancy. Fortunately, I work at a job to which I can telecommute and my boss was herself a mother whose second son was 4 months older than my girls. She was very understanding and did all she could to help me have the healthiest pregnancy possible. When my obstetrician told me 31 weeks into my pregnancy that I needed to stop working the following week, I went into a panicked tailspin. My boss was the one to suggest that I consider working half time from the couch, to keep myself busy and my income flowing even while I tried to reduce my symptoms of pre-term labour.
My half time work schedule only lasted 2 weeks before my babies made their dramatic arrival at 33 weeks. Over those 2 weeks, I’d used up 1 of the 12 weeks allowed by FMLA.
In the first hours after my babies were born, we were told to expect them home no sooner than their due date, still 7 weeks away. The idea of taking 7 weeks off work while the babies were in hospital, only to have 4 weeks left to bond with them at home, made me sick to my stomach. I started playing with calendars, trying to figure out whether I could return to work as soon as I was enough recovered from my C-section to do so, just to maximize my time home with M and J.
A kind nurse, Michelle, took me aside when they were a couple of weeks old and advised that I not take the route of bopping in and out of FMLA leave. All indications were that both girls would be released home well before their due date, likely right around the time I would be healed enough from the C-section to go back to work. As it turns out, the girls came home at 16 and 22 days old, before I was cleared by my doctor to drive. How working mothers with longer NICU stays manage it all, I really don’t know. I did notice that many of the other NICU babies who’d been in the hospital for several months no longer got daily visits from their parents, thanks to the demands of work. My heart breaks for these families.
I had actually hoped to return to work part-time at first, when the girls were 9 weeks old, spreading out my FLMA leave and giving myself a more gradual switch from primarily breastfeeding to primarily pumping. However, my mother decided to visit just about the time I planned to go back to the office, and she required me to serve as a full-time chauffeur. We had initially hoped that she’d be able to watch the babies, but she was overwhelmed by the idea of juggling both of them. After all, it had been 26 years since she’d had to care for an infant by herself; with my baby sister, we’d had servants to do the heavy lifting.
So, 11 weeks of maternity leave it was, and I returned to a full day. My babies were at daycare from 6:30 am until nearly 6:00 pm, thanks to my lengthy commute.
How long did you/do you plan on taking maternity leave?
- Part II: Why 11 Weeks Was Enough
- Part III: Why Returning to Work Was Hard
- Part IV: Tips for Making a Return to Work Easier
Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the single mother of 8-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, but now also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.