The Big Return

Sarah Gauthier

This time last year I had finished work a little early to start my maternity leave. I tied up everything without feeling like anything was left hanging for the next person to fill my position. I was excited and a little nervous as any new parent might be. The rest of the year was, as you can imagine was amazing and challenging as I navigated what it means to be a mother. I feel stronger physically and mentally in ways I did not expect, but as my return-to-work date approaches I question if I will be tough enough to handle both a career and raising my daughter. How do so many other parents juggle both on a regular basis? In the early days when you are constantly changing diapers and feeding your little one, work seems like a distant memory.

Returning to it seems so far in the future you think you will never actually get there. In fact, I think I fantasized about going back to work in those early-sleep-deprived-newborn days.
However, way too quickly your baby grows, and you are discovering their personality. You are out and about with other moms enjoying play dates while guzzling down coffee and swapping birth stories. As an extremely extroverted person, I thought this year was going to be lonely. Thankfully, Hamilton is a great place to be a mat leave mom. Moms Hamilton (@momshamont) hosts events to give us moms amazing local food and the ability to connect with each other with our babies in tow. There are also various free activities such as Baby Storytimes at the Hamilton Public Library, or the EarlyON centres. Both offer my daughter a place to play which gives me a break from entertaining her myself. Moms flood these places and events, and I am so grateful for all the conversations and new friendships I have created. But alas, my first day back to work is looming, and all great things must come to an end. I feel fortunate enough to pass the torch of daytime caregiver to my husband who will be spending the next few months at home before she begins daycare, making my transition back to work a little bit easier. I started off my career in librarianship with a ton of ambition, and while I always planned to have children, I never really thought about how that would potentially change my trajectory. The biggest challenge will be missing her every day when she has been my sidekick for the past year. Emotionally, that must be the hardest part for any parent returning to work. The particulars, like that babies go to bed early, don’t occur to you when you plan to have children. If I don’t get home in time she will already be sleeping and that means I don’t get to see her until briefly the following morning before I head back to work. Will I be so quick to stay later at work to finish up projects or head out to a networking event? Both I would have done in a second before having my daughter, but now a lot of more planning and coordination will be needed. I realize I am not the first young professional to return to work after having a baby. Parents do this all the time! I have had close colleagues who have done it, and I regret not giving them enough credit and support when they returned to work as I prepare to do the same thing.
Overall, I am looking forward to getting back to my job. While I am trying to savour the last few weeks of my maternity leave, I am starting to feel more and more like my previous self. Being away from work has also allowed for new ideas, which I look forward to working on. Having a child has also made for earlier mornings and better time management. I will be up for a few hours before work and I plan on using that time to play and eat breakfast with my little one before I head into the office for the day. Before, I would have slept until as late as I possibly could and then raced to get ready and eat before running into work. Starting my day off differently will help with this new transition. I do feel like I am returning to work as a very different person, but I believe I am coming back stronger and with a new outlook on work-life balance. Will my colleagues notice? Will I be treated the same way? Will my ambitions and motivation still exist as they did before or will I re-evaluate my goals? I can’t answer all these questions yet, but I am
really looking forward to finding out. To all the parents who have already returned to work and to the
next set of parents returning to work after a maternity or paternity leave, I salute you!