A Difficult Decision
As her three-month maternity leave drew to a close, Selga Cheris worried about how she would manage the transition to life as a working mom. Luke wasn't yet sleeping through the night, and she still hadn't ironed out the kinks in her childcare arrangements.
But the exhaustion and logistical problems were nothing compared to the anguish of leaving her son. "I cried the entire first day back at work," admits Cheris, a structural engineer in Chicago. "I work mostly with guys, and after lunch, they all came back with tissues."
Like Cheris, many new moms returning to work from a maternity leave feel torn between their seemingly conflicting roles. They value their professional accomplishments and the income it brings -- but they are tormented by the prospect of leaving their precious baby who is still so tiny and needy. "I started looking for a daycare center three weeks into my maternity leave," says Robin Bluman, a sales manager in East Windsor, New Jersey. "I liked the place we decided to use, but it was still hard to leave him. I knew no one could take care of Randy as well as I could."
In addition, since many babies aren't sleeping through the night as the typical three-month maternity leave ends, you can expect to be profoundly exhausted and even, thanks to still-fluctuating hormones, weepy. Your former workday routine must be reconfigured as you hammer out every detail of your new day, from which parent will shower first while the other watches the baby, to when and where you'll pump if you're still breastfeeding. That's not to overlook such minor indignities as carefully cobbling together a work wardrobe to fit a body that hasn't yet bounced back from pregnancy.
Of course, there are benefits. Some working moms find that they are good parents because of their job, not in spite of it. Research shows that the best mothers are happy, competent, socially connected, and supported -- qualities that, for some women, are most easily attained by remaining in the workplace. But navigating the transition from maternity leave to the office takes, well, work.