But wait! Before you hand in your resignation, take a breath. While the return from maternity leave can be stressful and emotionally charged, it doesn't have to be a mother's worst nightmare.
"There are ways to prepare yourself to make this work," says Joan K. Peters, author of When Mothers Work (Perseus Books). Here's how.
1. Involve your spouse. You feel like you have only a limited amount of time with your baby and you want to savor every minute of it. That's great. But if you're too possessive, you're likely to end up doing all the work yourself. In short, don't forget to get your husband in on the game. "The biggest help you can give yourself is to get your baby's father involved in the care and feeding from the start," advises Peters.
If your husband can shoulder some of the burden of those middle-of-the-night wake-up calls, you'll be in better shape when you have to perform at work. "My husband and I have devised a plan where, every other night, one of us gets uninterrupted sleep while the other is on duty if the baby wakes up. I wear earplugs to bed on my night off so I don't wake up if the baby cries," says Darcy De Leon Budd, a writer in Houston. "This doesn't solve the sleep problem entirely, but it helps."
It's also important to hash out the details of who's going to do what so that you're not coming home to a second shift of childcare and housekeeping while your honey tunes in to ESPN. "We had to sit down and talk about it because I was starting to feel resentful," allows Jennifer Rosenberg, an Ann Arbor, Michigan, teacher and mother of two. "We talked about things we hated doing around the house. I hate dealing with the dishes and he hates laundry, so he does the dishes and I do the laundry. We have some communication around it."
2. Line up childcare early. Good, reliable childcare is essential. Start checking out daycare centers and interviewing nannies well before you're due back at work. Developing confidence and trust in your childcare provider before you return will make those first days a little easier. "The smartest thing I did was to hire our sitter to start working for us part-time a month before my leave ended," notes Kate Fox Reynolds, a New York City high school teacher. "Without having had the time to get to know and trust Jackie -- and to practice walking away from my child -- returning to work would have been a nightmare."
3. Cut yourself some slack. Many moms feel guilty about choosing to work, even if the family finances mean that staying home is not an option. You worry about everything from shortchanging your child to shortchanging yourself. Remind yourself that in choosing to work, you are providing your child with a life that may be richer in options than if you stayed at home. It's also important to recognize that stay-at-home moms have their own set of challenges. Women who are home with young children often feel more isolated and not as good about themselves, and, in fact, are at higher risk for depression, notes Chambliss.
4. Compartmentalize. When you're at work, make a commitment to mentally be at work. At home, surrender yourself to the marvels of parenthood. For Stephanie Dedeau, a communications specialist in Houston, that means taking 15 minutes before leaving the office to get organized for the next day, something she used to do at home. "I'm trying to be better about that balance. Sometimes, when I'm playing with my baby, I'll catch myself and say, 'I need to think about playing, not the e-mail I just sent.'"
You may also discover that the pull of a baby can make you twice as productive in half the time. When you're eager to get home in time to feed and bathe your baby, schmoozing around the watercooler may seem like a colossal waste of your time.
5. Know your priorities. Let's be honest here: Something's got to give. Being a hardworking professional and a great mom may mean that your home won't pass a white-glove inspection. Or that you can't whip up a fabulous dinner every night (or even any night). If you can afford to pay for extra help -- a cleaning service, for example -- great. If you can't, do yourself a favor and let it go. Or choose one thing that's important to you, like staying on top of the laundry, and let the rest slide. "I used to be super-crazy about the cleanliness of my kitchen floor," says Jennifer Rosenberg. "Well, the kitchen floor got dirty and stayed that way," she confesses.
For Rebecca Mangan, resetting her priorities meant finding a new job. "Business trips, two hours of daily commuting, and paying to park my car just didn't seem reasonable," says Mangan, a meeting planner who left her job in Washington, D.C., to work at a nonprofit only 3 miles from her home in Annandale, Virginia.