Pregnancy is such an exciting time. The emotional excitement of expecting can leave you bubbling with anticipation looking to share your good news with those around you. Yet, at the same time, the pace of change in your life seems to quicken and the unknowns that come with pregnancy are often accompanied with anxiety and fear.
After discovering I was pregnant, I became overwhelmed with the thought of finding balance in my changing life. I struggled with not only the physical symptoms of being pregnant (stale crackers were my best friend for a while), but also with the challenge of planning for a baby and maintaining my work load and relationships. I feared being “that pregnant girl” in the office and I still wanted to put my best foot forward and continue on the career path I had imagined for myself.
As we all come to find, hindsight is always 20/20. After the shock of birthing my tiny human wore off and life at home with him became routine (I use this term rather loosely), I had time to reflect on my experience of working while pregnant. I faced some unexpected challenges, including leaving on extremely short notice for a pre-term delivery. But I feel these challenges and experiences have really shaped my new mama identity, and returning to work has been that much sweeter because of this new found conviction.
I wanted to document the things I learned during my transition from work to baby time and ultimately back again. Mainly so I could remind myself for the next time (if I am so lucky). Or, to just show other women out there that they are not alone in the fickle corporate landscape as a pregnant career gal. Here is what I discovered:
Communication(s) and Expectations
Ok, so I work in “big C” Communications. You would think that we would all be pretty fantastic at communicating. Well, turns out, like most co-workers, we have to work at it! I communicate for a living, and yet, my own thoughts and feelings get left out. And to be honest, there just aren’t enough emails, team meetings, coffee dates or memos to express all of your feelings during pregnancy. The “capital F” Feelings are out of control. However, I discovered the hard way that it is really important to make time to communicate with your boss, reports or colleagues about expectations.
Expectations are tricky. I found myself constantly conflicted with wanting to be involved in work at the same echelon I was pre-pregnancy. I opted to keep quiet when I should have spoken up about how I envisioned my remaining 6 months atwork before the baby arrived. In my case, I still wanted to be a part of the longer term projects and the big picture meetings. I thrived in those tasks. But the reality was, I physically wasn’t going to be there to participate long term.
Upon reflection, it would have been helpful to discuss this with my team, help them understand where I was coming from and devise a plan to engage in a new way. Instead, I often found myself feeling left out, which certainly didn’t help all the Feelings.
Exit stage left
Balance is all in the plan, but planning anything during pregnancy is kind of like planning a road trip across the country without a map. Expect detours and road blocks!!
My exit strategy with work was certainly shaped in my head, but it didn’t quite play out as planned. In my highly functioning non-pregnant brain, I envisioned my last few weeks of work to include writing a long list of tasks and neatly checking off each item as completed. I would take a restful two week’s vacation prior to my due date while still having regular access to my email (to keep an eye on things). I would meet my coworkers for lunch before having the baby and laugh over the emergency stash of food I had left in my desk and the pair of high heels I forgot under it.
My cloudy, half-functioning pregnant brain exit strategy actually looked as follows:
- Write long list of tasks to complete pre-last day of work.
- Check 2 of them off because I handed them to someone else.
- Become admitted to the hospital at 34 weeks for high blood pressure on my way to a meeting.
- Have baby.
The exit plan was wholly derailed by an unexpected but necessary delivery. Luckily, my colleagues are resilient and of course, handled everything that was dropped. But if I had to do it again, I would still plan as if I was to have the most predictable third trimester…if only to calm my own nerves about uprooting my job for a scary new one.
Find a buddy
Finding balance in your life may seem like an insincere joke with a newborn. However, I found that balance often surfaced when I reached out to those in my life who knew me pre-baby. My work buddy was one of those people, like a touch point to a life I couldn’t remember in that moment. In the early days of new motherhood, it is hard to see the tangible benefits of what you are doing, and those conversations with your buddies are so important. Over coffee or lunch, mine kept me up to date on the happenings of my work world. I was able to drift back to that space for a little bit and remember who I was and my contributions to something I felt was tangible and significant at that time.
Back in action
My last thought is more of a wish than a reality at this time. Returning to work after upwards of a year can be a sneaky mixed bag of emotions. I was beyond excited to return to a life of hot coffee, grown up conversations and real pants! However, my mom guilt ramped up to a point where those happy feelings were trumped. Taking sage advice from my husband, I felt I had to acknowledge those feelings, appreciate them and move on.
Something I could have really sunk my teeth in to during my transition back to work was some formal support from my workplace. From what I can tell, maternity leave reintegration support is uncommon. As I understand, a lot of women have varied feelings about returning to work after being home with their children, no matter when they go back. Navigating my own reservations during this time, with the help of a network within the office would certainly have been most helpful.
Luckily, not only do I get to enjoy going back to my work, but I also now have this firsthand experience to share with those who might listen. Maybe I can make it a little easier for the next mama-to-be in my office.