Let’s rewind. There I was, sitting on the bed with two weeks left in my maternity leave, having an emotional breakdown at the thought of returning to work. Working in the fast-paced biotech industry, how could I possibly catch up on all of the things I had missed? What if the top-notch, 5-star daycare we had selected was one that would show up on the local news six months from now for child neglect? How in the world would I get everything done each day when I could barely keep up with feeding and changing my baby girl? When would my work clothes fit again — if ever?
These were just a few of the 1,001 thoughts speeding through my mind as I sobbed, hormones undoubtedly coursing through my post-pregnancy body. I recalled reading somewhere that during pregnancy and while breastfeeding, women experience fatigue because their bodies are exerting the same amount of energy as it takes to run a marathon or climb a mountain. Yep; sounds about right. In this exhausted, highly emotional state, I was now having to return to life as a professional.
Back to the present
That was 14 years ago, and I am happy to say that I not only went back to work, but was also promoted a number of times. Two years later, I managed through maternity leave again to welcome my second daughter. While becoming a mother has been one of the best things that has ever happened to me in my life, it’s likely been one of the most difficult, too. Add a career to that mix, and it just multiplies the difficulty by about a million. And the transitions were some of the hardest parts.
Know what support is available
Looking back, I wish I had approached it all more thoughtfully and that I had access to more resources.
In my coaching practice, I have helped many women prepare for maternity leave and return to work at its end. A recent client shared the following kind words with me:
“I came away from each conversation with immediately actionable steps I could take to address some of the challenges I was facing, and also with a new perspective that helped me feel more confident and positive. I loved all the ideas for reframing how I was thinking and talking to myself about my situation; it had an immediate impact on my day-to-day experiences and on how I am thinking about being a working mother long term. I also felt so supported, it was really important for me to hear encouraging words and acknowledgement that what I was experiencing was hard but I wasn't the only person to ever go through this.”
I think coaching, or other such resources, would have eased my transition back into corporate life, but there wasn’t much out there that I knew of in 2007.
Mindful Return: What every working parent needs
Now, there are many more accessible support communities for mothers like Mindful Return. I recently spoke with the founder, Lori Mihalich-Levin. She’s also the author of “Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave.” Lori was a full-time attorney at a nonprofit when she had her two boys, now 5 and 7.
“I had one kid and it felt challenging, and after the second, it felt like one plus one equaled 85!” she said. “I was outnumbered and completely overwhelmed.”
Lori said while there were plenty of tools available to teach moms how to care for their babies, “I couldn’t find any information on how to negotiate the emotional and logistical challenges of becoming a working mom.” Lori was inspired to share this information with other moms, and with that, Mindful Return was born.
In January of 2015, Lori launched the four-part e-course for women covering topics like how to return to work with confidence, coping with overwhelm and anxiety, and transforming maternity leave into a leadership tool. To date, over 700 women have completed the e-course, participating in course cohorts that launch every other month. Lori found that the cohort format was an integral part of the experience, enabling women to support each other and form a community with others who know what they are going through.
With the help of a new business partner, Jeremy T. Smith, she has added an e-course for working dads and templates for maternity and paternity leave plans. Currently, Lori is creating a course specifically for parents of kids with special needs, and launching an in-person component with alumni gatherings and retreats.
How I wish that during my crying jag 14 years ago, I would have stumbled across a resource like Mindful Return, or a coach, to help me navigate through the turbulent transition into working motherhood. While I am proud I survived, I believe with the resources available today, I would have thrived!
By Catherine Robinson
Catherine Robinson is a certified coach, leadership consultant, and champion of women in the workplace. Ready to find your path? Connect with her at Robinson Leadership Coaching .