First time moms, and all moms for that matter, who choose to re-enter the professional world after having a child may struggle. Those first few days back at work can be especially challenging since maternity leave for many moms is time spent nearly exclusively with a newborn. The stark change from full-time mama to full-time employee can be very hard, impossible for some.
I was lucky. My first day back at the office was made more tolerable by the fact that it was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and my husband had the day off work. While I was making the one-hour commute to work, I was comforted knowing that it was my husband who was with our 12-week old son, not the (friendly and experienced) strangers at daycare.
I was dreading going back to work in general, but I wasn’t necessarily dreading the first day back. My husband had never spent a full day at home with our son solo, and I was so excited for them to deepen their bond. Not to mention a little part of me – the part of me that checked my work email every week or two during maternity leave- was looking forward to tapping back into the professional side of my brain that had mostly been neglected the past 12 weeks.
Arriving at work was nothing short of exciting. I caught up with colleagues I hadn’t seen in months, shared my favorite pictures of my son and absorbed the office drama that had taken part in my absence. I caught up on work I had missed, and had clear to-dos for the week. When it came time to pump for the first of three times that day, I was relieved to have remembered all my pump parts, and I was happy to check-in with my husband. All was fine, of course. I started to miss my son.
Lunchtime was spent at my desk. There was no time to leave the office for lunch when pump prep and cleanup took so much time, and there were still dozens of emails to be read. I had a video call with my son and husband, just for a few minutes, and I was so happy to see their happy faces. I felt relief, but I missed my son even more. Sadness crept in, but I pushed it away just as quickly.
Then, I went to the restroom and there were two female colleagues there, both fellow new moms.
“This is your first day back, right? How is it going?”
I felt excited to indulge in another opportunity to talk about my son. “I am happy to be working again, but it is hard, I admit. But everyone tells me it gets easier!”
“Oh, it really doesn’t.” Then she looks to my other colleague, “did it get easier for you?”
“No. Not really.”
I felt my stomach drop to my feet. For the first time all day I held in tears. I could not think of any response. I said nothing.
My coworker broke the silence with, “I find fulfillment in my job, so that makes it worth it, but leaving her every morning, and being away all day, never gets easier.”
The conversation ended somehow, and we all left the restroom. I took a moment to reel my emotions in before I went back to my desk. I didn’t want to cry in front of my coworkers.
In recent years, mommy blogs, professional articles and mom groups on Facebook have emerged as a way for parents to strip away the crap and be real. And I appreciate that so, so much and have benefited from that authenticity more times than I can count. But this interaction- in its vulnerable truths- took my breath away.
These women were not trying to hurt me; perhaps they were trying to help me. But in that moment I could have hugely benefited from a little white lie. Tell the new mom back at work for the first day that she is doing a great job, that her son would be proud, that she can lean on other working parents in the office whenever she wants, that you understand her worries and sadness. My advice is…Do not tell her that it will never get easier. Support might look like letting that working mom have hope that tomorrow might be a little brighter than today.
Even if it’s a little white lie.