Back to work after maternity leave

If you’ve been on a video call with me in the last few months, I probably turned my camera off once or twice during the call.

 

That’s me taking space to adjust or remove the breast pump I dutifully wear every two hours so I can return home to my 5-month-old each day with just enough milk for her next few bottles.

 

Such is life as a working mother.

 

I came back to work in mid-January after 12 weeks (about 3 months) of full-time parenting — paid in full thanks to a human-centered leave policy our small firm prioritizes — anxious about what awaited me.

 

Though this is my second baby and second maternity leave, it was my first return to office; my almost-3-year-old was born at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and when my leave ended, I continued working from home full-time at my previous company.

 

Now I find myself back in the office three days a week. Or four. Or one. Or none. Getting there is stressful. Being there is transformative. Going home is a rush. The bike ride to and from is pure solitude.

 

While companies, ours included, navigate a post-pandemic world with evolving workforce expectations and uncertain office needs, there’s no shortage of speculation about what a “new normal” can look like.

 
 
 
 

A new report shows remote and hybrid work make things easier for working parents, earning a resounding “duh” from every working parent in America. Flexibility goes a long way, though I hesitate to use the term work/life balance, which means something different for everyone.

 

For me, it looks like trust and transparency.

 

My colleagues know where I am and how to reach me. They know I’m not just getting my work done, but getting it done on time and ensuring it’s done well. I make it clear when I’m available and when I’m not. I can pump during meetings with no one doubting that I’m paying attention.

 

One week earlier this month I spent three full, productive days in the office and two more at home slogging through some of my denser tasks. Then there was that week my entire house had ear infections and RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) and the baby had bronchiolitis, so my laptop remained closed.

 
 

Photo: Working in the dark because it’s #SupposedToBeNaptime

 

And I wrote this not from my office or my home office or even something that could pass as a desk, but instead from the floor of my toddler’s bedroom at 1 p.m. on a Friday, where the plan was for her to read herself to sleep after coming home early from daycare with yet another fever. Best laid plans…

 

Watch me read, mama look how fast I can run around my room wow I’m fast watch me run three, two, one, watch me I’m building steps to walk on this is important to your work I’m gonna run down this track what’s that noise outside maybe it’s a dump truck I’m gonna make some pizza pizza for you pizza for me pizza and pizza where’s that other pizza we have a big plate what is that noise I heard the door bang like this where is that other pizza I’m missing a plate these are cupcakes cupcakes are after pizza first pizza then cupcakes there’s five cupcakes lined up there’s cupcakes in here does this open how does this open does it push open can you help me please I can’t get the cupcakes out I’m gonna do a cake instead it’s hard to do these oh I did it my Band-Aid fell off my boo-boo is all gone can you help me open this please there’s cupcakes in here CUPCAKES YUMMY I have a cupcake tongue oh that’s a good cake one cupcake two cupcakes three cupcakes four cupcakes five cupcakes cupcakes and cakes go after pizza so this is a bunch of cupcakes also I’m done with the cupcakes this is a bunch of cupcakes on a plate and I have more pizza to eat Elmo will eat pizza I love pizza now this is pizza this is animal pizza oh I knocked over some cupcakes.

 

At 2 p.m. I took an internal call from her closet while she chatted away. At 2:30 we gave up on the idea of a nap and getting work done, and instead read some books on the couch while I responded to emails. A well-timed visit from the in-laws had me back on my laptop shortly after 3. I put my pump on and went back to work.

Shannon Wink smiling at the camera for her headshot. She's wearing a black blazer over a white shirt. Her dark brown hair hits her shoulders.

Shannon Wink is the Senior Director of Digital Strategy in Ceisler Media’s Philadelphia Office.

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