top tips: back to work after maternity leave
I.e., coping with sleep deprivation and unstable hormones while trying to balance two elephants who are juggling 13 balls each. :) A twitter friend, Emma Gwillim, asked me last week for my top tips on going back to work after maternity leave, as she's about to do the same. Its taken me this long to come up with any because it's taken me this long to get a handle on it again myself! But I'm so glad she asked because it's been in the back of my mind and helped me to be more intentional in trying to do it well. I thought I'd go ahead and share my thoughts here... Keep in mind these are probably only for those who are self-employed and have the freedom of a flexible schedule. I have no idea how one does it in a regular 9-5 and with a boss where expectations are different.)
1. Sometimes sleep is more important than work
We had one night this week where all three boys were crying: Oswin with aching legs (growth spurt), Linus was teething and cried nearly all night long, and Irving with the regular intervals of hunger. (Poor boys!) My sleep? Zero. Well, maybe 30 minutes twice. In the morning I considered starting work after the kids were off to school but quickly realized how worthless I would be and went to bed first for a two hour nap. I can only imagine how incoherent those email replies would have been if I had tried to answer them first!
2. You may need to lower your expectations
Maybe I'm just remembering wrong but I could've sworn I was much more with it and ready to go back to work after my first two, maybe three babies. They slept through the night early, I was younger... This time: more kids, less sleep...I am not able to do the same amount or level of work I was doing before the baby. I can feel it. And I'm choosing to accept that. Be realistic about how much you can do well and only expect that from yourself. I'll get back to my normal capacity soon enough (hopefully!). Until then it doesn't do me or anyone else any good to demand more of myself than I can give.
3. Conserve your brain -- single-task
My brain power and energy are just running on a pretty consistant low. All my intentional efforts to fuel myself get me to that low (as opposed to empty). I can get by though if I single-task. As soon as I try to do more than one thing at a time things fall apart--either me or whatever it is I'm trying to do. Pick one thing to do at a time. When I'm working, I'm working (one task at a time). I'm not listening out for the baby. I'm trusting Tiffany (my au pair--which is a huge luxury, I know--I didn't always have one) will take good care of my babies. I put on my noise-cancelation headphones if I have to. And when I'm taking breaks to feed Irving (breaks make you more productive anyway, right?) or I'm done with work, I try not to think about work at all. It's family time.
4. Take care of yourself
This one can be really hard. It's easy to let myself get caught up in the needs of my family and work. I could keep myself busy every hour of every day between the two of them. But I try to remind myself that I am a pretty vital member of both of those components (my family and my work) and they are both going to suffer if I am completely run into the ground. If for no other reason, I need do what it takes to fuel myself for the sake of my family and work. This isn't a time you get to really fuel yourself though, you have to find small ways. For me right now, getting out of the house, even if it's to go to the grocery store, counts. Walking outside to take a phone call in the sunshine counts. Getting my nails done definitely counts. And by this point, finding a piece of quite where there is no sound, no needs, and no demands, can be more refueling than sleep. (That's when you find it--in the middle of the night when its dark and still and everyone else is asleep.)
5. Pull the I-have-a-newborn card
I have been trying to do all this well. But it can be super hard and I have fallen short in all sorts of ways. When it's work, try your best, and then double check it, and then, if it's important, have someone else check it. I have made mistakes and blown it. (I'm sure this post is riddled with grammar mistakes but I'm not going to allow the time give it the rounds of editing it probably needs--sorry.) When it's home and relationships, gosh....try hard. But I have definitely lost my patience and not been kind. In both cases, apologize, and if needed, occasionally you can use your I-have-a-newborn card. And I have to say, I think it's a very legit excuse. Sleep deprivation is a long-practiced method of torture! It does crazy things to you physically, mentally, and emotionally. Most people are very gracious and/or understanding.
Hang in there and remember -- for better and for worse, this too shall pass.
Good luck, Emma, and all you who are in this sweet and challenging/test-your-mettle time!