Returning to work after having a baby can be a pretty emotional and difficult experience for mothers. I've personally polled both fathers and mothers about their return-to-work experiences, and it seems as though mothers generally have a much harder time overall, and for a longer duration of time than their male counterparts. Unfortunately, there's no magical way to make you feel good about yourself, happy that you're working, and excited because your child is with someone else. There are a few good things to have in your bag on the first day you go back to work though, that can help you make it until you're home again.
1. Cell phone. Yes, you will probably cry when you call to check up on that precious little one, but you'll feel better being somehow connected than not at all.
2. Tissues. Make sure they contain aloe, or you'll have a red nose from all of the rubbing.
3. Photos. These can break your heart when you look at them, but you'll at least feel proud to show them off to your co-workers.
4. Something of your baby's. At first, I brought a small blanket with me that had LoveBug's scent. After crying into it a few times during pumping sessions though, I think it began to smell like me. As she got older, I would tuck other things into my bag or pocket. My favorite is a little silicone bracelet she loves to wear and chew on. I can put it into my pocket and touch it whenever I need to be close to her. Now, I'm delighted to find little things that she put into my work bag without me knowing--half eaten crackers or a small toy, usually. :-)
5. A good pump. Most laws have states that protect the right of a mother to pump milk for her child. It may be more work for you while you're at work, but the emotional benefit of knowing you're providing the best nutrition for your baby--and that you're the only one who can do it--outweighs the annoyance of rinsing things out in the sink when you're done. In fact, even though my daughter only nurses when I'm with her now (I was able to stop pumping just after she turned 1-year-old), I realized how important providing milk is to me when I thought she was done nursing altogether (it just turned out to be a one-night thing). To think that I had now lost the one thing I felt I could do for her that no one else could...It made me feel helpless! Well, I now realize that I have to be able to let go of nursing when she's ready, but I also realize how important it's been for me to have this connection and mark of "I AM HER MOMMY!" for myself. Having a good pump can make all the difference in whether or not you're able to get milk out when you're away from your child!
6. A good lunch and lots of water. You're already probably going to be an emotional wreck, so at least feed yourself properly so you don't have to contend with malnutrition, dehydration, or a low blood sugar as well.
7. A compassionate friend. If there's no one in your work, identify someone you can call, email, or just talk to when you get home about what you're going through. You will hear things that hurt when you go back to work, you may have to re-build your sense of motherhood, and you will find that you aren't able to keep up with everything in your life like you used to. It's going to be hard, but you aren't going to die. So make sure you have a support system to help you through the first day, week, and even year that you spend at work after having a baby.
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