Expectant parents have heard this sentence before, but I'm going to say it again, because it is important.
Nothing ever really prepares you for being a parent.
I had these grand notions about how I would frolic happily, pushing a stroller, beaming with post-birth glow. Co-workers would "oohh" and "ahh". Babysitters would magically appear so I could still have the same social life I once had. My husband and I would have date night once a week, where we'd talk about how cute our baby was. Oh, and in all these visions, my baby was sleeping... peacefully.
The moment I realized how mistaken I was, I was a week from returning to work after giving birth. At the time, I was the lead producer of a live television show. A job I loved, but one that was incredibly time consuming and stressful. I was now also the mother of a beautiful baby boy named Sebastian, who I loved, and who was also incredibly time consuming and stressful.
I was leading a call with my team about a week full of shoots in Brazil, when suddenly, sweet Sebastian awoke from his nap way too early. He unexpectedly cried, or I should say, roared, on the other end of the line and the line producer stumbled..."Um, do you want us to let you go?" Five words people told me at my baby shower suddenly blared in my head: Life will never be the same. They were right. Transitioning into (working) parenthood isn't always easy, but I've learned some valuable lessons along the way.
The First Month Back: A Survival Guide
My first day back in my office after being gone for nearly four months, I felt like an alien. Work was the same, but there were definitely things about me that had changed. Before baby, I ate lunch at my desk to track breaking news and not miss a minute, now lunch was time to pump. I had to check in at home. I had to remember to eat healthy. My old work clothes definitely didn't fit. And I could no longer be the person who always said yes to the late assignment or the last minute travel. I was woefully unprepared. Don't be me. Here are some tips for day one.
1. Go shopping a week before. Buy a new outfit. Maybe two new outfits. Get a haircut. Do whatever you need to do to feel a bit more like the old you. Put the outfit out the night before. Feel relief in not having to dig through a closet of pants with buttons after living in leggings for three months. You'll thank me.
2. Try to arrange to come back in the middle of the week. A full five days without baby will be stressful. Wednesday is a good day. Enough to be committed. Close enough to Friday.
3. If you're nursing, block the time you'll need on your calendar before you come back. Or any other time you need. Maybe it's a 15 minute break to Facetime the sitter or daycare and see your new baby's face (I get it). Your boss and your co-workers won't know what you need unless you tell them. And if you feel uncomfortable or need help, spend some time with HR. Another pro tip for nursers: start pumping and freezing milk about a month before you head back to work. If you get the routine down now, you'll feel less stressed later.
4. Have lunch with that wonderful co-worker who can fill you in on the work (and the gossip) you've missed since you've been gone. Relish in the adult talk you may have missed.
Embrace New Routines (And New Bedtimes)
Let's face it. Your mornings will be different now. Maybe your alarm always went off at 6:30AM, but now there's a human alarm that wakes you up at 2AM, then 4AM, then 6 AM. About a week before you start, try to do a dry run of your morning routine. Account for the time you need to feed your baby now, or anything else you might not have considered that will pop up.
And speaking of that alarm clock... yes, there will be days where you will have to go in on minimal sleep. It might be awful, but you will get through it. The key is to remember, you are not exactly the same person you once were. You might have been able to go to bed at midnight and wake up for work well-rested and ready for action. It might be the case that you need a new 8 o'clock bedtime (at least for right now). Embrace it. One day you will be able to bring your inner night owl back. Now is not the time. Go to bed when you are tired.
Say "No" More...and Be OK With It
There were a lot of things I said no to when I returned to work. "No, I'd love to hang out with Richard Branson on Necker Island for a week for a video shoot, but I can't." "No, I can't do that happy hour tonight." "No, I can't help you out on this project that normally I'd say yes to, but has nothing to do with the work that needs to get done, so I need to bow out." This was so hard for me. And I had to do it in my personal and professional life. There were close friends and co-workers who didn't get it. That's okay. You can do it. Take care of yourself first. Many working parents I've interviewed have told me parenthood has made them the ultimate prioritizers. You can be one, too.
Know When It's Time to Transition
Sometimes, your role might not match your new role as a parent. I realized not too long after I had my first baby that the travel and late nights required for live television were taking me away from something I loved even more, parenting. So, I made a transition to a job with a bit more flexibility.
You may find that there are things that need to change. Don't be afraid to talk to your boss about working from home one day a week, or tweaking your hours a bit so you can come in a little later or leave a little earlier.
Remember, take care of yourself. Being stressed all the time doesn't help you at work or at home. It's okay to ask for what you need, to go to bed, and to feel overwhelmed. A lot is changing... but you're going to be great. We're rooting for you!