Before having our girls, Sloane and Olivia, we never thought much about the interplay between work and motherhood. Sure, we worked alongside plenty of successful women who were also mothers and acknowledged their parenthood by ogling over cute photos of their adorable babies. We knew we wanted to be moms and figured we’d just make it work like all of the working moms around us. But we never placed much thought into their experience as both professionals and mothers in the workplace, and all they were juggling outside the four walls of our office each and every day.
It didn’t even really hit us during pregnancy. We worked for a great company, with a generous (for US standards) maternity leave and a culture full of working parents. It just felt natural that we’d return to work, find a dreamy child care situation, act like nothing had changed and truly have it all. And then, we gave birth to our daughters and became moms for the first time. And everything we thought we knew changed.
Suddenly, the thought of leaving our precious girls to return to work felt like ripping our hearts from our chests. The experience of becoming mothers fundamentally changed everything we thought we knew about our wants and desires for life. And we desperately needed a life line — someone else who understood what we were going through in that moment. That’s when our friendship truly bloomed. Because everyone needs a friend to go through motherhood with, especially during the transition back to work.
Living on opposite sides of the country, we texted constantly about everything. Sleep transitions, growth milestones, pumping and night sweats (no one tells you about the night sweats!). And as our maternity leaves started coming to a close, we each revealed our absolute dread over returning back to work.
This connected us more than anything. Because as two hard working career-minded women, we suddenly began questioning whether or not we wanted to keep working. We agonized over the pain we knew we’d feel leaving our girls, the diminished hours with them during the week and handing over their care to people who weren’t us. We stressed about how we’d keep up with the demands at work, the travel, long hours, while having this brand new person in our lives who caused us to reprioritize everything we thought we wanted. Everyone kept telling us that “it gets easier”, but it was the last thing we wanted to hear. We didn’t want it to have to “get easier” to leave our girls.
We realized that if we felt this way in supportive circumstances, then there must be more women out there struggling too.
So we created The Returnity Project with the goal of sharing stories. The more we shared our vulnerabilities with working moms, we learned we were not alone. Today, we continue to focus on sharing real stories about returning to work and working motherhood, along with resources, features and more.
Though we were supporting thousands of women through our platform, it felt like we were only hitting the tip of the iceberg. So in late summer 2019, we launched Returnity Kits to give women returning to work from maternity leave even more support. Our kits focus on products, resources and community for working moms, and have been a meaningful evolution in our mission.
Two years after returning to work from maternity leave, we’re glad that we overcame our difficult returnity transitions, as our lives feel full having both careers and motherhood intertwined together. But that doesn’t mean the road was easy, and we’re committed to not only supporting working moms, but to push for changes to workplaces, gender dynamics and career opportunities to continue to support women who want to work and raise families.
Some tips for new moms returning to the workforce after giving birth, as gleaned from the moving stories sourced by The Returnity Project:
“Don’t be so hard on yourself. This is a new phase in your life and all new things take time to get the hang of. You’re doing the best you can and what’s right for you — there is no right or wrong way.”
“Every situation is different, from child to child. What works for you the first time may not the second, third, or fourth time. Staying flexible and finding balance has been key for my sanity.”
“Don’t try to be who you were, because you have changed so completely. Take time to figure out who the new you is, and what she needs.”
“It’s normal to feel overwhelmed, so take it slow. I wish I would have spent the first week back talking on the phone to all of my internal stakeholders and coworkers to catch up on the past three months rather than make myself crazy trying to reply to the thousands of emails I had sitting in my inbox.”
“Stop planning. Stop right now. Life with a new baby is the opposite of plan-able.”