The week before my maternity leave ended, I settled into a new, decidedly deranged routine that went something like this: 6 a.m: Stare at sweet, unsuspecting baby and panic about leaving him. 6:03: Compose self and revise babysitter's daily schedule for the 329th time. 6:10: Catch sight of self in mirror in stained nursing tank and feel overwhelming relief about imminent return to adult world and good, gratifying job. 6:12: Look back at baby playing on activity mat and panic again. 6:13: Repeat.
Fortunately, I had smart, empathetic women I could turn to who had been through it all themselves, which has to be my top tip for anyone struggling with the end of parental leave: Have a designated point person who is willing to be on call for you, then call them often. I had my sister. She texted me throughout my first day to see how I was doing, and I e-mailed her when I got an update that the baby had been super fussy. I know how hard it is, she told me, which made me feel like I wasn't being silly. And It gets easier, she repeated, which gave me the confidence I needed that it would.
Here are some other tricks to nailing the return to work, from some of HuffPost's smartest moms (who've all been there):
1. Host a dinner or lunch for a few close colleagues the week before so you can get caught up before you jump back into work.
2. Come back on a Wednesday, not a Monday. No one wants to work a full week the first few days back.
3. Don't expect to move mountains right away. Just get your feet wet and remember how to do things...
4. ...and keep your away message on for the first day or two, to get the hang of things.
5. Have your spouse stay home with the kid, if you can. Even though you'll have to get used to a STRANGER, have him or her stay with the baby for the first few days. Knowing someone you love and trust is with your child in those first few days makes you much more confident when you're away from them.
6. Don't feel bad about calling home/the babysitter/daycare a ridiculous number of times the first few days.
7. If you're using the office pump room, consult with other moms on what exactly you'll need. You don't want to be figuring that out for the first time when you're stressed, tired and leaky.
8. Block off pump times in your calendar as if they're regular meetings to make sure your 1 p.m. pump doesn't end up getting shoved to 4:30.
9. Don't hesitate to bawl your eyes out in the bathroom a couple times if necessary. You'll feel better if you let it out. Pull a fellow mom co-worker aside if you need her. She will say all the right things.
10. But don't feel guilty if you suddenly have a sense of peace you haven't felt in weeks, savoring how good it feels to blissfully sip your coffee in peace, go through your e-mail without interruption and speak about things grown ups talk about. Don't feel guilty for enjoying how good it feels to do your other job again.
11. Take your lunch break. If you want to sit and eat with colleagues, great. If you want to chow down in blissful silence, go right ahead. But take that time to recharge.
12. Instead of ruminating on everything that could go wrong without you, pause to send your baby positive thoughts throughout the day. It may sound cheesy, but it's a simple mental exercise that can go a long way toward keeping you feeling calm and connected to your child.
13. Keep a nice picture of your little one on your desk, so you can remember why you work this hard!