For most of my first pregnancy I ignored the fact that I was having a baby. I spent my days focused on things I could control like work and finishing off grad school.
I didn’t create a registry. I didn’t pack my hospital bag. I didn’t pick out items for a nursery.
I was so deep in denial that I pulled together a plan on all the things I’d do on my maternity leave. As if I was heading out on summer vacation, I wrote down the things I’d like to do and experience during my 20-week leave.
Thinking back to that ridiculous list, which included learning to speak Italian fluently, I was terrified.
I was well into my 30s, and yet, I felt completely inept to care for another human being. I could hardly take care of myself, let alone the perpetually wilting plant in my apartment.
On top of that, I wondered what my absence from the office would mean to my career. That mustard-seed of a question grew into full blown anxiety when my group’s head announced her retirement during my third trimester. She deserved to retire after her amazing career, but all I could think of was me.
With her last day in the office just a few weeks after my due date and plans to bring in her replacement shortly thereafter, I’d be completely out of the picture when the new leader came on board. And, with that, I’d be out of mind should any decisions be made about the team, our accounts and upcoming projects.
The worry kept me up night after night. Finally, on one of those restless nights, I heaved myself out of bed and typed up a new maternity ‘to do’ list.
This one was realistic, simple and wouldn’t cheat me of my maternity leave. It also kept me professionally fit so I could stay in the loop at the office and jump right back in when mat leave was over.
- Stay informed
Both the marketing space in which I specialized and the industry my company belonged to were undergoing massive changes. And, would likely continue to evolve during my mat leave. This meant I needed to stay on top of developments, so I didn’t fall behind.
The best way to do this was to read – newspapers and business magazines, industry blogs and even career-development books. Anything to keep me up-to-date and my mind fresh.
- Stay connected
To lessen the anxiety I was feeling about heading off on maternity leave at a time when changes were afoot, I asked to keep access to my email and bring home my devices.
Fearful that I’d get hooked on email, I set up some ground rules that I shared with my work mates. This meant I was checking email once a week, never responding to group emails and when big announcements were made I had a friend give me a courtesy call to let me know.
- Don’t let them forget you
I was lucky to work with a group of supportive colleagues who made time to chat with me over the phone about the latest happenings around the office. But, I also looked for ways to connect with those in more influential roles.
I attended my boss’ retirement party. The evening out was a great break for me and it allowed me to say good-bye to a great mentor. Plus, I used the opportunity to speak with other key people. I asked questions and when I could I reminded them of my commitment to the team and my career.
I used other tactics, too. When the new group head was named, I sent an introductory email and offered to come to the office for an in-person meeting. That led to my invitation to a team meeting where she announced her vision for the group – a meeting I attended by conference call.
By staying engaged in a way that didn’t take me too far from my baby girl at any given moment, I felt a greater sense of control over the situation. My return, while still full of emotion and angst, wasn’t as stressful as it could have been considering I had returned to a very different team than I had left.
For more tips that will keep you professionally fit on mat leave, check out this video.