It’s inevitable when you return to the workforce that you truly are not a fully functioning human being. I seriously felt like a water balloon had been lunged straight at my face my first week back. I had no work/mum routine ready, I figured winging it was my best shot. I pictured myself as one of the Cirque du Soleil clowns juggling dishes all at once except every single one lands on my head instead of a neat pile.
During my leave having my hair washed was one of my biggest accomplishments while my three month old gulped down my breast milk. How am I to resume a full-time position still being a full-time mum/milk tank? I remember thinking – one more week, I have one more week with my son before I return to work.
And so back to work
The week dwindled down to a day and then hours. I had tried my best to make a mental checklist of all the things I needed to do before going back to work. The basics – wash/dry clean clothes, check shoes (as my foot grew a size up while pregnant), get breast pump ready with the to-go bags for storage, the leak pads for breast-milk leakage especially during meetings, line up my sons outfits for Dad (major separation anxiety ensued), and have the Nest baby monitor connected at ALL times so that I could tune in when needed.
My checklist seemed solid but compared to my mental stability, I was Jell-O. I still breastfed him late at night and super early which summed up to five hours of some sort of sleep in between. I remember my first day back, I cried so much just pulling out of the parking lot. This little face smiling at me would be away from me for more than 4 hours.
The torture was real
My heart felt like it had been squeezed by the hulk himself. Three months for a mother is not enough, they are still so tiny and new to the world. It’s just plain cruel to have to be sent photos of him gurgling and making new noises without you there. I even tortured myself by secretly spying on my husband and son during the day and cried as he sang and danced to songs in tones only dogs can hear.
It does get better with time, but I’d say it was a good six months of navigating an unbalanced terrain. My sister in law has four kids and she told me that it would improve with time. I don’t know if it ever improves to a level where you feel okay with the decision you make, but I can say that a part of me which was dormant for a little while slowly awoke.
This baby’s back
The career woman who put her job on a high pedestal took a backseat for now. She no longer steered the car, Mum did. So this mum pumped like a milkmaid on steroids my first week back.
I sat at my desk and pumped dinner and breakfast for my son (huge accomplishment in my book). I answered all my emails, phone calls and checked in with my boss. I reached out to this client whom my firm was pitching to for a project we’d potentially be building. I was on my A-Game. I felt like screaming I am back baby! There isn’t much to this working mum business! I finished the presentation for the next morning and left work early to get home to baby boy ASAP.
I transferred the milk bottles from the fridge into my little lunchbox to keep it fresh and jumped into my car. I texted my client “Looking forward to breastfeeding you tomorrow at 10 AM”, hit SEND and drove home.
My commute is about forty minutes and I have Bluetooth in my car so I don’t text and drive. Usually, I get a text back confirming, and I have a smartwatch that shows me my texts too. But I didn’t hear back. I remember thinking that’s odd. This person is usually very responsive.
I didn’t think twice and continued to drive and listen to Bon Iver as I pulled up to my driveway. I literally ran through the door to embrace my snuggle bug. I kiss him on the face as Daddy opens the door with him carried. My son showed signs of recognition with a big drool smile. What a relief I thought, he remembers his mother.
I remember telling my husband to let me wash my hands before I carry him. I proceeded to take out the bottle of milk from the lunchbox so that I could warm it up and get my bonding time going with my son. I quickly checked my phone to see if my client had answered before I’d be unavailable for the remainder of the evening.
There it was, my text message; staring at me mockingly. I had invited a very conservative and potential client to BREASTFEEDING instead of the word BREAKFAST.
A regular word I had repeatedly used so much my damn phone auto typed and changed it as it saw fit. Welcome back working mum-said the twisted joke followed by a slap to my face. I was stupefied in that moment, my eyes widened and no words coming out of my mouth.
The big spill
I pictured a few scenarios in my mind on how this would have a funny ending, except my motor skills stopped functioning altogether. I was now holding the bottle of breast milk with the now loose top I’d removed and with a dazed effort placed it on the edge of kitchen counter, and in slow motion watched it fall and splatter across my feet and wooden floor.
I stared down at the milk for a long time and started sobbing. I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs but was visibly mute. My husband evaluated the situation and said nothing. He put our son in his swing and cleaned up the mess.
I cried over spilled milk, my very own milk! Literally. I cried for my aching nipples, for spilling my son’s dinner, for the time away from my son. I cried for this new working mum role where I felt clueless and exhausted and this damn auto-type feature creating this whole commotion in the first place. I ugly cried for a good thirty minutes until I had a terrible headache.
How am I going to do this I thought? I don’t think I can. My husband was kind enough to take over that evening, I put my son to bed and gave him some formula. My son smiled while sleeping and would make a little cooing sound – a soothing reminder it will all be okay in time.
I needed to rest and be prepared for my presentation the next day. How am I going to look them in the eye? Do I pretend it never happened? They probably won’t even think it was a big deal? The way that I rationalized it then is so different to how I rationalize now. I felt so disconnected from society; a mother hermit during my time away that I needed practice on how to re-integrate to normal society settings.
The growing pains of motherhood
I didn’t know the answer to what the next day would bring, but I could take the growing pains of motherhood and not be ashamed to say “I’m a new mum and I am doing the best that I can”.
Fast forward to the next morning, I walked into the meeting with the client at 10 am and immediately made eye contact. “Good to see you, Denise. Let me present my partners – Tom, Dick and Harry. I shook everyone’s hand and sat down. I was asked if I’d like a cup of coffee and as they left to get it, I asked “Got milk?” My client gave me a solemn smile in understanding and said “We sure do.”
Denise A. Castro is a Cuban American who currently resides in Miami, Florida. She is a new mother to her son Anthony and recently returned to the workforce after a brief maternity leave. She owns a photography business called Dac Mac Photography and is passionate about Mom blogs, old school film and Instagram for social media storytelling. She loves traveling and exploring alongside her husband and son, and reading a good book while snuggled with her French Bulldog Hamlet.