Thursday, March 28, 2013

Guest post: Come back when you are ready

Come back when you are ready.

Those are the words that my boss said to me when I called to tell him I was in labor. And he meant them.

My boss is one of the kindest, most generous and supportive people I know. So after 11 weeks I will return to work, not necessarily because I am ready but because it is time. 

Why 11 weeks if I feel I am not completely ready? I work in a small anesthesiology group and know that my coworkers are covering all of the call I normally take. It allows me to start after Easter and start fresh at the beginning of a month. I also took some of my time off unpaid so I could save some of my vacation weeks for later in the year. If only I didn’t have school loans and bills to pay I could have taken more unpaid time off! So 11 weeks it is.

It got me thinking though, when after the birth of a child would I really feel ready, if ever? Would it be when they learned to sleep through the night? Or would it be when they learned to say mama? Would it be after they weaned from breastfeeding? I thought that since this was my second child, I would not have all of the irrational fears of returning to work that I had with my first. My first child in fact did not prefer the nanny over me and is now 3.5 years old and shows no signs of being scared for life because his mom works. I was able to breastfed for 6 months during residency before my supply tanked and I am worried I won’t be able to even get that far this time. So here I sit, one week left of maternity leave having many of those same irrational fears.

I was in my third year of residency when I had my first child. I was blessed to have supportive attendings and an amazing program director. Yet I struggled for a good 5 months before I learned to let go of some of the guilt of being a working mom. I love my profession but I of course love my children and husband more.

This time, my husband is staying home with our two lovely children. He started staying at home with our first as soon as I finished residency. He is making a sacrifice by leaving a job he really enjoyed to stay home for a few years, and I sacrifice by working full-time. It is what works for our family and my sanity.  Like everyone else, I am searching for that perfect life work balance. Depending on the day or week, I think I might have found it. Yet sometimes the mommy guilt rears its ugly head just when I think I have gotten it under control.

So I pose the question to you. When were you ready to return to work after having a baby?

I would like to thank everyone who contributes to this blog. I have been following for over a year now. It has been really supportive to read these posts and see how we are all just trying to be the best moms we can be.  

- an anesthesiologist in a small private practice group with two children under 4.


  1. I came back after about 12 weeks and made it work, but my preference would have been 6 months, everything else being equal.

  2. I went back after 8 weeks with both children and found that sufficient. Of course, we are all unique in this sense. I too, have a husband at home with the kids. That certainly makes the transition easier. I have offered other moms some advice for successfully maintaining milk supply while working, if you are interested (which starts with the Milk Maid app on your smart phone). Good luck with the new change. It is hard...for all of us. But you will be successful, even if you feel like you aren't.

  3. I went back to work after 7 week both times and didn't feel ready. I am an anesthesiologist with 2 kids under 3. If financially feasible I would work just enough to maintain my license. But instead my husband and I both work part time. My husband, my MIL, and I watch the kids. When I can take about 2 days off per week, I feel pretty good with work and motherhood balance. When I used to work full time I was miserable. We've had to make drastic cutbacks in order for me to work part time since I am the primary breadwinner in our family, but every sacrifice we've made has been worth it. The first year after birth is the hardest for me at work. Good luck to you.

  4. When I had my kids, I was one of two internists in a hospital-owned practice. I was already working 3 days per week in anticipation of having a family. I took 12 weeks off after both births, and my partner graciously covered alone with the part-time assistance of a PA during my second maternity leave. I did take home call evenings and weekends every other week starting at 6 weeks post-partum to help lighten the load a little. Luckily our practice was small, the patients were great about calling only for necessary things (ie 5-20 calls per week), and we had an EMR which I could access from home. I would have to say that with my first child, I would have happily stayed home for another 1-3 months. With my second, I was ready to go back to work at 12 weeks. I feel that my work/life balance is pretty good working 3 days per week. In addition, my husband only works 4 days per week and spends one day at home with the kids.

  5. As an attending, I took 11-12 weeks for each child (3). For me, it was just the right amount. Ready for some intellectual stimulation and adult conversations, ready to step away from sleep micro-management and other minutiae. Was definitely not ready at 8 weeks though.

  6. I'm Canadian - I came back at 50% time at 5.5 months, and full-time at 6.5 months. I was definitely ready (was an attending). I did NOT love mat leave, and my husband was going to take parental leave (since he wasn't self-employed, he was actually entitled to more weeks than me!) so I had no qualms about returning. Breastfeeding was going well, I was lucky to pump easily and have a good set-up at work, and I had guilt about not having guilt, if that makes sense. :) I work in geriatrics, I should mention - call is home call, usually very quiet, and that made it reasonable to return to.

  7. I went back after 10 weeks. My son is 14 months old, and I'm still not ready to be back. I'm a 2nd year resident married to a surgery resident, so maybe that influences things. Good to hear you at least have options as an attending. Looking forward to that. Also really glad to hear your 3.5 year old isn't scarred from having a working mom; when i get home post call and my son waves goodbye to me as if to say "who are you again?" I want to fall down. I love this blog for the same reason you mentioned - support from other med moms. Thanks for writing.

  8. I went back to residency at 6 weeks and as staff at 6 weeks -- I'm Active Duty and that's fairly standard unless you take additional leave and I didn't want to extend residency with the first and after the second I did take 1-2 days off a week for a few months so that either my husband (worked 2 evenings/week teaching) or I were home and we didn't need childcare. Breastfeeding was a priority for me and I even went to a lactation counseling course after D1 so I pumped for the year and nursed until she was 2, so far I'm doing the same with D2 though now I'm pregnant with C3 so we'll see how that lasts. Advantages I have is that I can take home call and have an EMR I can access for non urgent things though I usually end up going back in after I put the kids to bed. My husband is very supportive.

  9. We normally get six weeks - I used all my vacation during residency (three weeks/year) for both kids, and was able to start a month early so I tacked on an extra two weeks for each kid for a total of 8. I hear they don't allow this anymore in my program. I was both ready and not ready to return. Ready for adult stimulation, not ready to leave my kids with a nanny. Did I miss out on many early childhood milestones? Yes. Are my kids happy and well adjusted now? Yup. With more control of my time in private practice I take extra vacation and sell off some of my call to spend more time with them now, at 10 and 7. It's a lot of fun. I try not to have any regrets, but I can go there in a bad head space.

    I thought the first year of second babyhood with a toddler (mine was only 2 years 4 months when my second was born) was the hardest. Being in fellowship and taking boards probably added a lot to the strain. You are very lucky to have had support in your program and now with your boss and at home. That will make a world of difference. Good luck! Great to hear from you.

  10. I took 16 weeks off with each child. Ready to return at that point, but nonetheless tearful (read: crying) upon return for each, but for different reasons with each. The first because it was all so new and unknown, and the second because I figured (correctly) that it would be my last maternity leave.

    One thing I did is I wrote each child a private letter, in those remaining days on leave just prior to return. Haven't shown it to anyone nor re-read them myself yet.

  11. I'm just over halfway through a surgical subspecialty fellowship and recently (5ish weeks ago) had our first baby. I went back part-time (2 days/wk of clinic, 1 half-day of OR/wk and working on research papers from home) at 4wks and start full-time duties back up on Monday at 6wks postpartum.

    For the most part, I'm ready. Ideal? No. But it is what it is.

  12. I wonder why US women aren't standing up and fighting for paid maternity leave? Here in NZ we get 14 weeks paid maternity leave. It doesn't come out of our vactation leave.

    Good luck with returning to work.

  13. USA really doesn't have a good parental leave policy. In Canada, mom and dad can have a total of 12 month leave between them that is covered by employment insurance. So whether they both take a few months together or split it up separately, it still works for having some time with the newborn. Having said that, there are many reasons people have to go back to work early. Saw this article recently that helped me feel much better Working Mom Guilt Be Gone! Your Kids Fare Better Study Finds
    which describes how kids with working moms are more resilient, independent, and flexible with different situations and caregivers and have improved abilities to handle changing circumstances. I'm sure as with all things it depends on the type of kid and the type of parent and the family dynamic, but it does make me feel a bit better to know that it isn't all bad for the child if the parents work.


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