Post-birth return to work a challenge

“I am exhausted,” Heather said as she plopped into the chair. “Austin is doing great with day care, but after my maternity leave ended, it’s been tough to get back on track.”

“How have you been sleeping?” I asked.

“Pretty good,” Heather said. “William does one of the feedings at night so I can sleep.”

“Tell me about feeling off-track,” I said.

“Going back to work has been challenging,” Heather said. “You know how committed I am to my career. But adding another huge responsibility like caring for a baby is tough.”

“During your pregnancy, we talked about how full your plate was and what you were anticipating after the baby arrived,” I said. “But it sounds like it’s not just a concept now; it’s real and it’s every day.”

“If my plate was full before, I feel like I’m holding a plate in each hand and balancing one on my head,” Heather said. “The servers keep piling food on, and I feel like I can’t talk to say I’ve had enough.”

“If you could talk, who would you talk to and what would you say?” I asked.

“William has been great,” Heather said. “But things haven’t rebalanced since I went back to work. He was off for four weeks after Austin was born; I was off three months, which allowed Austin and me time to develop a routine, if there is any such thing with a baby.” She smiled.

“Since I was home all day with Austin, the primary responsibility was on me,” Heather said. “That made perfect sense while I was on maternity leave.”

“What about now that you’re back at work?” I asked.

“I still have the majority of the responsibility, and I’m working full time. It’s tough to balance all of these full plates.”

“What options do you have?” I asked.

“William and I have been so busy that we haven’t had time to discuss anything, except diapers, bottles and laundry,” Heather said. “I need to talk to William about how each of us is feeling. I’d like to explore options for rebalancing our new responsibilities and see if I need to keep my work plate this full.”

“You mean possibly changing your job situation?” I asked.

“I’m not sure,” Heather said. “But I’d like to explore the possibility with William.”

“When will you have this conversation?” I asked.

“My parents are baby-sitting tomorrow so we can have a date,” Heather said. “It’s tempting to avoid a deep discussion and just suck it up, but it’s important to get this out in the open.”

“So you’ll talk to William tomorrow, and how will you let me know?” I asked, pushing for accountability.

“I’ll e-mail to let you know,” she said. “Will that work?”

“Yes, although it feels as though I just added more to your plates.”

“It may seem like that,” Heather smiled, “but for some reason, it feels like I just set one down. Even if we don’t solve the problem, it will feel good to connect with William and know we are in this together.”

Coaching challenge: When a balanced system is changed (either through addition or subtraction), it takes time for the system to re-center and conscious effort to re-center in a way that works for all involved.

When this happens, take time to acknowledge the dynamics of these changes, talk about it with a close friend and determine strategies to integrate these changes into your life.


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