Going Back to Work: Melanie’s Story

Position: Clinical Research Professional for cancer trials
Length of Time Off: One year of maternity leave
Position Status: full-time

Returning to work is one of the hardest things a parent can do. After Owen was born, I was lucky to be able to stay home for a full year. Of course, those first few months go by in a blur. The middle months are full of rolling over, crawling and giggles, and the last few months are filled with anxiety about finding the right daycare, leaving them for a full day and whether or not they are ready for that big of a transition at such a young age.

Here in Winnipeg, when you need daycare you find out that you should have been on a daycare waiting list for about three years. As soon as I was on maternity leave, I made sure that I was on the government waiting list to be placed with a daycare that would fit our needs. To be clear, I have yet to be called for a spot and Owen turned three this month.

In September, I began my search on the online selling sites that advertised home daycare spots as well. After a few phone calls and home interviews, a friend from high school recommended a woman in my area who turned out to be a great fit. We lucked out in that she had a spot opening in December (the month I was due to return to work) and we felt pretty confident in her daycare history and the impressive ‘Standard Operating Procedures’ binder she provided.

There are some downsides to home daycare. You are working on your provider’s schedule. My daycare takes vacation two weeks in July as well as two weeks in August. There is usually a winter week vacation as well in January depending on seat sales with the airlines.

While sometimes her daughter or husband stay home to watch the kids, sometimes that doesn’t work out and we are required to take time off work to cover these breaks. It can be difficult if you factor in your own vacations. I am lucky to have four weeks of vacation time a year, but to ensure everyone is covered, this means that for now, we won’t be able to take a family vacation as my husband and I are having to split our accrued vacation time to manage throughout the year. In a regular daycare center there are usually more than three providers who cover vacations, and therefore daycare is open all year-round. When you are looking for care, make sure you think about this!

I have to admit that while I felt great finding a secure spot for my son, I started feeling a bit of anxiety about returning to work. I knew that our time home together was coming to an end. I love what I do, but I also loved being at home with Owen; I loved seeing every developmental phase and being available for every snuggle, and I wasn’t sure how life would change when we both went off on our own days.

At the same time, I had an amazing opportunity to start Owen in my sister-in-law’s home daycare. She had plans to move out of the city so we knew it wasn’t a forever plan, but it gave me a chance to start sending Owen for a day a week, then two a week, etc., until December, so that I knew he was “ready.” He played during the day with his cousin and the other children at the home daycare, and I knew that he was in great hands with someone who loved him. It was a blessing. I was still pretty nervous when December came around, and then the thought of him having to start a new daycare with new little ones being in an unfamiliar place. Due to work schedules, my husband dropped Owen off in the mornings and I picked him up in the afternoon.

I have to say that this worked well for me, as I knew my husband was stronger than I was and could handle a crying little one at the door better than I would. During that first day, I remember I cried at my desk quietly hoping he was okay, hoping that he didn’t feel alone or abandoned and that he wasn’t heartbroken.

When you’ve had a year of wiping tears away and making everything better with a hug… when you can’t provide it, it’s hard.

Things got better in the afternoon when I got the first email from my daycare provider. She was amazing for the first six months or so in that she would send me an email at lunch letting me know how Owen’s morning was— what he ate for breakfast and lunch, if he played, if he laughed, etc.  To this day she loves him so much that she is like our second family. When I picked Owen up at the end of the day, he was so happy to see me. It was the best medicine for us both.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are some wonderful things about going back to work. I actually had a lunch break where I got to eat my meal all in one sitting, and two —count them, TWO— coffee breaks! I had adult conversations and I wore clothes that weren’t yoga pants and a tank top. I felt very much back to myself, in a sense. It was nice to lose myself in work and being busy. I listened to regular music on the radio and nothing about the heels on the bus. As I got more comfortable in my new routine, I found ways to ‘bring’ Owen with me. I made sure that I had handmade artwork at my desk and pictures that I could look at and update throughout the months. My co-workers like this too —they like to see your little person growing and changing! I also made sure that I had pictures on my desktop to make my own little screensaver slideshow.

The one thing I didn’t really anticipate was the change in my priority when it comes to my job. Before my son was born, my job was what I was about. Sure, I had hobbies, friends and goals, but once he was here and I returned to my cubicle, I realized for me, personally, that it was only a paycheck. I still love the subject matter of my work and what it does for the overall medical community (I work in research), but I found that I wasn’t willing to waste my energy on things that weren’t important anymore. The office gossip games and the office politics drove me a little more insane when I came back. I found myself questioning why I was even there. Oh yes — that’s right, to pay for the daycare! It’s very true you can change your job, and it is something to look into definitely, but I am also thinking ahead to my next maternity leave and the benefits that this job provides. Sick leave, for example. Not only do I accrue personal sick leave 1.25 days a month, but also family sick leave –and let me tell you, when your child starts daycare you will be off quite a bit, as they are introduced to new germs and so many different kids and environments. The first year is the hardest.

If things were different and finances allowed, I would stay at home. I am sure I would miss my job and the people I work with, but this is just not a reality that is possible at this time.

As I write this, I am pregnant with another little boy, due in January. I will once again change schedules and plans with another leave and this time I instantly have a spot for our new little guy when he’s ready to start daycare. He will go with his brother everyday, and I will feel great about that. My desk will be filled with two little boys’ hand print art and sticky notes of appointments and reminders that will both drive me crazy and make me smile everyday.

While I wish I could stay home, I am also very lucky that I have the opportunity to find a work/life balance that will work for us.


Check out more Going Back to Work stories: Corey’s StoryDebbie’s Story, Christy’s Story, Alex’s Story, and Mary Ellen’s story.

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