Article by Kirsty
Going back to work after maternity leave can be an extremely stressful time. It can also be exhilarating if you are returning to a job you love. For many it’s a combination of both, maybe with a sizeable sprinkling of dread. For a woman who has suffered from postpartum depression and anxiety the idea of being physically separated from your baby regularly for extended periods may trigger panic attacks, intrusive thoughts and much worry.
For myself, a flight attendant who works primarily long haul flights, the thought of going back to work was a combination of excitement and horror. Excitement because it meant returning to my beloved Europe and horror because it meant leaving my daughter for several nights at a time when. After giving birth I could barely let other people hold my daughter without cringing, so imagining leaving her for days resulted in anxiety unlike anything I had experienced before. Even though I had come a long way from my early PPD/A experience going back to work caused anxieties to resurface.
My worst fears came true when I got my schedule and discovered I would have to endure seven nights away. I remember looking at my computer and feeling my heart speed up. I got that familiar fight-or-flight response that had caused me to be so unsettled during my postpartum period. Millions of thoughts raced through my head all at once. How could I keep up my milk supply for seven days? Would I have to hide in the airplane lavatory to pump? How would my husband manage on his own? Would my daughter feel abandoned? What happens if there’s an emergency when I’m overseas?
I worked with a lot of mothers coming off of maternity leave in my 15 years as a flight attendant. Most seemed happy to be working again while enjoying the company of friends and colleagues. Would I be that relaxed at work or would I be hiding in the washroom (not an option at take-off) crying into my blouse? I needed someone to talk to so I called a couple of friends from work and they almost all said the same thing: You might feel panicked right now and probably can’t imagine being so far away from your baby, but once the wheels go up you will learn to let go. I wasn’t so sure.
Before my first flight I did everything I could to prepare for my trip. I made extensive meal plans; I made sure the laundry was done and my daughter’s closet was organized; I fulfilled a prescription for anti-anxiety medication that my doctor had given me to use if my anxiety got out of control.
All my nervousness was rubbing off on my husband. He wanted everything hyper-organized so things would go as smoothly as possible when I was away. He expressed some concerns that our daughter wouldn’t eat well, that she’d be dehydrated because she wasn’t getting her usual breast milk, and that he wouldn’t be able to get her down for her naps. Yet at the same time he was up for the challenge and excited about taking some days off work to spend one-on-one time with his daughter. He reassured me time and time again that our daughter was in good hands. And of course she was–she was with her very capable father–but that still couldn’t dispel the guilt I felt about leaving her.
Finally my first day of work came and I left for the airport with butterflies. I debated calling in sick but I knew I couldn’t postpone forever. Apprehensively I boarded the plane. I prepared the cabin and before I knew it we were speeding down the runway. Up went the aircraft, up went the wheels and out came a huge sigh of relief. I had done my best this past week, this past month, this past year and I let go just a little, putting my trust in others.
By the end of the week, naturally, I was desperate to get home. The week had gone very smoothly for all of us and when I quizzed my husband on whether he felt she was missing me or not he replied, “Sadie’s only 18 months, she still lives in the moment”. How true. But of course this hadn’t stopped me from me missing her like crazy. So when I finally landed back in YVR and micromanaged the taxi driver on the fastest route home, I burst into my apartment desperate for a kiddie hug. We hugged, or more like I hugged her, and she seemed a little surprised to see me again. She then took one good long stare, reached down, pushed my work ID aside and started to unbutton my blouse. In less than 3 minutes from getting home, Sadie was happily feeding away, without resentment, not caring if there was milk left or not.
I survived that first week and now I am stronger because of it.