Soaking It All In: My Transition Back From Maternity Leave
Written by Founder and CEO, Sara Potler LaHayne
She came early. I had a premonition she would arrive before September 1, but that did not mean I was prepared. My husband and I kept putting off a trip to the Container Store for one more lazy weekend by the pool. “This will be our last Saturday of being unaccountable to anyone else,” we told ourselves, so we proceeded to be self indulgent.
The same thinking applied to my company. I will get to inbox zero before she arrives. I will go through our project management system and clean it all out before my new big project begins. And I will certainly have one last week in the office to connect with each person and make sure they have everything they need before I work from home until I go into labor.
You can infer how this progresses. It was the Monday of “my last week in the office” when what I thought was dehydration was contractions all day. I went to dance class that night and contracted all the way through it. Contracted and did not sleep all night. Worked and contracted all through Tuesday, then contracted while finally packing that hospital bag we had been putting off for 9.5 months now. Sadelle Rose LaHayne had the beginning signs of her 6 months of FOMO and came to the party the next day, on Wednesday, August 16.
I guess you can never truly be “prepared” to be a first-time mom, or maybe it is just who I am to push it all to the limit, to wait until the last second, to soak up and be fully present in every moment that I don’t actually prepare for the next. The strategy had worked for every big trip I’ve ever taken, so why not for the arrival of my first child?
Now that I’m back in the office, and Sadelle has been in our lives for almost 6 months, I reflect on my maternity leave and the period of time that I was figuring out my new identity as mom. There are pieces of this experience I think I really owned and rocked, and there are others where I bombed, and will try to do better the second go around.
My maternity leave wins (other than intense bonding with my baby & keeping her alive… and apparently always awake!)
1. Being fully, deeply present with Sadelle.
2. Engaging Sadelle through original songs and stories inspired to any daily activity, be it diaper changing, pooping, tummy time, burping, getting ready to nap - almost everything we do has an accompanied song and dance.
3. Empowering my team to experiment with different ways of moving the business forward and bringing new creative ideas to the same challenges.
4. Finding time for “Sara” (meditation, dance class, The Artist’s Way morning pages) during a period that was so all-in for someone else. The credit for this win actually goes more to my husband than to me.
5. Creating opportunity for movement each day through 5 mile walks along the Hudson, a daily dance party during the 6pm witching hour, weighted squats while holding Sadelle (that seem to be getting heavier), doing curls & push-ups while talking to Sadelle, a 5am workout class, or stretching during tummy time.
My maternity leave fails (other than not sleeping & living in a state of exhaustion)
1. Being so deeply present with Sadelle that I was incapable of functioning as an adult person separate from her. Ex: freezing and flailing when making a dentist appointment, coordinating holiday travel, or planning her baby naming ceremony - all things I used to be able to handle while on conference calls.
2. Not giving myself permission to be an imperfect mom at times. The expectations we put on ourselves as mothers are unrealistic, unhealthy, and unnecessary. I am still getting up at all hours to pump so that my baby only knows breast milk, even though I’m back in the office. Does Sadelle really care, or does she just want a mom who’s rested and patient and the best version of herself?
3. Not establishing clear expectations with my team. Throughout my maternity leave, I would pay attention to the overall functioning of the business and plug in when it worked for me (or rather, Sadelle). Once a month my Head of Operations came over to give me a high level run-down and review financials. Other than that, no one knew when I would be available or when I would insert myself into something. This caused confusion in terms of what should or should not be shared and what needed or didn’t need my approval.
4. Not establishing clear expectations with myself. As someone who is not good at multitasking and needs to feel fully present in every action I take (sorry I’m bad at text messaging), I did not do a good job of setting any boundaries or establishing time for day to day activities like sleep, laundry, cooking, etc. because I was so engrossed in Songs with Sadelle, or conversations with her on the #MeToo movement. If I had set some kind of structure around when I would engage in what, perhaps I would have felt less like I was abandoning anything outside of Sadelle.
5. Setting overly ambitious intentions. I thought I would have this sleepy baby with whom I could read novels, start and finish my first children’s book, and keep up my previously attained inbox zero. The reality is that there were days when I didn’t brush my teeth until 5pm and the mornings bled into the night. I did read a few books, and I did write the outline of the children’s book, but the mirage of having a maternity leave to achieve all of these life and career projects couldn’t be further from my truth.
In the end, what happened?
Almost six months later, and we have an animated, curious, active baby with a BIG personality. My teammates stepped it up and answered the call with their innovative problem solving and creative energy. Through the Power of Pause I’ve had space to once again reset my own priorities with regard to my family, my work and myself. I’m re-energized and focused on maximizing the efficiency of how I spend my time, in and out of the office, since now there is so little of it to be wasted. I’m putting my accountability system in place to ensure I keep up with the rituals I know I need in order to thrive as a mom, a wife and a CEO and am giving myself permission to make mistakes as I go, because let’s face it, I’m sleepless and being a working mom is hard.
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