When your pregnant colleague left the office 6 or 12 weeks ago, she was glowing and excited and happy to talk about all things baby in the spare minutes of her day. Now she’s back, looking slightly less glowy and carrying the world’s ugliest purse (her breast pump). Whether she’s back at work because she needs to be, or wants to be, or both, it’s wise to be a little sensitive to this transitional—and challenging—moment in her career. Here are a handful of things not to say (and the thoughts that go through her mind if you do).
1. “Oooh! Are those pictures of your baby? Wow, she’s still so small!” Yeah. I know. Too small to sleep through the night, too small to sit up. In almost every other developed country in the world, I would still be home with her while we both got to know each other a little better. But, God bless America, right?
2. “I could never leave my baby to come to this place every day.” You know, you might feel differently if you were worrying about how to pay for yet another $20 pack of organic, bleach-free diapers—and college!
3. “I scheduled that conference call for 6:15 p.m. The dial-in number is….” Let me tell you something about 6:15 p.m. It does not work for me. That is the time that I am trying to nurse my daughter, and order Indian take-out for dinner, and ask my nanny how many times the baby pooped today before she heads home, and make the bed that never got made this morning, and be on email JUST enough that our boss doesn’t think I’m mommy-tracking myself here. I am happy to do that call any time during the workday, even while I’m pumping. Or try me again after 9 p.m., when the baby is sleeping. Because I know you see me leaving at 5:45 p.m. and think that I am lame, but I’m plugged right back in after bedtime pretty much every night. And I’m okay with that because it allows me to do things like go to my child’s pediatrician appointments at lunch time.
4. “Are you sure you can handle that report now that you’re a mom?” Yes. I had a baby, not a brain injury. I am just as capable as before, only now I’m more efficient.
5. “I read this thing about how vaccines can cause a baby’s toes to grow together funny. Here, let me forward it to you….” No forwards. No email forwards ever. I will delete them immediately and put a hex on you for sending them, as I hardly have time to get through the emails that matter. Furthermore, on the topic of vaccines, I vaccinate my child because it’s safe, and it’s the right thing to do for the future of all children, including the ones you may be lucky enough to have one day. You’re welcome!
6. “My older sister’s trainer has these magic crunches you can do to fix post-baby belly.” Never ever say the words “belly” or “post-baby” to me again. But thank you for the helpful suggestion.
7. “Also, my sister’s baby started sleeping through the night at 11 days old.” Did you say something? Sorry, even my ears feel tired today.
8. “I’ll just keep going on that project I took over for you while you were out. The client really liked working with me.” Oh, wow. That’s really nice of you. I think. But while I’d love the help — and I truly appreciate your pitching in while I was out — do you think you could possibly rephrase that in the form of a question? Just so I can be sure you aren’t trying to steal my job from me? I know I’m paranoid, but it happens. Also, I really quite liked that project and was really looking forward to jumping back in on it. Since I’m here and not home with my baby and all.
9. “When do you guys think you’ll have another baby?” First of all, none of your business. Even though I may seem a little vulnerable right now, I am still your colleague, not exactly your friend. Secondly, are you kidding? My c-section scar still hurts!
10. “Let’s all go out for a drink after work to celebrate your return!” Mmm…a G&T! Or maybe a glass of rosé! That sounds exactly like what I need. So sweet! Plus, I’d love to catch up and get all of the office gossip from the past three months. But, oh. Right. I have to pick up my newborn baby at daycare just as they’re about to close for the evening and then sit in the parking lot and rip my shirt off and nurse her immediately or we’ll never make it home without a total screaming attack in the carseat that will fry my nerves so much I’ll rear-end the guy in front of me and the police will give me a breathalyzer even though I’m stone cold sober. So no. No drink, sorry.
11. “Oops, did you spill something on your shirt?” You know, possibly. I’m running on three stints of 90-minute sleep from last night, so my hands are a little shaky. But honestly, I’m praying that what you’re seeing there is coffee and not breastmilk. Because wardrobe malfunctions have taken on a whole new meaning since I started needing breast pads. Yes, like pad pads, but round. So I’m just going to like not even look down.
12. “While you were out on leave I got a dog. He is so much work!” Good for you. I respect that. But now that I am raising a tiny human I will never again see pets as “so much work.” By the way, if your dog ever gets sick and needs to go to the vet, please know that that’s okay with me and I’m happy to cover for you.
13. “OMG, I think your breasts got bigger since this morning!” Well yes, yes, they probably did…because while you’ve been sitting here in this endless meeting thinking about my breasts, I’ve been thinking about them too. They are about to burst. But I’m really glad that we could make so much delightful smalltalk at this meeting! Yay! Day’s just flying by.
14. “Why do you always have that ‘do not enter’ stickie note on your door? It’s a little anti social.” Really? Come in. Be social with me and my pump. I double D dare you.
15. “One day I want to have it all too. Can you tell me how?” Honestly? I haven’t yet figured out the answer to that question myself…I’m just too busy doing it! And hearing you ask makes me feel kind of naked. It’s hard right when you come back to work after having a baby; you feel like you’re never doing your best at everything all the time. But mostly, I just feel grateful to have all of the good things in life that I do. I don’t have the answers for you…and while I’m flattered you’d ask, the best thing you can do at the moment is just keep working hard and being thoughtful of the people above you and below you on the food chain. And we’ll do the same for you when it’s your turn.
Did you recently return to the office from maternity leave? What’s been the biggest struggle for you? Share with us in the comments below.
This was originally published on LevoLeague by Lauren Smith Brody