Why going back to work after a baby isn’t easy

I returned to full-time work after 14 months of being a stay-at-home mum (SAHM). During those newborn days (when sleep and regular showers didn’t exist), it was six weeks after bringing the twins home from NICU that I was ready to hang up the mum towel and return to work immediately.

When the twins reached six months old, I started enjoying being a SAHM. Less routine (seriously, all they do is eat, sleep, poop, repeat!) and more animation from your little one. I didn’t want to miss out on their ‘firsts’ or those months of bonding, knowing they weren’t going to be this little forever. Though I still often whinged about being stuck at home with the twins all day, I had come to love our little trio bubble. 

When my paid maternity leave and one-off Centrelink payment dried up quicker than my breastmilk, I had no income for six months. Sure Bryce was working but one wage only went so far and towards the end of 2022, the trio bubble burst (I blame the farce that was/is the state of the Aussie economy). Needless to say, I dipped into our savings heavily and feared we’d have nothing left if I didn’t go back to work. 

When I confirmed my start date, I felt a range of emotions – mostly excitement yet so much guilt. I was excited to dress in anything other than snot-covered activewear, fetching a coffee without wrestling the twin pram and having intelligent adult conversations that didn’t begin with “Do you need your bum changed?” or “Don’t bite your brother”. 

My little biters

Since pregnancy, I felt I had lost myself.

Another reason I was eager to get back to work return to work was to regain my identity. Since pregnancy, I felt I had lost myself. I would just be ‘Mum’ from that point on; career over, destined to purchase a Kia Carnival to schlep the twins, their friends and the dogs around from now until the twins moved out of home. (Actually, the new Kia Carnivals are pretty swanky!)

While there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a SAHM, I had always aspired to work my way up as high as possible within my workplace. I wanted to make something of myself. I wanted to be a career woman, a woman in power, a leader, a role model to other women and young ladies making their way in the world.

But the main reason I was looking forward to returning to the workforce? Taking a break. 

Looking after twins alone all day, every day, was challenging. More so as they became older and more active. Don’t get me wrong, they’re such good boys, I would never say they were naughty or difficult children. They are just… into… literally… everything! They’d get into all the cupboards, pull everything out, lock toys in the washing machine, throw things (like my iPhone) in the toilet, pull clothes off the drying rail, shoes off the rack, clothes out of the drawers… my goodness, why? Why?!

Then there’s the tantrums, the biting, running away when it’s time for bed, crying for me to pick them up while I’m cooking dinner, smacking me in the face and thinking it’s the funniest thing on Earth – being a Mum is f$@#ing tough.

I hadn’t truly prepared myself for the Mum work/life balance and the dreaded guilt I brought on myself.

All that aside, I went back to work. It was fantastic to adult again and have that break from the kids, the husband and the never-ending household chores I could never get on top of. While I thought I was happy, I hadn’t truly prepared myself for the Mum work/life balance and the dreaded guilt I’d bring on myself.

Starting the day off at 5am, yet still not getting into the city office until 10am. I would juggle getting myself and the twins ready, fed, nappy changes, my stupidly incessant need to have a somewhat tidy house to come home to, driving to daycare and crying because the twins were crying when I dropped them off. It was then the long drive to the city, fighting dreaded peak hour traffic, finding a parking spot and then actually starting my day.

Bryce would get up and go to work at 5am and I was always frustrated that he didn’t have to deal with what I had to every morning. To be fair, he would pick the twins up from daycare and feed them before I came home from work. That was a huge help  – but still not what I dealt with every day.

After a few weeks back in the office, I told myself constantly I was failing in all aspects of life. The combination of returning to work, the rising cost of living, my ineffectiveness as a present Mummy and a bunch of upsetting personal events had compounded and made me a sad, emotional yet short-tempered and difficult person to be around. I took my frustration out on my husband, children, family and friends. 

Something needed to change. 

But I couldn’t go back to being a SAHM; we wouldn’t earn enough money as a family to keep a roof over our heads. I couldn’t work part-time, as it wouldn’t justify the means of having the twins in and paying for care. Yet how could I continue to be a full-time working Mum without my inner demons telling me that I was a terrible wife, mother and person?

I needed to cut myself some slack. I knew I wasn’t a bad Mum, but I couldn’t ‘switch it off’ or ‘just get over it’

So I continued to go to work each day, however, I actively made some changes.

I had a conversation with my bosses. They understood my complex family life and were extremely accommodating of my need for work-life balance. Next, I spent as much time with the twins as I could on days when I could work from home and on weekends. I reached out to a psychologist and my doctor for mental and medical guidance. I incorporated a couple of self-care hours each week (a glass of wine by myself for an hour or going to the library and writing) and just ate that bloody doughnut I told myself was no good! Man, I love doughnuts. 

I know I would not be alone in my feelings or experiences when it comes to the sheer difficulty of juggling work/life balance. Yet, instead of starting a podcast or taking to my Instagram stories to vent, I found something better and more suited to me to express myself – writing. So I started this blog, ‘Her Second Shift’. Even if it doesn’t resonate with you entirely, I hope you can take something away from this and know that you are not alone, your feelings are valid and you are doing the absolute best that you can.

23 thoughts on “Why going back to work after a baby isn’t easy

  1. Kirstin Hickey

    Firstly, thanks for sharing and keeping it so ‘real’. My twins are 9 years old now and I still tell people the second year was far harder than the first. Just like you, I longed to return to work and desperately craved the social interaction, mental stimulation, hot coffee and toilet trips without someone crying. Then there was the overwhelming feeling of guilt and anxiety that came with it. Teething, sickness, lack of sleep … Eeekkkk it still makes me feel sick to think about how I survived it all! Your babies can’t talk yet so it’s still all a guessing game of why they are crying or not sleeping. I felt like every other mum knew exactly what tooth their child was breaking through at the time and I had no idea, someone was always crying and I was in constant survival mode.

    Let me tell you it does get easiest so hang in there and be kind to yourself xx

  2. Jess

    Everything you said is so true! The guilt from both ends of the spoon. I think for me the hardest juggle is and continues to be breastfeeding once you return to work. My son has allergies so formula isn’t an option. You only get 5months paid mat leave, however women are encouraged to breastfeed until minimum 12 months. Everytime I pumped at work I would sit there crying, can my patients hear it through the door, is someone going to walk in, constant interruptions from colleagues, inability to relax enough to get a proper flow and empty the amount of milk my baby boy needed, and then the dreaded blocked ducts- which for me led to chronic mastitis. All this on top of having to still do housework, cook, clean, bath etc. I resonate so much with the resentment towards my husband who simply wakes up to his alarm and goes to work. Working and being a mum is HARD. We are lucky to have a supportive family, but it doesn’t mean it’s easy. Thank you for sharing your experiences and providing a safe environment for women to discuss xx

    1. Liss

      Jess, thank you so much for sharing. Breastfeeding, in my opinion, was almost as stressful as giving birth. Your strength and resilience is exactly what women like myself and many others need to hear. You did it all for your son – the blocked ducts and all! So painful too!
      I don’t believe all families operate in the same way and I won’t turn this into a ‘man-bashing’ blog – it is more that as women, we have naturally been the primary parent and homemaker, regardless of careers. Should this always be the way? Absolutely not. But for myself, it works. Even when I get so frustrated with Bryce sometimes! I have a certain structure, and order and know I like things done my way on my time.

  3. Vanessa

    This is so good. I wish this type of conversation and support was around many years ago when I was a first time parent.
    I felt isolated, I lost friends being a younger mum of 24, I had lost my identity. I thought I was a failure. I was in survival mode for many years.

    I wish you all the success ❤️

    1. Liss

      Vanessa – I totally hear you. I am trying to keep my experiences as open and honest as I can because I too experience, even now, the feeling of being isolated and alone. Most of the time, I do it to myself. I have friends and family with children my twins’ age, however, we hardly ever interact. For me, it was/is trying to get through the day, every day, then being so touched out even a phone call was/is too much to handle.
      Thank you for commenting, I appreciate it x

  4. Meagan

    I felt this deeply and am still feeling it almost daily.
    You have encapsulated my own motherhood journey so far. This is written to pefection.
    Kicking goals love xx

  5. Lucia

    I’m happy to read this post! It’s so real and I felt the same too when I went back to office. I don’t know how does it work in Australia, but here in Italy the maternity is so under-evaluated… 5 months at home and stop, you still have the chance to stay at home till one year after baby born but your salary is definitely not enough (30% of your monthly salary is paid, so if you have a mortgage to pay every month, the utilities, the stuff for babies, etc is impossible to stay at home). Let’s add on top that a lot of work is still “man-oriented “, so even if you decide to stay at home then it will be harder to come back and jump on the work again. Lastly, since the cost of life is not in line with the salary, if you decide (or you’re obliged) to go back working, where will you bring your babies? If you’re lucky and you have grandparents, that’s fine, if not you’ve to pay a kidden garden… and consider that the monthly fee for the kidden is more than our mortgage…
    Based on that, I tried to make a balance about pros and cons to stay at home and take care my kids or go back to work and pay someone to help… plus the feeling of guilty, the stress of traveling to go working, the stress at work, I was feeling like a failure in everything, as a mum, a wife, a women and the sacrifices I made to have my career. But then I took back my space, gym and friends and shared my thoughts with my family and I felt better. So THANKS for sharing your experience with us and make us feeling on the same boat. I hope to read soon new posts. Greetings from Italy ♥️

    1. Liss

      Lucia – you don’t know how much it means to me that you are reading my blog from Italy! (But seriously, can I come and live with you for a while to take a little break from working and Mum-life? :P)
      I haven’t researched the length of maternity leave here in Australia and have actually forgotten how long I was entitled to in my workplace. Maybe another reader can provide some insight for Australian maternity leave?
      I understand where you are coming from when you say that a lot of work is still ‘man-orientated’. I made a point of going back to work and starting in a new role which happened to be all men. At first, it was hard being a Mum and adjusting to being back at work. Over time though, I felt more comfortable and inclusive once I got into the rhythm and was honest about the complexity of being the primary parent. Banter always helps too!
      Thank you so much for sharing and I hope you’ll stick around x

  6. Sarah

    I’m not even a mum, in my early twenties and I felt how authentic the experience of mum and career are – thank you for sharing xx

    1. Liss

      Thank you so much, Sarah! I really appreciate you reading my words. This site won’t just be about parenting, kids and such. I’m currently researching sexual health and adult bullying – stay tuned! xx

  7. Cadie Brown

    It’s like you took the words right out of my mouth.
    I’ve felt like a psycho for so long – but I’m not. It’s just what we are all going through!
    Sending you love x

    1. Liss

      Sending you love as well Cadie. You are absolutely not a psycho – but I feel you (and have my little crazy moments sometimes). I think it keeps things interesting 😉 xx

  8. Jo

    It certainly is a constant battle ! I refer to it as the hamster wheel of life! It’s a never ending cycle and sometimes the joyous moments are few and far between. My kids are now 10 and 6 and with all
    the extra curricular after school activities as well as full time work, household chores and just trying to keep our heads above water , it can be so overwhelming. Thankyou for doing this blog. It’s so important for mums to support each other . You are doing a great job 👏

    1. Liss

      Thank you for being a part of it Jo, and for sharing your experience.
      I find it hard to contemplate that we only have one life and I spend so much time worrying about things I shouldn’t. Living in the moment is difficult and cannot be sustained long term, however, I feel in moments like this when we can relate to others or see the difficulties we all face, we can sit back and briefly admire the hard work we do as parents.
      And just know, your comment brought joy to my day x

  9. Lou

    Could not be prouder of you. So honest and raw. It’s a hard thing to put all your feelings and thoughts out there.
    You are an absolutely wonderful mum. The boys are lucky to call you theirs.
    You are a beautiful person and friend. 💜💜💜💜


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