Once the initial shock of raising two kids under two wore off, I started to really panic. My next thought: How am I going to tell work?
I had two months left of my 12-month maternity leave when the faint blue ‘+’ sign appeared on my pregnancy test. Once the initial shock of realizing my husband and I were going to have two kids under two wore off, I started to really panic. My next thought: How am I going to tell work?
According to a second pregnancy test I took, I was 1-2 weeks along. I frantically flipped through a calendar to figure out my due date and started doing the math. Seven months. All I had was seven months between my return to work and my eventual departure.
Any kind of excitement I might have felt was overshadowed by a giant cloud of guilt. Prior to going on mat leave I was a copywriter at a digital bank, but the only kind of writing I had done since was taking notes to track my son’s naps and feedings.
I was itching to get my career back on track; to dive head first into creative projects, have “grown-up” conversations with co-workers, and find my way back to my love of writing. Seven months didn’t seem like enough time. I felt guilty for having to put my career on hold again.
Is mat leave going to hurt my career?
I know many women who shared the same fear about their careers, whether it was their first, second or third mat leave. To me, it felt like a trade-off—while I was being granted this time to grow a family, I was also missing out on professional development opportunities and promotions.
I was fortunate to work at a company that emphasized a work-life balance and was understanding when it came to family obligations. With mat leave being as long as it is, and especially now with the 18-month leave as an option, it seems likely that my situation will become more and more common. Even so, I constantly wondered if I would be judged for coming back to work pregnant. Would my manager question my dedication to my work? Would my coworkers think I’m just coasting between mat leaves? My husband insisted I was overthinking it, but the negative perception of moms in the workplace was—and is—a real thing.
According to a 2021 study from Moms at Work, a Canadian advocacy group for working mothers, one-third of women reported they faced discrimination “due to becoming or being a mother in the workplace”. The organization surveyed over 1,000 women across the country who had taken maternity leave in the previous 10 years. Respondents reported experiencing everything from receiving derogatory comments to being routinely passed over for promotions and raises.
I knew navigating back-to-back mat leaves would be tricky. But I was determined to prove to myself and my colleagues that I was ambitious, dedicated to my job, and had a lot to contribute—even if I only had seven months to do it.
I was honest about my pregnancy when I returned to work
The thought of telling work I was pregnant again made me more nauseous than any morning sickness. At the end of my first week back, I sat down with my manager for our one-on-one meeting and sheepishly confessed, “So, I’m pregnant again.”
A part of me was embarrassed, and my instinct was to immediately apologize but my manager, who always had my back, cut me off. “Maria, when it comes to family, you never have to apologize,” she said. “Family is way more important than work and anything that happens here.”
Her words were not only true but also comforting and reassuring to hear. I know not all bosses would have had the same reaction in this situation, and I felt lucky to have her support. While I considered waiting a bit longer to share the news (I wasn’t quite at 12 weeks yet), I’m glad I got it out of the way. I didn’t want to leave my manager hanging, and she appreciated that I told her right away, allowing her enough time to make arrangements to fill my role.
I set goals for myself… and managed my expectations
Knowing my time was limited, I set goals for what I wanted to accomplish to keep myself accountable. It was a laundry list: taking professional development courses, expanding my responsibilities, training team members, and so on. If I’m being honest, each goal was a stepping stone toward my ultimate goal: a promotion. I thought if I could just get promoted before my next mat leave, it wouldn’t feel like my career was stalling.
I shared my lofty goals with my mentor over coffee one day. Like any good mentor, she was straightforward with me. “Your runway is too short,” she said. What? The suggestion that I was setting myself up for failure under the rigid time constraint was not what I was expecting but after I had time to digest her words, I understood.
As a parent, I know all too well the impossibility of trying to get everything done. My mentor wasn’t trying to discourage me, but was helping me avoid potential burnout and disappointment. I had to face the reality that I only had seven months and a promotion was likely not in the cards. (The corporate world moves about as slow as my kids do getting ready in the morning.) So, I reassessed my goals, prioritized the ones that mattered, and checked my expectations. I could still feel good about what I was working towards, and it helped take a lot of the pressure off.
I took every opportunity I could to make the most of my time
One thing I refused to do was deny myself opportunities because of my short timeline. I said “yes” to projects, big and small, finishing projects well before their due date to get them done.
When I was approached to join a special project team that would be piloting a new process for the company, I jumped on board, even though the end date surpassed the start of my mat leave. So, I made it my mission to find ways to make meaningful contributions in the run up to the launch. I took the charge on gathering feedback about the project, and compiling those insights into a presentation. One week before I left, 37 weeks pregnant, I presented my findings to our leadership team.
When I look back, seven months still doesn’t seem like a lot, but I made the most of that time. My biggest fear was I wouldn’t be able to make a significant impact, and it would be wasted time that set me back professionally. Turns out, those seven months were crucial to helping advance my career. My work wasn’t forgotten, and I was able to set myself up to pick up where I left off when I returned from my second mat leave. And that promotion? It came six months later.