Returning to Work as a New Mom is Hard

Ashtyn and her son (by  Road 40 Photography )

Ashtyn and her son (by Road 40 Photography)

I watched my husband—who, like me, is a software engineer—return to work when our son was 3 weeks old. At the dinner table he would tell me about interesting bugs he was able to fix and the praise he was getting from his manager for all of his hard work. He was still dealing with sleepless nights and feeling like he was missing out at home, but he was able to return to a relatively normal pre-baby routine.

My husband’s stories about ordinary office problems and achievements made me jealous because during my three months of maternity leave, I constantly felt deficient at being a mom. Almost none of it came naturally, and as soon as I got one thing figured out, a new challenge would come up. I was hormonal, sleep-deprived, and suffered from postpartum anxiety. As my leave was coming to an end, I was excited for my son to go to daycare; I trusted them to take very good care of him. And I was ready to get back to something I was good at—programming. I expected going back to work would be the beginning of a “relatively normal pre-baby routine” for me, just like it was for my husband.

Instead, my first Monday back went something like this:

  • 5:00 a.m.

    • Wake up to crying baby, breastfeed him, try to go back to sleep.

  • 6:00 a.m.

    • Attempt to shower, get dressed and ready for work.... Baby is awake and crying by the end.

  • 7:00 a.m.

    • Make sure I have everything ready for daycare and work (milk, baby clothes, laptop, breast pump, cooler, sanitized bottles...).

  • 8:00 a.m.

    • Drive 20 minutes to daycare for drop off.

  • 8:30 a.m.

    • Drive 30 minutes to work.

  • 9:00 a.m.

    • Finally make it to work, but it's already time to pump.

  • 9:20 a.m.

    • Yay, I can finally sit down and start working.

  • 11:12 a.m.

    • Receive a text from daycare that my son has a fever and needs to be picked up.

The schedule got a little better over time as I learned to make improvements, but I was never back to a normal pre-baby routine. Daycare was closer to my office, so I was always the first contact for any issues. I usually did both pick up and drop off because it was 40 minutes out of my husband’s way. If our son was sick or had an appointment, I was the one who stayed home because I had unlimited PTO. I had to step away from work 2-3 times each day to pump breast milk, and I had additional anxiety to keep up my milk supply. I had way less time and energy to dedicate to my work than I did previously.

My husband and I are both driven in our careers and both very dedicated to increasing gender diversity in the tech industry. My vision of parenthood had always been that we would split responsibilities about 50/50 and continue to pursue our careers with equal ambition. The reality had turned out very different. By the end of a nine-month pregnancy, a physically difficult labor and recovery, and months of breastfeeding, pumping, and having the majority of childcare tasks fall on my shoulders, I was ready to give up on my career aspirations. I stopped seeking out challenging stretch assignments. I stopped negotiating for my next promotion. I was more concerned with managing our family than managing my career. My husband, on the other hand, continued to focus on his career aspirations just as much as he did pre-baby.

It felt like we had fallen into traditional gender norms. And I was left wondering, how did this happen? Was it because I had 3 months of maternity leave versus 3 weeks for him? Was it because my job was more flexible? Maybe it was some instinct that kicks in when a person becomes a mom? Cultural and societal pressure? Honestly, to this day, I don’t know what caused it.

Recognizing what happened, at least, helped me take some actions to course-correct. We found a daycare closer to our house so we can split daycare responsibilities. I found a remote job so I could have even more flexibility and avoid 1+ hours of commuting each day. A year has now passed since I returned to work, and I’m feeling much better. I have more time and energy to focus on my work, and it feels good.

Becoming a mom has been wonderful and hard, and now that I have this experience, I hope I can find ways to help support other moms and future moms who plan to return to work in the tech industry.

We need them.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Join me on the PDXWIT slack channel #momsintech to continue the discussion and find support.

Ashtyn Edwards has been a software engineer since 2012. She began with embedded development and most recently moved to front-end application development. She enjoys cake decorating, anything involving dogs, and volunteering for the PDXWIT blog team. Connect with her on PDXWIT slack and LinkedIn.