Going Back to Work after Losing a Baby

I had mixed emotions about going back to work after my 6 weeks were up. My co-workers were extremely excited for me while I was pregnant; and extremely supportive and caring during the initial time after the loss. I work for a federal agency so once my leave was up I had to be back into work functioning at 150%.

I still remember that first day back at work. After receiving multiple hugs that day, I would keep trying to focus but it was the hardest thing to just return to 'business as usual”. I remember I went to the bathroom at least 3 times that first day just to cry. It is amazing how the world continues on like nothing has ever happened when the world has stopped for you when your baby died.

But then, about two weeks later, the complete opposite happened. I fell in love with work more than ever because it was the one thing that did not change after the loss of my daughter. My marriage would be forever changed, my friendships, my home, and the rest of life. But work? It was still the same expectations, still the same environment. It became my escape to not focus on the pain of losing my daughter. For those 10 hours a day, I could focus on something completely unrelated to losing Ashley.

However, everyone is different and every job is different. I know I have heard from some women who do not get leave from work and had to return back to their jobs right away. I remember my husband had to use his vacation time to take a week off; and fortunately, he had that week to take off otherwise he would have to go back to work the next day. I still feel bad that he was hurting too but he had to rush back to 'business as usual'.  

If you are fortunate enough to be able to take leave from work, take the leave. This way before you go back to work you can develop an initial game plan for how you are going to handle co-workers and your own emotions about the loss of your child or children. 

Be gentle on yourself when you first go back. As I said, I went to the bathroom a few times to just cry that first day back; and five minutes later, I went back to my cubicle to try to complete more work. It is not a perfect system and I know this may not be an option for everyone but I want you to not beat up yourself if you behave out of your “normal” character—you’re still grieving and it’s all right.

Be prepared to feel like you are wearing a mask. It is amazing how you feel like you are about to die inside but you must put on that professional front while in a meeting, or dealing with customers, or whatever it is you do for work. It is not fair but during those initial months back at work while you are still healing and trying to figure how to better cope with the loss, you will feel like you are wearing a mask. My advice for this is your home so be the place where you are allowed to take the mask off. Cry, yell, or do nothing but sit and stare. Whatever it is you wanted to do all day at work, do it when you get home because if you wear the mask all the time you might drive yourself crazy for real.

Talk to your manager about your workload. If you are able to, meet with your manager within the first two hours of your first day back to talk about a game plan for attacking your workload and your initial expectations. I know this helped me so much that my manager and I met my first day back and we decided what task I needed to complete first. It made returning to work not seem so overwhelming considering I was already overwhelmed from my recent experience. 

If your job offers counseling sessions or has an employee assistance program, consider using it. I really wish I had used it sooner. One day about 7 months after Ashley's death, I was just completely overtaken with sadness. I literally cried most of the day for about a week. I was worried about my mental state so I called the employee assistance number and it was a great help. They got me a counselor in my neighborhood and those few sessions really helped me to cope with this loss. Since it was an employee benefit, it was free of charge and completely confidential.
Again, the first day back will seem surreal. Everything and nothing will seem to matter to you all at once. Be kind to yourself and cope the best way you know how.
I hope that your first day back to work goes well for you. Hugs.

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