To My Coworkers Who Called My Maternity Leave a "Vacation," This Is What I Want You to Know

Dear Colleagues,

Thank you so much for covering for me these past 12 weeks. I know it hasn't been easy. You've had to forgo breaks because there wasn't anyone else to cover the customer service desk. You've added my duties to your already too long to-do lists. You've worked extra nights and more weekends because there was one fewer person to cover those shifts. I see it, and I really, really appreciate it.

But I know what you're thinking — "It's about time you come back." When I came back from my last maternity leave, someone asked why I was scheduling a vacation when I'd just "had a long vacation." And while there's nothing in the world I'd rather have been doing during the past three months of my life than exactly what I was doing — caring for my new son around the clock — there's a reason nannies get paid. Because taking care of children is work. Hard work.

Yes, I sent you those pictures of my son snuggled against my chest with my head on a cushy pillow and my feet propped up on the recliner. We spent hours shuffling through Target, him fast asleep in his car seat, lulled by the gentle push of the cart. And, yes, I plowed through long overdue house projects like organizing closets and deep-cleaning the bathrooms.

But what you didn't see is that I didn't get any sleep at night for the first month because if I put my baby down, he immediately started crying, and I couldn't safely sleep with him in my arms. And when I say we spent hours perusing the aisles of Target, it's mostly because I was in such a sleep-deprived daze that I didn't realize two hours had gone by and all I'd put in the cart was a loaf of bread and a pack of diapers until the tingling of my breasts clued me in that it was time to nurse (again).

You didn't see the 48 hours I spent with my 6-week-old in the hospital, him hooked up to oxygen and fluids, because he had RSV and pneumonia. You didn't see the week I'd spent prior to his hospitalization, checking his temperature every hour and carefully watching his chest heave up and down to make sure he didn't stop breathing. You didn't see the extra times we visited the doctor to check his weight because he didn't immediately take to breastfeeding and I had to continually interrupt his peaceful sleep to push him to eat.

You didn't see the extra time I spent with my toddler, reassuring him that he's still loved despite his brother now being a permanent fixture in my arms. You didn't see the countless times said toddler woke up screaming when he had been sleeping through the night for the past year but decided to regress just in time to add a newborn's erratic sleep schedule to the mix.

You didn't see me agonizing over a feeding plan for daycare, because how could I possibly pump enough or expect a caregiver to feed him every hour as his growth spurt has him doing now? You didn't see me looking into the infant room, wondering how my little guy could possibly get the attention he needs when fighting for it with seven other screaming babies. You didn't see me calculating and recalculating our family budget to figure out how we were going to afford an extra $1,200 a month for childcare.

And so, while I know you can't wait for me to come back to work and ease your load, I ask you to be gentle with me, because I also have a much larger weight on my shoulders than I did when I left. Know that when I excuse myself for a break every few hours and take longer than our allotted 15 minutes, it's not because I'm playing games on Facebook or gossiping with friends on the phone. Rather, I'm sitting in the cold and cramped closet, desperately trying to relax enough to pump an adequate amount of milk for my baby to eat tomorrow.

Know that when I race out the door at 5:30 p.m., I'm not trying to stick you with the customer I had been helping because I'm too lazy to continue. It's not even that I miss my baby so darn much that I can't waste another minute away from him (though I do). It's that I have to pick up my baby before 6 p.m. so I won't have to pay late fees and cause his caregiver to be late pick up her own child and so that I'm not late so many times that I get kicked out of that daycare (it happens) and start the near impossible task of finding affordable care for an infant all over again.

These last 12 weeks have been joyful and exhilarating, and I've experienced some of the greatest moments of my life. But they've also been challenging, stressful, and insomnia-inducing. And the work has been unlike anything I do at the office, so I might take a little while to get back up to speed. But I promise you, I'll give you my all for 40 hours a week (minus three pumping breaks a day) if you can give me just a little grace as I adjust to my new life. I promise to do the same for you and to never begrudge you a "vacation" of your own.

A Mom Trying to Figure It All Out