Your colleague who was pregnant when she left the office a few weeks ago has returned, looking slightly less glowy and carrying an ugly purse (her breast pump). Whether she’s back at work because she needs to be or wants to be, it’s wise to be sensitive to this transitional—and potentially challenging—moment in her career. Here are some things not to say (and the thoughts that go through her mind if you do).
1. “Oooh! Are those pictures of your baby? Wow, she’s still so small!”
Yeah, I know. It’s hard enough to get a good night’s sleep when you have a small child, let alone also having to deal with them sitting up all the time. In almost every other developed country in the world, I would still be home with her while we both got to know each other better. But God bless America, right?
2. “I could never leave my baby to come to this place every day.”
Do you think differently about spending money on organic, bleach-free diapers when you know college is also around the corner?
3. “I scheduled that conference call for 6:15 p.m. The dial-in number is….”
6:15 p.m. is never a good time for me. Around that time, I’m either trying to nurse my daughter or get take-out orders for dinner while also speaking to my nanny about how many times the baby pooped today before she leaves. Plus, I have to make the bed that never got made this morning and be on email enough so my boss won’t think I’m “mommy-tracking” myself here at work. I can do that call any time during the workday, even while pumping. Or try me again after 9 p.m., when the baby is asleep. I know you see me leaving at 5:45 p.m. and think that I am lame, but I’m plugged right back in after bedtime pretty much every night to make up for it. And I’m okay with that because it allows me to do things like go to my child’s pediatrician appointments during lunch times.
4. “Are you sure you can handle that report now that you’re a mom?”
Having a baby didn’t damage my brain. I’m just as able as before, now I’m more productive.
5. “I read this thing about how vaccines can cause a baby’s toes to grow together funny. Here, let me forward it to you….”
Please, no email forwards. I don’t have time to sift through them all and if you send me one, I’ll hex you. On the topic of vaccines: I vaccinated my child because it’s safe and responsible for the future of all children (including any you may be lucky enough to have one day). You’re welcome!
6. “My older sister’s trainer has these magic crunches you can do to fix post-baby belly.”
Please don’t say “belly” or “post-baby” to me again. But thank you for your advice.
7. “Also, my sister’s baby started sleeping through the night at 11 days old.”
Did you say something? Sorry, I’m so tired today that even my ears are exhausted.
8. “I’ll just keep going on that project I took over for you while you were out. The client really liked working with me.”
Thank you so much for offering to help me with my work while I’m away. Can you please phrase it as a question though? Just so I can be sure you don’t want my job? I know I might sound paranoid, but it’s a valid concern. Additionally, I was looking forward to working on that project again since being home with my baby isn’t the most freeing experience.
9. “When do you guys think you’ll have another baby?”
Firstly, it’s none of your business. Even though I might seem a little vulnerable right now, I am still your colleague and not exactly your friend. Secondly, are you kidding me? My c-section scar still hurts!
10. “Let’s all go out for a drink after work to celebrate your return!”
I could use a G&T or glass of rosé right now! That sounds so refreshing. Plus, it would be great to catch up with you and hear all about the office gossip from the past three months. Although I would love to have a drink, I, unfortunately, have to go pick up my newborn from daycare. If we don’t leave immediately and I nurse her in the car, she will scream the whole way home–which would completely fry my nerves. Not to mention, if that happens I’m more likely to rear-end the guy in front of me. The police will probably give me a breathalyzer test even though I’m sober; therefore, sorry but no drink for me tonight.
11. “Oops, did you spill something on your shirt?”
Are you sure that’s coffee? I’ve only had three 90-minute naps since last night, so my hands are a bit shaky. But to be honest, I hope what you’re seeing is coffee and not breastmilk. Wardrobe malfunctions have taken on a whole new meaning since I started needing breast pads – like pad pads but round. So I’m just going to avoid looking down.
12. “While you were out on leave I got a dog. He is so much work!”
I completely understand where you’re coming from; I used to feel the same way. However, now that I have a child, my perspective has changed entirely. Please don’t hesitate to ask me for help if your dog ever gets sick and needs to go to the vet–I would be more than happy to cover for you!
13. “OMG, I think your breasts got bigger since this morning!”
Yes, they probably were thinking about my breasts… because while you’ve been sitting here in this dragging meeting, I’ve been thinking about them too. They are uncomfortable right now and I can’t wait to get out of this room. But I’m really glad that we could make small talk at this meeting!
14. “Why do you always have that ‘do not enter’ stickie note on your door? It’s a little anti-social.”
Come in, be social with me and my pump. I dare you.
15. “One day I want to have it all too. Can you tell me how?”
To be frank, I have not yet discovered the answer to that question…I’m too busy living it! And hearing you ask makes me feel somewhat exposed. It’s challenging returning to work after having a baby because you never feel like you’re giving your best at all times. However, I am most grateful for all of the great aspects of my life. I wish I had all the answers for you, but unfortunately, I don’t. The best thing you can do is keep working hard and being considerate of those both above and below you in terms of authority. We’ll return the favor when it’s your turn.