While much has been written more generally about returning to work after maternity leave, there aren’t many resources for our specific career. Parents in other careers may have the ability to work from home, or they may be able to complete work tasks as they find time. However, we are in a service-driven, appointment centric field. Face-to-face interactions are absolutely essential for patient care, so we have to address these challenges in regard to our maternity leave.
I have listed a few items for review for those of you planning to return to the workforce after having a child.
1. Not every patient will be wildly enthusiastic about your baby
This really surprised me. From the moment my pregnancy was announced, all of my family and friends were absolutely thrilled for me. However, several patients did not hesitate to let me know that my maternity leave was inconvenient for them. It may help to have a gracious response prepared when patients complain that they had to wait to see you. I typically said something like: “My patients are so important to me. Thank you so much for your patience and grace while I bonded with my new family.”
2. There is no magical maternity leave duration
I recently saw this discussion posted on a female OD forum, and there were no two maternity leave solutions that were alike! Some doctors had to return to work almost immediately in order to keep their lease. Other women were able to stay home for several months, and others were able to take their newborn with them to work. Each situation is different, and what works for one doctor may not work for another. Make arrangements to ensure your patients will receive excellent care while you are adapting to your new role as a mother, and don’t feel guilty regarding your maternity leave duration, be it long or short.
3. The first day back at work is difficult
Chances are, you have dropped your baby off with a nanny or child care center, and you are feeling a little lost. When I returned to work after having each of my children, I kindly asked my fellow co-workers (who were mothers themselves) not to mention the baby for the first two days back at work. I was uncertain how my emotions would hold up, and a crying jag would not benefit my patients in any way. The best therapy is to truly focus on each and every patient, more than you ever have. Each time I returned to work after having children, I felt that the patients on my schedule really needed my particular skillset, and I felt better about returning to a career where my patients needed me.
4. Leaving the house in a timely manner can be a struggle
If you are the parent who will be taking your children to childcare, please plan for contingencies, especially if you already have a preschooler in the mix. When my children were very small, as soon as I got the baby fed, my toddler would spill juice on his outfit. As soon as I changed his clothes, the baby would soil her diaper. In other careers, it may be acceptable to skip an early meeting, or elect to work from home. However, we work in an appointment-driven industry. It is unacceptable to be tardy. I highly recommend doing a trial run before heading back to work. Planning the night before and loading the baby bag and car can increase efficiency and predict potential problems before they arise.
5. Nursing a newborn can be magical, but pumping can be boring
A true lifesaver is a hands-free pumping bra. If you are able to obtain one of these weird-but-useful items, you can lock your office door and start the pumping process. Now that you are hands-free, you can respond to e-mails, complete charts, and catch up on journal articles while you pump! Efficiency and workflow are the secret to success in our industry, so take advantage of these few moments to make sure your clinic schedule and patient care does not suffer.
Back in the Exam Lane: tips for the new “Momtometrist”
Returning to optometry after maternity leave involves logistical, emotional, and professional hurdles, but as discussed above, a little knowledge and preparation beforehand can facilitate a smooth transition. Many of the same attributes that make us great optometrists are also the ones that make us excellent parents. Our level of care for others, our attention to detail, and our desire to help people will help us to blend the roles of parent and optometrist.
Those who know me also know that my social media handle is “momtometrist.” This is because I genuinely love motherhood and optometry. I feel that this career is excellent for those of us who manage families. Over the years, I have been able to adapt my work schedule as needed in both private and commercial practice in order to accommodate my family needs, while not sacrificing the needs of my patients.