We get asked so many questions in the months leading up to having a baby. “Boy or girl? Is it your first? How do you feel?” But none was as annoying (at least to me) as, “Will you go back to work after maternity leave?”

Are you contemplating whether or not to return to work once your maternity leave is over?  When I was asked this question six years ago, the answer was a resounding “Of course!  Why wouldn’t I?”

But the months to come would be huge learning experience, as I ultimately ended up unexpectedly quitting my job and became a full-time mom.

I was an ambitious and career-oriented woman living in San Francisco up to and throughout my pregnancy. My husband and I were a two-income family. It was Plan A—as well as my heart’s desire—to be a “working mom” after my maternity leave ended.

But in the days leading up to my return to work after my son was born, I fell apart. I could not sleep. I was crying all the time.  I had never aspired to be a full-time mom, yet here was this new desire bubbling up within me: I wanted to stay home full-time with my new baby.  I felt anxious and deeply uncomfortable with the nagging sensation, “Who ME?!”—so I did what many ambitious and goal-oriented modern women do. I ignored it.

I ignored it until my milk suddenly dried up. While I was not willing to listen to my own longings for a change in plan, I would take action to provide milk for my son.  I promptly told my husband we had to find another way. I quit my job that very day.

Yes, the milk came back—in abundance—and I stepped into my brave new future, full of uncertainty and no Plan B.

In researching this topic, I learned that 40 percent of American women do not return to work after the birth of a child. No wonder so many people ask the question — and no wonder employers get nervous when their best staff members get pregnant!

Most American workplaces offer paltry (if any) maternity benefits.  And don’t get me started the inconsistent Federal & State guidelines for Paid Family Leave.

If you are wading through this minefield and debating whether or not to Return to Work After Baby, I created these questions to help you weigh your options so you won’t have to fly by the seat of your pants (or nursing bra) as I did.

So, will you or won’t you return back to work after maternity leave? Here are 10 questions every mom who takes maternity leave should consider.

1. Do you love your work AND your job? Why?

2. Does your employer offer the flexibility or the option for you to work a modified schedule that allows you to ramp back up to your previous responsibilities?

3. Do you want to go back to work? Why?

4. Do you want to be a full-time mom? Why?

5. Can you afford to be home full-time?  Don’t know?  It is time for a real conversation with yourself, your partner, and the household budget.  Make a spreadsheet.  Calculate the cost of cutting back on income vs. the costs of childcare against your income.

6. What does it mean to you to be a “working” (i.e. outside of the home) mom?

7. What does it mean to you to be a stay-at-home mom?

8. What other projects (volunteering, starting a new business, writing your book, etc.) could you do if you had more time and energy that was not being devoted to your work?

9. How were you raised? Did your mom work outside of the home or stay home (or something in between)?  How did that influence your lifestyle growing up?

10. What judgments—internal and external—do you need to battle, no matter what you decide?

With these questions in mind, here are your next steps:

Give yourself the gift of taking 30 minutes to answer these questions by yourself.

Share the answers with yourself before sharing with anyone else. Did any of your answers surprise you?

Next, share them with a trusted friend, coach, therapist or ally. (Notice I didn’t say your partner. Our partners are so close to this topic and it can be hard to separate their priorities from our own.  You should work out your feelings before discussing with your partner.)

Now, share your thoughts with your partner or anyone else this decision will impact.  (DO NOT share your thoughts with your employer until you have made a final decision!)

Take action!  Will you stay or will you go? Own your decision. There is so much freedom in creating clarity — which is far easier to come by if you are taking action rather staying stuck in a circular conversation.

What is your next step? Have a question? Leave a comment below.

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