Big brother Sawyer hugs his new baby sister, Sylvia, after meeting her for the first time in the hospital.
I had my first job at 14 years old and have always found joy in working and having something as my own. When I first started at GreatAmerica Financial Services in 2012, I was eager to build my career. As time passed, I got promoted at work, got married and now have two children, Sawyer and Sylvia.
When my children were born, it changed everything. Something that surprised me that I wasn’t prepared for was, I never knew I’d question if I wanted to return to work after going on maternity leave.
Everything about the first child was unknown for me, this included maternity leave. Before going on maternity leave with my first child, I hesitated committing to taking the full 12 weeks off work with FMLA. I was the employee who never used paid time off… and I was the person who would come into the office when I was sick. Sometimes I felt like being a good worker meant never taking a break. Taking 12 weeks off for maternity leave was unthinkable. I don’t do well sitting still and can’t stand being bored. I kept thinking, “What can you possibly do with 12 weeks? How do you remove yourself from work for 12 weeks? What do you do with a baby 24/7 for 12 weeks?”
Then my son Sawyer was born.
Those 12 weeks bonding with my son were some of the happiest moments of my life. I soaked up every moment and it still flew by. Coming back to work was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I really struggled. I cried – a lot. It didn’t feel natural to leave my new baby. My husband and I wanted our children to raised by family, and I was fortunate our son got to spend his days with Grandma while I went back to work. It could work... So I made the decision to at least try to go back to work, and if it didn’t work for our family, I’d quit to stay home.
My first day back from maternity leave, I was greeted by our General Manager and our Business Continuity Director. We were the first ones in the office that morning. I’ll never forget the hugs and comfort they provided after breaking down within the first minutes back. It was at that very moment, I knew even though it would be hard – it was going to be OK. I couldn’t be in a better place coming back to work. Everyone was supportive and empathetic.Before Sylvia was born this March, I had anxiety about coming back to work again after maternity leave, now with TWO children. Several thoughts kept me up at night, “Would I feel the same with Sylvia as I did with Sawyer? Would it be harder to leave both of them? Would it be easier to leave because it might feel like a break? How will both the kids handle it? Would I be a bad mother if I went back to work?” Sylvia was born and we spent every moment we could bonding in those fast 12 weeks. It was again, undoubtedly, one of the happiest moments of my life. I took every day one day at a time. All I could tell my boss was that I planned on coming back to work. If it changed, he’d be the first to know, but I didn’t know myself either. He respected that and never made me feel bad about not knowing. My husband and I had a lot of conversations about what would be best for our family. We went back-and-forth - a lot... but I’m grateful he said it was only a decision I could make.
This is a struggle many families go through, and what’s best for one family, isn’t necessarily the best for others – I now have the context to fully respect that for every mother, for every family.
Did you ever see the “You’ve got this, Mom On” Yoplait Commercial? It reminds us, “The first rule of motherhood? Someone is always judging.” Sad, but true. I love the play on sarcasm throughout the entire commercial. A part that especially stood out to me in the commercial was, “Go to work? I’m missing his childhood,” or “Stay at home? I have no ambition.” While the decision for me and my family wasn’t about what others would think, it certainly crossed my mind. How do I go to work but not miss the special moments? How do I stay at home and still have something of my own? How can I get both?
I don’t know there is such a thing as a perfect home and work life balance. I do know, it’s important to me to have a good amount of quality time with my children every day, and to provide them with my best self. So I decided right now, I enjoy having something of my own in my work, and it also makes me happy. Will it always be this way? I don’t know. But I do know if I wasn’t happy at my job, I wouldn’t have come back from maternity leave.While on maternity leave, I kept in touch with peers, and they made an effort to stay in touch with me – by choice. I’d get together with some colleagues and work wouldn’t come up at all, and yes, sometimes I’d even ask. My leader would check to see how things were going with me and my family, and reinforce he would do whatever he could to help me adjust coming back. Knowing I was missed and feeling like my work is valued was nice, but more than anything I appreciated knowing people wanted me to come back. If I didn’t think people noticed or cared, perhaps I wouldn’t have returned from maternity leave.
I’ve been back to work at Collabrance for one month since my second maternity leave. It's an adjustment and it will take time. I'll admit, there are good days and there are bad days. I’m not going to say it’s easy, but I will say what makes it much easier is a workplace that feels like another home filled with family and friends. We have an amazing workplace culture. If it wasn’t for the people, I would not have come back.
When my children were born, my world flipped. I always knew I wanted to be a mother, and nothing gives me more joy.
I love my children more than anything. And I finally had to realize that coming back to work didn’t mean I love them any less. In fact, everything I do is for them. I remind them of that every morning I kiss them goodbye, and I remind myself of this every time I step into the door at work.
I’m happy at home, and I’m happy at work. This is what’s best for our family right now.
Sawyer is now almost 2.5 years old, and Sylvia is almost 4 months old. I’ve struggled thinking I could only either be a good mom and wife, or a good worker – only one. But somehow, I feel fortunate enough to feel like I can be both… and I believe that’s only because of the great work environment and people I’m surrounded by and blessed with. I came back to work knowing that my kids are in good hands, that I’m able to set life boundaries my team respects, that I’ve got the support I need, that I can accomplish something for myself, that I can still have a good amount of quality time with my family, and that I can be a part of a successful and growing company.
I believe right now, I’m a happy person when working, in turn which also helps me be a better mother and wife – and the only reason I believe I have both of this is because of where I work and who I work with.
Brittney Stepanek, Strategic Marketing Director for Collabrance, is responsible for helping build relationships and brand awareness through strategic marketing initiatives. Before working at Collabrance, Brittney joined GreatAmerica in 2012 doing marketing for the Office Equipment Group. She received her Bachelor of Science in Psychology at the University of Iowa.