When to go back to work? This is a very common question to which there is no specific answer. It may be that you are not emotionally or physically able to go back for a while. Your boss or your company may offer you time off to do your grief work. Or you may feel pressure, yours or others', to get back at it sooner than later. Finances may take a higher priority than feeling healed and ready to go back unfortunately. If you have the luxury of spending some time at home (maybe you are from a country or work for a company where there is a generous leave policy) consider your options carefully.
Think hard about this. If you feel you must, take time to get enough rest, especially, mom, if you have labored long or had a Caesarian. You do need to get your rest and heal before jumping back into most full time work. Whether you are dad or mom, you may wish to attempt to negotiate a part time return with some flexibility to call in sick or late (in case it just gets too hard to do.) Healing is a full time job by itself for a while. It is very necessary. since it is through grieving and mourning that you will heal.
There are good reasons to be home for a while – to mourn, cry, not worry about work responsibilities or even driving the car for some. Being with your partner and immediate family may be all you can handle for a while. Others feel they need to get back out there and think about something else for part of the day, since the baby can consume many hours of your day and night.
Before you go back, talk with someone at work - a supervisor or human resources - about what people know, what you want them to know (don't keep secrets or silence since they fester and usually cause deeper problems down the road). If you feel they do not understand and are not being supportive, ask for help from human resources. Suggest they bring in a consultant, clergy, or grief expert to help your co-workers to talk about how to be supportive.
One idea to consider is to suggest they not make decisions for you. Such as: don't bring it up, don't say your baby's name, don't invite you to baby showers or other parties, pretend nothing has happened, etc. They are protecting you from pain (and themselves from having to see your pain and feel their's). Instead suggest that they do the opposite by addressing it straight on and allow you to set the boundaries according to how you feel. If you don't want to go to the gathering, you can say no. If you want to talk about what happened on a certain day you can, otherwise, you may choose not to. They do not need to take this personally, but rather to see it as the ups and downs of normal, healthy grieving.
Some people cannot go back to work and need to take a leave or quit. This may be where you are at. Or you may try it for a while and realize it is not working for you. If you are able to make it financially without this income, it may be easier to make this move. If not, you may feel stuck.
You will know your workplace environment better than anyone, so use your good judgment and don't make any rash decisions. Give it thought as you proceed carefully.
There are few resources written about work. Our eZine #11 Grief and the Workplace may be very helpful. You may also talk with others about this including someone from Human Resources, your clergy, or others you may find at support groups, on chats, Facebook, or your own family. Talk with your boss about what you need—more time off, come in early, leave when you are overwhelmed, smaller projects, projects you can do from home, or even an extended leave, Hopefully, there can be some flexibility for you and your partner.
A note I received recently after helping a mom prepare to go back to work after some well-needed time off:
“I would like to thank you for again sharing suggestions and advice, in particular regarding going back to work. After the last support group meeting, I understood that I hadn't heard from many colleagues because they likely didn't know what to say. So, as you suggested, I sent the staff an e-mail a few days before I planned to go back and told them about my experience and my anxiety about returning, namely that I worried that people would avoid any mention of Natalie. That seemed to be the invitation that some people needed, as I got responses from several people. Everyone welcomed me back very warmly, but after making it through my first full week back, I'm still struggling somewhat with people's avoidance of the topic. I know that will get easier, and my students, bless their hearts, have helped. They have been the only ones who have asked me about what Natalie looked like, who she looked like, how big she was, and if we buried her. I think 10 year olds are more tuned in than they get credit for! So, the road is still bumpy, but please know that although people still aren't entirely comfortable in approaching me, sending the letter to them gave me peace in knowing that I put my needs out there. It was a positive move forward, and for that I am thankful.” Hilary