I haven't done this for a while, so I thought I would actually participate in the Working Mommy Wednesday question (courtesy of Julia): Maternity Leave - How long did you take? Were you ready to come back? How did you survive/manage? Tips for new moms returning to work?.
With Gavin, I had just been at my job for a few months. If you were there less than a year, you only had 4 weeks paid short term leave @ 100% and then no pay. I used up three of those weeks in the hospital on bed rest, so by the time Gavin was born I only had one paid week remaining. This was my first real job out of college (read: we were young and didn't have tons of money) so I couldn't afford to take a lot of unpaid leave.
Oh yeah, and he was in the NICU being cared for by nurses, not me remember?
I decided to go back to work after three weeks. Yep, I said it THREE WEEKS! My recovery time was next to zero since he was so tiny and I figured if I was going to take unpaid leave, it might as well be when he got home, not while he was in the hospital. At that point he was still hooked up to all sorts of stuff, it's not like I could hold him all day. I woke up at 5, went to the hospital, fed him, went to work, came back over lunch, fed him, back to work, back to hospital after work, then home to sleep. Such was my life for a little over 2 months. He happened to come home right before Thanksgiving, so I had a little vacation time remaining to use, plus the paid holiday days, and spent another week or so home with him. Still not much, but something. Chad worked at QT at the time with an odd schedule and my mom took Friday's off to watch him, so he was only with a sitter a few hours a week. That made it much easier to go back to work after he was home.
It really wasn't that hard to go back to work. It was probably good for me when he was in the hospital because I couldn't obsess over him every second. I think that having something to keep my mind occupied was good for all of us in the long run.
Sam was a different story. I had short term disability that covered the time I was on bed rest in the hospital, as well as 6 weeks post-delivery. I ended up taking a few extra days off so that my return date was a Monday. The first 17 days were spent in the NICU. I had been going to work early prior to having him 6 or so in the morning and coming home earlier, so I continued to get up and to the NICU early since Gavin was used to it. Then I would pick him up from day care and spend the evenings with him.
It was amazing to have 4 weeks home with Sam. I didn't know what that was with Gavin. I don't think I barely put him down for the entire time (his reflux made it hard, but I also just wanted to soak up all that time). I definitely didn't feel as ready to go back to work with Sam. I wanted the adult interaction and the mental stimulation, but it was hard to let go of that bonding time, especially since I felt like I was robbed of it with Gavin.
How did I manage? It's easy. I have a ridiculous work ethic. When I'm there, I'm committed to doing my job. I'm focused, and driven, and that's how I survive. I made a point to pump every three hours, roughly, no matter what. Just b/c I worked didn't mean I was going to let my kids miss out on that.
As far as tips go - I think I would just say make sure you find caretakers that you trust, that are reliable. That don't mind if you call to check in a million times a day. I liked that my day care wrote down every bottle, diaper change, nap - I felt like I was still in the loop somewhat. It's not easy, but eventually you find your "normal". And the biggest tip: once you've made up your mind to work, not work, go back to work: don't second guess, and don't apologize. You're the only person that knows what is right for your family.