Help! I'm trapped.For many women, when we become mothers our definition of work changes. Suddenly we’re cast into our most difficult role, assigned the largest workload of our lives, and entered into a life-long contract with no honourable escape clause. And it’s wonderful! But what happens when we must or choose to return to work, our careers that is? I can’t help but wonder if we really can have it all—at least all at the same time. And whether or not we really want it “all”, at the same time? Here is my story and struggle as I contemplate what it means to “go back” to work.

I’m in my tenth month of maternity leave and can no longer live in denial—I am going back to work in July. It’s a financial decision; I would love to stay home for another year to focus on my family, especially since I’ve no idea what I’m going back to. Discussions with my supervisor are not going well, and it’s making me more anxious about returning to work.

During my absence there was a major restructuring and my director moved on. Just as the new reporting structure began taking shape my mat leave replacement was given an opportunity she couldn’t pass up, leaving my position, which remained unfilled for the remaining seven months of my year-long leave. I had hoped she would bookmark my position, and now I’ve lost my page. Along with this, my new supervisor says my role isn’t needed in the same capacity it was when I left. I was informed that while I’m guaranteed a job at the same pay and with my same title, it doesn’t have to be “my” job—the job I left. I’m required to take what is offered to me…Go to jail. Go directly to jail. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.

Unfortunately, I’m stuck. I can’t resign unless I want to “pay-back” my maternity leave top-up. So, it looks like I’m obligated to wait out the next year until I can find a new job or work myself into a new position with my current employer.

With my responsibilities stripped and my duties humiliatingly reduced, I’m cast in a role I mastered years ago. I’m stunned. How can a one-year absence unravel 10 years of career-building? So I’ve been thinking: maybe there’s no such thing as “going back”.

I know I’m not alone; it happens all too often. Many women, especially first-time moms, are staggered by the ill reception they receive when they return to work. We’re perceived as less reliable and as having lost our edge. Sure, things have changed. But it doesn’t mean we’re less dedicated or less ambitious. It just means we’ve added an extra ball in our juggling act.

So where does that leave me? After taking a few weeks to process the situation and nurse my bruised ego, I have developed a new perspective. Perhaps, for now, it’s a good thing that the job I’m returning to is one I can perform extremely well in a sleep-deprived state. There will be very little, if any, stress involved with my “new” role. This will allow me to ease into the mainstream workforce and still focus on my family. For the next year I will regroup, figure out what I want my future to look like and then pursue my dream job, whatever that may be.

The truth is my priorities have changed. I’ve changed. There is no going back to the career woman I was before I became a mother, at least right now. So, for the present my heart will stay at home instead of at work. Instead of going back, I will continue to look forward.

So perhaps we can have it all, it just might require us to redefine what “all” really is.

I’d love to hear from other moms about their return-to-work experiences.