Going Back to Work: My Salted Caramel Mocha Mom-Life

It was 8:00 am in the morning on a sunny Tuesday in March, as I powered up the 2 flights of stairs to my office, for the first time in forever (cue that Disney music). I was just coming back to work after about 2 1/2 months of maternity leave. A myriad of emotions flooded me as I opened the office door.

What kind of world would await me? Had everything changed while I was away? I certainly felt like I had been changed— irrevocably, drastically changed in ways I could hardly find the words to describe. Would everyone expect me to be the same person I was before? The new me is so very different, in ways I can’t control, in ways that rock my world, and in ways that make my life so much more rich and meaningful.

I opened the door to a warm office of smiling faces and a framed picture of my baby on my desk. The thoughtful gesture, like everything else in life now, filled my heart with emotions and my eyes with tears.


I am the queen of prioritizing, fact-checking, grammar-Nazi-ing, and staying-on-top-of-the-details. It’s always been one of my strengths to think of the thing no one’s thought of, or remember the thing others have forgotten. But I’ve got one word for you: MOM-BRAIN (okay, technically it’s two words).

Mom-brain has sucked the oomph out of my professional life more times than I’d like to admit to my boss, although, in all honesty, I’m sure he already knows. (He usually just smiles and gives me grace.)

I was sitting in a meeting, a couple days after returning to work, and mentioned something about how our timeline for a project was pretty flexible because “It’s only January.” The blank stares I received from my colleagues told me something was amiss. “January?” my boss replied quizzically. “Yeah…” I replied semi-confidently. Just then I remembered that it was March. (#facepalm) That was the single most embarrassing moment of my career.

I have got to give a shout out to working moms of 2+ kids, single moms, and single moms who work. If that was me, don’t know if I could remember where my underwear is, let alone my work keys or laptop. (#mombrain)

Bag Lady


Any working mom who still breastfeeds or exclusively pumps knows this meme is pretty true. I feel like a pack mule whenever I walk up into my office. I carry my purse, my work bag with laptop and a stack of paper files, my breast pump bag with pump and parts and milk bags, AND last but not least, a cooler with food for dinner on the marathon day when Ryan and I attend our midweek service at church.

I got a little fed up with carrying everything one day and almost told Ryan we weren’t going to have sandwiches for dinner the following week (even though we’ve both agreed this is a much more cost-effective option than eating out every Wednesday night).

His response reminds me why he’s one in a million… the following week, instead of dropping me at the walkway to my office, he parked, got out, unloaded all my bags and carried them all except my purse, all the way up the stairs to the main office door, before handing them off to me. My hero!!! (insert heart-eyes emoji)

Maybe I didn’t REALLY need to complain about it… but I can tell you what I told my coworkers one day when I was particularly pooped as I trudged through the door with my 30lb load: “One of these days… I’m going to walk up these stairs with ONLY my purse!!”

Daycare Daze

I don’t know about you, but the thought of leaving my baby with strangers makes my heart stop. And then makes me cry.

My immediate family isn’t as close as I always assumed they’d be when I had kids. They’re actually clear on the other side of the country.

Our options were running out fast when I was going to have to continue working without Ryan’s paternity leave to cover my working hours. I was dead set against daycare… but my responsible husband perused the daycare options in the area anyway.

One of my best friends graciously agreed to babysit my sweet boy 2 days a week, for a month, while we figured out what we were going to do… and as much as I’d trust her ANY TIME and ANYWHERE with my baby, it was sad to leave him with her for a WHOLE DAY… You can imagine my joy when I saw him again at the end of that first full day away from both mommy and daddy!

As the end of the month drew near, I knew what I would have to do. There truly were no options left. We scheduled a visit to the local daycare my husband had found. It’s at a church, and counted as one of their ministries, and all things seemed in order from the moment we set foot on the campus. Staff was friendly, kind, and helpful, the babies in the infant room looked happy, and the amount of paperwork we received (which was more than I ever filled out to apply for college or government loans for my tuition) assured me that they had all their legal “ducks in a row.” But still, something ached in me about the whole thing…

I was still leaving my child with strangers.

They were nice strangers, certified strangers, experienced strangers… but strangers nonetheless. The first day Ryan and I dropped our little tyke off at daycare (at the age of 7 months), I cried all the way to work. My sweet husband stopped to get me a latte… which usually perks me right up when I’m down. Still the tears came. I had all these emotions welling up in me. Uncertainty. Nervousness. Sadness.

Will my baby still like me at the end of the day? Will he have fun with strangers? Will he think I’ve abandoned him? Will he even like it there? The questions swirled in my head all day. Even as I called on my lunch break to check on him (which I felt showed some restraint on my part since I waited a whole 4 HOURS to call), when the teacher answered that he was doing really well, I was still unconvinced. I thought, You don’t really know him though… how can you be sure?

When Ryan picked me up after work and we drove to pick up RJ from daycare that first day, I’m pretty sure I didn’t hear a word he said to me. I was thinking about my baby and picturing the moment when I’d see him for the first time in 8 hours.

We walked into the infant room, and there he was. Playing. Happy. He turned and saw us and smiled his gigantic, contagious little boy smile.

All is well.

I can say it does get a little easier over time. I can also say there are new challenges that pop up all the time. But we survived and so did he… and I think he’s all the better for it. He is learning to play with other kids and listen to leaders other than his parents. I never thought I’d say this… but daycare was definitely a good move.



I recently had a crisis moment only a working mom understands. I had the busiest day I’ve ever had, and just BARELY enough time to pump between tasks & projects for the big event that was occurring at work the next day. I went to pump at my usual time and the pump DID. NOT. WORK.

Don’t panic, I told myself.

I panicked.

What am I going to do? Will my milk supply dry up? Will I become engorged? How will I be able to work the event tomorrow? I can’t leave; there’s too much to do… a thousand worries flooded my mama’s heart and mind. All I could think of was my baby. I’d fought hard to nurse him this long.

Anyone who has given breastfeeding a try (absolutely NO judgement if you haven’t/couldn’t etc.) knows how hard the fight is. It is a labor of love and a sacrifice of self. It means wearing nursing-friendly clothes when you want to look or feel a little cuter. It means wearing fabrics that won’t be destroyed by milk droplets, and it means sacrificing your body and your time and your very life force on a daily basis, over and over and over again. As hard as it is sometimes, I wasn’t ready to give it up… because I love my baby, and because I’ve still got fight left in me for this thing.

When my breast pump broke, my heart broke a little too.

I do have a happy ending to the story… my friend and colleague is also a new mom who nurses and pumps, so I was able to borrow hers. Wasn’t mine, but it was something. She actually reminded me of a valuable truth.

We’re so lucky and blessed.

We made it this far! No matter what happens next, we were able to breastfeed this long, when others have struggled with latching, or supply, or for whatever reason never were able to nurse at all. I have done the best I could for my baby. And God knows. And He’ll take care of the rest.

Salted Caramel Mocha

This is really only a small snapshot of my life as a working mom with a (presently) 9 month old… but as you can see, there are so many flavors to this experience.

Sometimes it’s salty… the taste isn’t that great and I wish I could swap it for something else better or at least something a little bit sweeter.

But sometimes it’s SO sweet, and so rewarding… because while I’m going through these crazy experiences, my baby still loves me, my husband still cherishes me, and most of all, my God still reminds me that He is near and He is in the midst of it all… and that He is teaching me to become the best possible version of me.

It’s salty. It’s sweet.

It’s kind of like a salted caramel mocha.

You know what? I kind of like those anyway…


Melissa Rufener



  1. Melissa that is such a beautiful, encouraging, uplifting story. Thank you for sharing a little bit of your crazy, loving, joyful life with us. You are such a beautiful woman! An amazing Mother! A wonderful wife! And selfless person. Keep on writing!
    We’re not perfect, but God is!


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