It’s over! (Maternity leave)

At some point, I blinked and six months of my life disappeared. I return to work on Monday. How is it that time already?

I have made a lot of internet friends during this time and the return to work has always been a big discussion subject. When do you return to work? If at all. Part time? Full time? It’s a decision many mums have to face.

In the UK you are entitled to a whole year of maternity leave if you want it. 9 months paid (at various rates) and then the rest unpaid. Some, then, are able to use holiday entitlement incurred while on maternity leave to take more time still. I think that makes us very lucky indeed. When I compare this to other countries, some of which only get a few weeks or months, I feel privileged that I have been allowed this time with my baby. Time to bond, to recover and to adapt to being a parent.

I feel sad that my husband only hot to have two measly weeks off with us, many of which were spent in hospital for various reasons or housebound recovering after my c-section. But again, this is more than many people have and certainly more than my parents had. He had no choice but to return to work and just got on with it, muddling through the sleepless nights and then working all day. While many men get stick at this time in their life, I feel admiration for him that he got on with it without complaint.

Now, my turn to return to work has arrived. This time has been coming for a while but now it is here. I feel a mixture of emotions about this: sad that maternity leave is over, worried to leave my baby, anxious to meet new people (I had to get a new job) but also part of me is excited to be an adult again. I might actually get to have adult conversation that isn’t about dirty nappies, teething, reflux or sleep patterns. I might get to have a hot cup of tea that I made and didn’t have to microwave several times.

It is mainly my choice to return to work after 6 months rather than 12. Firstly, the money doesn’t cover the bills at the minute but, more importantly, I need to have this challenge in my life again. Part of me wonders whether this is the right decision. Am I turning my nose up at paid time off with my baby? Well, yes, but everyone has to decide what is best for them and their situation. Of course, for a second I considered being a stay at home mum (SAHM), but that was about as long as that thought lasted. I have a new respect for SAHM’s. I don’t know how they do it.

My previous job was temporary so I had to look for a new job and when I found the ideal role, they wanted me to start a little earlier than I had hoped. However, I thought long and hard about it and came to the decision that this was the best option in the long run for us all. J is still too little to really miss me so will hopefully adapt easier and I have only been out of work for 6 months so hope that I shouldn’t find the return so daunting.

When I look back at the last 6 months, I count myself as extremely lucky. I have had some lovely times with my son, met up with friends and family and made new ‘mummy’ friends. I am also fortunate that I have found a childminder that J seems to really like and that I trust. Luckier still that we can just about afford for me to return to work part-time. I feel for those mothers who have no choice but to work full-time. Obviously, some choose to, and that is fine but for others it is not an option.

While I mourn the end of this mini era, I look forward to the new challenges that lay ahead. I will, of course, share how my return goes.

I am already counting down to 4.30 when I can collect my son from the childminders and give him the biggest cuddle.

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The working mother?

Ever since I was 13 years old, excluding the last 7 months, I have worked. I started off working part time in a local florist and then at 16 worked in a clothes shop. When I left sixth form at 18, I started working in an office and have dabbled in many different careers since. At 23, I decided I wanted to teach and so I left my job and started my degree.

In September 13 I got my first proper teaching job, classes of my own, essays to mark; my dream job. In December, that same year, I fell pregnant. I was overjoyed and it was perfect timing as it meant that I could complete my first year of teaching and then have my baby in the summer.

On that last day of work, I felt a mixture of sadness and excitement. Sadness for the job I was leaving behind, the friends I had made, the students that I had worked hard to build rapport with and the routine I clearly knew and enjoyed. Then excitement and anticipation for the journey I was about to embark on: motherhood.

As someone who likes routine and to plan in advance, I knew full well that this was about to change. There is no routine and plans in parenting and you very much have to go with the mood of your baby. I remember telling a close friend, who knows me well, about the pregnancy and she laughed and said I was ‘screwed’ because she knows how I like to be in control.

When this tiny, squishy newborn arrived, earlier than expected, work went out of my mind and I focused all my energy and attention on caring for my son. It became my new full time job, literally morning, noon and night. There was no home time from this job, no lunch break, no weekend but that was fine and I cherish all my time with him. Work became my past, almost an alternative world, something I heard about, other people did it, complained about it and even my husband disappeared there every day.

However, a horrible, guilt filled, unspoken reality is that those first few weeks, once your partner has returned to work, can be very lonely and sometimes, dare I say, boring. Please don’t get me wrong, I was never bored by my son. I loved watching him do new things for the first time, however small. I took photos when he slept, when he pouted his lips differently, even of the back of his head (to remember his full head of hair).

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But every day was very similar: eat, sleep, poop, repeat. When he was too little to really play, my days were mostly filled with feeding him on demand or watching him sleep while daytime TV slowly dissolved my brain. I became trapped inside by my mummy responsibilities, too scared to venture out in case I needed to breastfeed him in public. So I remained at home with the baby, the cats and the TV.

As is usual, when a baby is born, I was initially inundated with visits from friends; some of which I hadn’t spoken to in a long time. One of my friends, a SAHM, said to me ‘I bet you never want to go back to work do you?’ When I replied that I actually missed work a little she was disgusted and shocked. The look on her face will stay with me for a while. I clearly had said the wrong thing. I was meant to gush about how much I loved spending all my time at home and that I was constantly enthralled and excited.

My problem was that I wasn’t mentally stimulated. I had gone from a busy, hectic career to dirty nappies and This Morning. My brain was becoming unused and bored and I started to miss work a little. Then the guilt set in, how could I possibly be feeling this way? Didn’t I love him enough? Was I doing it wrong? Was I a terrible mother? A terrible person?

No. I wasn’t. I just needed to adapt to change.

Even though J is only 6 months old, it’s hard to think back to those first couple of months. They were so different to now. Now, he laughs, giggles and smiles at me; the only smiles I got before were when he had wind. There used to be limited interaction from him to me but now we play together and his firsts are now are exciting for us both, the first time he rolled, had his first food and now, as I write this, I am watching him trying his hardest to sit up. When I cuddle him to sleep during the day and look in awe at this beautiful face, I wonder how I made him. I am far from bored. He is my little person. My world. My everything.

Yet, in just two weeks time, I will find myself in a very different situation. Instead of cuddling my baby and enjoying his laugh, I will be at work and someone else will be protecting my world and making him smile instead of me (the childminder).

I am understandably nervous about going to work, it is a new job (my last one was temporary) so not only do I have the fear of returning to work after maternity but also the worry of it all being new.

I am also going back to work earlier than originally planned. The job came up and I had to go for it. It was the perfect location, the perfect hours and just what I had been looking for. Fortunately, it is only 3 days a week but I will miss him like crazy.

The longest I have really left him through the day is about 2 or 3 hours. I am not sure how I will be apart from him from 7.30 till 4pm. I am sad to be leaving him and wonder why someone else gets to have the fun with him. No doubt, in time, I will miss out on some other firsts and the childminder will see them instead of me. I am facing that common dilemma many women have of how to balance being a mum and having a job.

I am left to feel guilty by some for going back to work early, and guiltier still by others for going back at all. The truth is, I need to go back for my own sanity and for some adult conversation. I may even get to have a hot cup of tea.

What scares me is, I have been a worker and I have been a mother, but I have never been both. Can I even be both? I feel like going back to work is almost denying his existence in some way as if I am returning to my previous life without him.

How will I manage when my days are not structured around nap times, bottle feeds, changing nappies and keeping him entertained? My life has a new focus: him. The purpose of my life now is not just to succeed in my job but as a mother too.

I hope that I am making the right decision in returning to work, many mothers do it and they all seem ok. I hope that J won’t be unhappy without me, but also that he won’t like the childminder more than me.

The Sunday night is going to be awful, full of sadness, guilt and tears. The Monday morning, when I drop him off with the childminder will probably be the hardest, most heart-wrenching thing I have done for a while. In fact, I am pretty much going to be leaving my heart there with him. I just need to focus on the Monday at 4pm when I see my boy after a day at work and hold him close to me and remember that he is mine, he hasn’t disappeared by me going back to work and I am the one that gets to take him home with me.

My life is different now. He is not just an addition to my life but he has made it so much better.