Today marks the end of my first week back at work after returning from maternity leave so I thought I’d write about my thoughts on returning to to work after having a baby, now that I’ve done it twice.
My experiences with both maternity leaves and returning to work have been quite different. When I had Edward, it was the biggest, most life changing event that I’d ever experienced. I went from having just been in charge of myself for 34 years, earning my own independent disposable income and being able to choose how I spent my time; to being attached to a small, needy human who relied on me for his every need, day and night. I was on statutory maternity allowance as I was a freelancer at the time. That money just about covered my share of the household outgoings leaving my bank account empty and me having to ask my husband for money so that I could buy whatever I needed on a daily basis. Of course he was completely happy for me to spend whatever money I wanted to, that went without saying; but it was a real ego dent to me to have to ask for the money rather than know that it was in my own bank account, earnt by me.
Edward was really hard work as a baby. He didn’t sleep and breastfed continually round the clock. His naps took me longer to get him to sleep than he actually slept for and I felt trapped in a never ending loop of breastfeeding and trying to get him to sleep then being up all night feeding him. When weaning started, he took months to take to food so things didn’t get any better. I spent a lot of time covered in food, pleading with him to open his mouth and then cleaning up spat-out and thrown food. At points I felt despair that I’d never get any freedom back and that this was what my life had become permanently.
I just couldn’t wait to get back to work.
I secured him a place at a really fantastic nursery and arranged to go back to work earlier than planned, when he was 7.5 months. At the time he was not really eating any solid food and refused to drink liquid from any other receptacle other than breast (not for want of me trying). Nursery were so understanding though and said they’d be fine. I left him on day one with some formula (which he’d never drunk before) and a sippy cup (which he’d never drunk more than the odd sip from).
On my first day, I remember stopping off on the way and buying coffee and a croissant and it felt like such a huge treat. Having proper adult conversations all day and not watching the clock to time for the next nap window or the constant making and clearing up of food. Spreadsheets never felt so appealing.
Edward took to nursery so well. To this day he has never cried when I drop him off. Nursery send me photos and reports of what he gets up to – messy play, painting, baking, crawling around the garden. It’s such a stimulating and fun environment and I genuinely feel like I couldn’t offer anything like that at home if I was a stay at home Mum. Once I was back at work, for the first time since having him, I actually started to enjoy motherhood. Maternity leave felt like limbo, being back at work felt like real life again.
Second time round things felt quite different. To start with, I actually had some perspective on the situation. I knew that I’d be going back to square one, but I knew would be temporary. And as this was the last time I’d be doing it, I really wanted to try to enjoy it and not get too bogged down in the mundane again.
As it happened, Grace was an entirely different baby. She fed and slept easily and I spent my whole maternity leave thoroughly enjoying having a new baby, meeting old and new friends for lunches, pottering around shops and appreciating the time I had with her without having to go to work.
The thought of going back to work wasn’t a big deal. I knew I would have to eventually but I was happy to string it out for as long as I was still getting some maternity pay. Eventually it came to the point where I needed to go back after just over 9 months off.
Of course, Grace settled into nursery like a dream. All of the carers have remarked at how happy and content she is. She smiles when she sees them in the morning and is always still smiling when I pick her up in the evening. I think it helps that I 100% trust the nursery and I feel completley comfortable with leaving her.
This time, I have felt a little bit different in myself on returning to work. I think it’s because I know this time I’m returning back to normality permanently. No more upheavals of having any more babies in the future and so I’ve started to think about my longer term career and the fact that I need to think about how I’m going to accommodate work around school terms in the future. So whilst going back to work hasn’t been a big deal in the slightest, like last time, it’s just felt like returning to normal; I’m feeling more of a pull towards focusing on my own career path and putting some plans in place for my longer term career.
Over all, I’ve felt my transitions from maternity leave to work have been really easy. I would say it definitely helps to have a nursery that you trust entirely and a job that you like doing and is understanding and accommodating of your family needs which isn’t always the case for everyone. I know I’m not the type of person that would enjoy being in charge of two children on my own for 5 days of the week. I’ve been lucky enough to have close friends on maternity leave at the same time as me so we’ve been able to spend time together but I don’t really know any other permanent stay at home Mums, everyone I knew has returned to work.
Work day mornings can be quite hectic trying to get everyone out of the door on time. The cost of childcare means I’m barely making any money at the moment but even so, I definitely prefer to go out to work and I think nursery is really beneficial for the children so I’m happy to be back in our little groove.