Returning to work after my last baby…

I hesitated over this post for a while; it’s a difficult subject to talk about right now (it’s all a bit raw and emotional) but also it’s such a different experience for everyone who does it, so it’s not a topic that can be generalised. When returning to work after a baby (or not, as the case may be), we all have different stories, reasons, motivations and needs… I think it strikes a strong chord with many mothers (and indeed fathers) everywhere, so here’s my story:

This week is my last full week of maternity leave after having our second daughter. The following weeks will see my gradual return back to work, before I’m working full time again from the beginning of March. I’ve done this before, I know what it’s like but this time it’s a little different: we’re pretty sure Sadie is our last child…

After our first baby (Louie), I returned to work full time for two reasons: firstly because I have truly amazing parents who agreed to have her while I was at work (without their support I would’ve only returned part time) and also because I wanted to see if I could hack it; I wanted to keep my doors open for future opportunities. I’ve always been one to play it safe and never close myself off to opportunity (if I can help it) in case I later regret it. If I returned to worked part time after having Louie and then wished I hadn’t (found we couldn’t afford it or whatever), I might not get the hours back if I asked for them. But I could do things the other way round and still change my mind if I wanted to, so that’s what I did. 18 months later, I was off again with baby number two; turns out I could hack it after all and I’d managed full time until our next baby was due.

Apart from one friend, I am the ONLY person I know that has returned to work full time after having a baby and can that make conversations with other mums feel quite lonely and isolating. Nobody else quite identifies with you and you can’t help but feel judged (most probably just the mummy-over-sensitivity talking!).  Everyone else I know has gone back part time or even not at all. There’s nothing like breaking the mould to make you feel even more guilty than you already do when you’re a mum. But get this, I didn’t just do it once: I’m going back to work full time after my second baby too… Crazy lady.

My maternity leave with Sadie began on 19 December 2015. To say that I’m only now returning to work in 2017 sounds like quite the sweet deal! A number of things (namely: working around an academic calendar, holiday entitlement and a due date of February 2016) meant that I’ve had almost 14 months off work. But in that time, so much has happened and I feel like I’m now returning to work a completely different person. I’ve learnt a lot about myself recently: I approach things differently, place importance on different things now (the things that actually ARE important!) and I also care far less about the non-important stuff.

I’m currently in a ‘countdown bubble’: it’s always in the back of my mind that I only have so many days left… It clouds things a little. I’m feeling a whole bag of different things: pressure (to get a whole list of things done before my return), excitement (I’ll finally have frequent cause to write in my beautiful, sparkly new leather planner!), guilt (mummy guilt, the ‘am I doing the right thing’ guilt that constantly looms), sadness (I’ll never have this precious time with my babies back again, it’s actually over) and I’m also keen, to start the next chapter of the rest of our lives. Going back to work means life is moving on (we have little girls now, rather than babies) and with that comes exciting things to look forward to too. I’m trying really hard to maintain a balanced perspective on this, I don’t want to feel negative but I’m equally dreading the part where I’m already back at work (stressed and time-poor) and looking back at these days with a feeling of loss, because I can’t have them back again. A bit like those first two weeks of January, when I’m mourning the end of Christmas, my favourite time of the year and it’s all of a sudden like it never happened.

Even if I could be a stay at home mum, I could never be a stay at home mum. I don’t know quite how to say this next bit without contradicting myself or pissing someone off: when you’re at home with kids, you don’t have two seconds to rub together but, at the same time, being at home falsely convinces me that I could achieve items on my ‘to do’ list, because I’m home and not at work… I wake up everyday optimistic and spring-loaded: “today’s a new day, today I WILL do stuff!”

I love being at home with my girls, it feels so natural like it’s where I’m meant to be but somehow the days melt away and I end up having nothing to show for my time. I spend it chasing my tail, picking up after the girls, cleaning in vain (please can people just stop ‘living’ in this house after I’ve cleaned it?!), not sticking to my healthy, economical meal plan (because oh crap, it’s 5pm already and now I haven’t got time to bake the Shepherd’s Pie) and guess what, not achieving my ‘to do’ list. This process hits repeat every morning and every evening I feel a bit rubbish about everything I haven’t done. I don’t think I’m very productive at home: I put things off because there’s so much else to do and there’s always another day, another chance to achieve, while one’s at nursery and the other one naps…

When I’m at work I’m a woman on a mission: I’m so focused on (and sad about) what little time I have that somehow, I make everything happen, because I’m so concerned that it won’t happen (I definitely achieve more under time pressure!). Our time together ends up being more ‘quality’ because we have less of it, so we put more effort into doing more. And because I’m earning again, we’ll be able to afford extra niceties that we wouldn’t normally. That sounds pretty good but on the other hand, our days are so fast paced you barely hit the ground and there’s nothing I hate more than rushing, doing everything quickly and just hoping I’ve done a good enough job. I like to know I’m giving everything enough attention and then I can feel good about it and contentedly put my feet up at the end of the day. And the little time that we get with the girls each day is heart breaking (parents the world over will identify with this), we literally wake them up in the morning and put them to bed again at night. Although I know it could be a lot worse…

What exactly am I feeling then?

We sold our Maxicosi newborn car seat last night. As my husband got ready to take it to the new owners he said it was then end of an era, that two of the best days of his life involved that car seat and bringing our girls home from hospital (I might have shed a tear or two after he left). I think he hit the nail on the head and this is what this it’s all about: it’s the end of an era. I’m not just going back to work, this is the (almost) ending of our baby years (Sadie’s still small and technically still a baby for a little while yet, thank God!). This is us moving on to the next life bracket, we’re going to be a family of four with two little girls as opposed to a couple with a newborn…

Not the best quality image but this is our Lou, all packed up in the car seat ready to come home for the first time.
Surrounding all of this is a dark cloud of guilt looming over me because soon I’ll be spending (most of) my days at work and not with my girls. It doesn’t feel right, like what nature intended but there’s no two ways about it either. So I think I’m learning to appreciate time more. It’s the only thing we really have. It moves far quicker than I’d like it to but my impending return to work is forcing me to spend it more considerately and get more out of it. All I have to do is keep this attitude going, stay organised, think a few days ahead and then perhaps I can keep all the plates spinning in the air at once?! We’ll see…

I’ll post again about my return to work in about a month’s time and let you know how I’m getting on! Have you recently returned to work after having a baby? If so, what were your feelings, concerns, etc. I’d love to hear about peoples’ different experiences.  I’ll admit I’ve been little unsure about uploading a post on such a personal subject!

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Thanks for reading x

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