Going back to work after having a baby isn’t easy. Not only do you have to get used to abandoning the little life you’ve spent every moment with but you also have to appear remotely intelligent and interesting again.
After a year off work, getting used to being in an office environment takes a bit of time. Initially, being able to sit still for more than a minute at a time and being able to drink a hot cup of tea was mind blowing. I likened it to arriving on my first all-inclusive holiday. Although I did then actually have to do some work.
You can imagine how I felt about my first night on the ‘work circuit’ – talking to grown ups with a large cold glass of wine in hand. Old acquaintances appeared delighted to see me after a year’s absence and I felt strangely popular. However, I quickly felt inadequate when they told me of everything they’d achieved in the last year professionally; promotions, pay rises, new jobs, new clients etc etc. For the first time, it hit home that the career I had obsessed over for so long had been on hold for a whole year.
When it came to my turn, I suddenly – unusually – felt short of words. What could I say about the last year to someone who didn’t have kids and wasn’t particularly interested in them either? I’d told myself not to gush all evening about babies and detail how I thought my little girl was a total genius because that morning she had picked up her spoon HERSELF, scooped up a tiny blob of food and put it IN HER OWN MOUTH! (I’ve already filled in her Oxbridge application).
Then came the assumptions; “oh you’ve had a year off, what a lovely break, that’s SUCH a long time, weren’t you bored with all that spare time? you must have got so much done”
I was guilty of this naivety once. Little did I know that the only thing there’s time for on maternity leave is caring for the immediate needs of your baby and NOTHING else. This literally takes up every hour of the ENTIRE day! I mean, I did have some great achievements such as surviving a week with only one hour’s sleep a night. And I felt pretty smug the time I remembered to put the TV remote on the arm of the sofa so that when baby finally napped (with me trapped underneath her), I could slowly sit down and watch daytime tele to distract myself from being unable to move despite being starving and needing the loo. You can imagine the (silent) celebrations the day I first got her napping in the cot. And when she was still a few months old, we made it out of the house – clean, dressed, fed and ready – before 9am. Boom!
So yes, I’ve had a year out of my working life and while some may think that all I’ve done is sunned myself in the garden, eaten cake and gone for yummy mummy lunches, the reality is that surviving this far has been more than a full-time job. It’s consumed every waking hour (and let’s face it, there are a LOT of those) of the day.
Of course I’ve enjoyed it and there have been many wonderful highs but maternity leave is anything but a year off work. Mums certainly shouldn’t feel like they’ve lost a year – our achievement in surviving and then thriving with a baby during that time is awe-inspiring NOT something that should be looked at with a tilted head and a half-baked “ah that’s nice”.
So next time someone gives you that look and asks about your time off, you can reply proudly with “yes I’ve been busy…but then I have created life”. It kind of puts everything into perspective.
By Laura; life creator