Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Rejoining the working world...some thoughts as a return-to-work mummy

The day is finally here: my maternity leave is over and today I started back at work! It's been a memorable, intense, incredible experience over the past nine months. I couldn't put it all into words if I tried, but I felt like I needed to write some kind of summary of what life has been like here in the Lucraft house. It's not my intention to become a mummy blogger long-term, or at least not to use this blog for that purpose. But this post is a one-off post, since being a mummy for the first time has given me plenty to vocalise about. It's aimed at others who might be in my shoes, but hopefully makes interesting reading for anyone working with someone returning to work after having a baby. I'm breaking it into sections to at least give people an opportunity to skip over and enjoy headlines if that's preferable.

1. They are not lying when they say how hard it is having a baby
The actual having part, i.e. the child birth part, is such a small part of the story. I didn't believe that until the event happened. The hardest part comes when you get home. The first two or three months at home with my baby, Tara, were so very very challenging, and nothing prepared me for how hard I would find coping with my own post-birth trauma and with a very small colicky infant. I was incredibly lucky to have family all come down and support me, and to have my husband at home for six weeks. We learnt together very quickly a myriad of ways to keep our little one more comfortable; mostly this consisted of bouncing her whilst walking up and down the room. This became known as the 'velociraptor walk'. I can only apologise to people that visited us during this period. They saw a lot of 'grumpy baby'. The good news about colic though, is that it really does turn off like a light switch. Once the colic disappeared, we have the most amazingly happy, social baby who laughs and smiles all day long.

2. Support for feeding new babies is just dreadful
Our labour ward staff were just wonderful and I really did have a good birth compared with some of the horror stories I've heard. Midwives are amazing people and combine kindness with immense physical skill so well. But from the point that we left the recovery suite onwards, I can honestly say I've been frequently shocked by how bad breastfeeding advice for new mums is, and I'm afraid Midwifery falls down here. There is zero consistency in message, and there is far too little time or support available to help us novices get started. From the maternity ward to home visiting staff to Health Visitors to other healthcare practitioners, I could write essays on the different advice we received on feeding. At one point in the space of a week, one midwife told me our baby had tongue tie and another a day later that she didn't; a GP sent us to A&E for slow weight gain, only for the Paediatrician to send us home telling us she was fine. It's latching that's the problem advised another; it's supply said someone else. Feed her on demand, says one; feed her no sooner than 3-hourly intervals, says another. I spent countless hours wondering whether I was doing the right thing, with so much conflicting advice pouring in from all sides. It's no wonder so many don't continue to breastfeed for the recommended six months. For the record, we have a healthy happy 8 month old who has gained weight steadily since birth, and piled it on since starting solids.

I know I'm not the only one who experienced trouble getting started with breastfeeding. I also know that I experienced more problems than many, so perhaps my assessment on the messaging and support is unfair. But hey, this is my summary of my experience. If the WHO really want women to breastfeed for six months exclusively, then a lot more resources need to be put towards helping us first-timers get through it.

I don't want to get drawn into the discussion on breastfeeding in public, but it would be a mistake not to mention it at all. All I have to say is that my baby needed feeding pretty much constantly for much of the time I was breastfeeding (I stopped at six months). I fed her wherever and whenever she needed it, and felt no shame doing so. I wasn't ever made to feel uncomfortable and I fed her pretty much everywhere: trains, cafes, parks, restaurants...the list is endless.

3. It really does get better
Everyone told me this, but to start off with I really couldn't believe them. The days were long, my baby cried a lot, and I was just trying to get through the day. But then things got better! And I was having a great time! By the time my maternity leave was drawing to a close I couldn't bear the thought of not being with my little girl all day. Now she is just so much fun, and our days have been filled with laughter, trips out to see friends with babies, and time spent with loved ones.

4. It goes so fast!
When I realised that my time at home was nearly up, it was devastating. I couldn't believe how fast the time had gone and spent a good chunk of time sobbing, wishing I could wind the clock back a few months and enjoy that time all over again. My advice to new mums is to savour every minute.

5. Using my KIT days was really worthwhile
I used up all but one of my Keep In Touch days to make my return to work easier. And it really was worthwhile. For me, I would have been returning to a brand new team who I didn't know at all. Coming in for a day every few weeks made it possible for me to get to know these people, and to feel connected to what was being planned for the year ahead, rather than coming in blind to plans I had no involvement in. It also helped me feel happy about coming back to work, because the KIT days were all positive experiences. I know I would have had a lot more anxiety if I hadn't done that.

6. Fighting the mummy guilt is hard
We have chosen to send Tara to a nursery four days a week. I know it will be good for her in many ways. And yet on her second day there she caught a bad cold and in her second week there she caught gastro-enteritis. It's impossible not to feel responsible and wonder if returning to work wasn't terribly selfish. Friends have helped me get through this, reminding me of the social skills she will learn at nursery, not to mention the stronger immune system she will have in the long-term. But I won't pretend I haven't cried about this too.

7. Everything I said before about support networks is still true!
Before I started my maternity leave I wrote about how much I valued my husband and his role in enabling me to return to work. It's all true: I couldn't do it if I didn't have an equal partner in all our childcare responsibilities. We both share the getting up in the night, we both share bathtimes and bedtimes, and will both support each other as we need to. I wouldn't cope if I had to do it all.

8. Going back to work feels great
So yes, I'm sad not to be at home with my baby, and I'm always going to experience some guilt that I am not the one providing all the childcare. But at the same time today felt completely good. I got to spend time contributing to an industry that I'm still passionate about, doing work that is rewarding. It's all good so far.

That's it on the mummy blogging. I'll get back onto blogging about Marketing, PR and communications from here on in...at least for the most part...

Hello from Tara!