Returning from maternity leave (round 2!) with Karen Blanc
When Axis asked me to write a blog piece on returning to work after maternity leave, of course I said yes! I love the idea that sharing my experience might help make things better in some small way for others, so here are the top 10 things I’d tell my best friend about returning from maternity leave.
Understand your rights. Okay, this is boring. But, how do you draw down KIT (keeping in touch) days? Do you NEED to do KIT days? Must you use all your leave before you come back? (Answer: no you probably don’t. A friend kept her build-up and drew it down weekly while her baby was still tiny, allowing her to build up to her full hours as baby got bigger and more used to being in care during the day. But you might have to stand firmly on this one in the face of pressure to do as everyone else does and book it all before returning).
Your heart will hurt. There’s no denying it, after the honeymoon of maternity leave, where you get to stare googly-eyed at your gorgeous baby all day, spending the day without them is tough, no matter who is caring for them. But I can honestly say that, without a doubt, the absolute best part of my day now is picking my kids up from nursery. My 2-year drops whatever he’s holding, shouts “Mammo!” with a smile, and runs into my arms. They love nursery and their carers there. I love hearing what they’ve been up to each day, and I especially love when they surprise me at home with something they’ve learned at nursery – new words, a new song, or understanding how something works.
Office lunchtimes are like holidays. A whole hour in the middle of the day where your child is being safely cared for. Get your nails done! Meet your partner for a grown-up lunch! Go for a run! Do all your Christmas shopping! You didn’t even know how amazing lunch breaks were until you had kids.
Make your work-life-balance work for YOU. Exercise is important to me, and I know it affects my wellbeing. So, on my return to work this time, I carved out a working pattern which allows me to fit some exercise-time in while my children are at nursery. Trying to fit it in during my time with them always left me feeling guilty, but substituting it so it feels like time from my “working” day feels much more acceptable. Figure out what’s important to you, and figure out how you can fit it into your life.
Have a “uniform”. Coming back from having a child for the second time, I’ve realised how important it is for me to not have to think about what I’m wearing for work! I have to feel comfortable and smart (my body has changed shape, and some of my old work clothes didn’t help me feel professional any longer), and it needs to be easy to care for (I need to be able to handle getting yoghurt on everything, and I know I no longer have time for ironing). Now I can get ready in less than 15 minutes in the morning (which is faster than my husband!)
You are not the only parent. A mentor shared this one with me, and I often have to remind myself of this! But, when nursery calls, it doesn’t always have to be me who goes to pick up the sick baby and spend the day with him (even if I strongly want it to be me!) Now, my husband and I both check our calendars and agree who’s best able to cancel their meetings for the day, and then the other can work to clear their calendar for the next day. (As an aside, feminist-me says this is how we’ll change the world – if our employers expect both parents to have to take time off to look after children, it will stop being a “women’s issue”.)
Pump. Or don’t. For those who breastfeed, don’t forget that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing when you go back to work. I choose not to pump during the day, so my littlest one takes formula while at nursery, and they are both still breastfed at home and on the weekends. There’s no doubt that formula milk was an amazing scientific breakthrough, and in my case, it allows us to preserve our breastfeeding relationship.
Weekends are special. Do things which make you all happy. Don’t do things which don’t. (Get your groceries delivered! Outsource your ironing. Spend time with friends you love.)
And on a similar note: Time is precious. You’ll achieve more in these few years of tiny babies than you ever did when you were single (really, what did I do all the time?). I have recently managed to apply for two professional accreditations I’ve been sitting on for years, but it took having two kids for me to realise that there will never be more time, and I just had to sit down and get them done. (In lunchtimes, and holiday days!)
Challenge the status quo. There’s an evening networking event but baby won’t leave your side? Ask if you can bring him in the sling! Overnight work trip and you’re still breastfeeding? Bring baby along with a carer. Dinner with the boss? Couldn’t it be a lunch? Again, this is how we’ll change the world. We can’t stop doing everything because we’ve had a family, but we can’t just complain about it either. Find a way to make it work and do it!