Ashley and I walked our babes together pretty much everyday during her maternity leave so when a mama asked me do do a feature on returning back to work after maternity leave, I had to ask Ashley more about it.
What is your job?
I head up a team within Discovery Health which runs strategy and innovation-linked projects. We run like an internal management consulting firm and are deployed to various projects across the business as and when we are needed.
How long was your maternity leave? And how old was your babe when you headed back to work?
I was able to take 6 months of maternity leave, most of which I took after Harrison was born, so he was 5 months and 3 weeks old when I returned to work.
How old is your little one now?
He is now 2 (almost 2 and a half, but I like to round down so it seems like he isn’t growing up quite as fast as he is!)
What was the most daunting thing about heading back to work after your maternity leave?
It was so foreign to think about leaving my tiny babe at home all day while I headed off to meetings and brainstorming sessions – I couldn’t even start to imagine how that was going to work logistically, let alone how it was going to feel! I felt like I was constantly busy at work before I had Harrison and had felt equally busy looking after my little bundle at home on maternity leave so I had no idea where I was going to find the time to do both.
Once the time came did you feel ready?
I remember reaching the four month mark of my maternity leave and thinking that I would never be ready to leave Harrison and go back to work, but by 5 and a half months I found myself more used to the idea, and itching to find out what new and exciting projects were on the go. I was moving into a new role on my return to work, so I had started to come in while Harrison napped to meet my new team and ease into things – I think that those short meetings and little pockets of time away from him helped to build my confidence so that I didn’t have to switch completely from one world into another for a long stretch right away.
What was your first day like?
My first full day back was a total mix of emotions and took a lot of planning, because I was determined to keep breastfeeding Harrison (in between introducing solids) for as long as I could. I don’t remember much other than that I must have texted Harrison’s nanny about 20 times and that the day went really quickly – before I knew it, I was home with my little babe, who seemed completely happy and well-looked after, not to mention that he didn’t seem to even have realised that his mama had gotten through one of the hardest days in her recent memory by going back to work and leaving him at home. That made going to work on day 2 a bit easier.
How do you handle child care when things don’t go according to plan? For example a late meeting or a sick babe or your child care falls through?
I am incredibly lucky to have both my mom and my mom-in-law close-by, as well as an amazing live-in nanny. We decided early on that we wanted Harrison to stay at home while I was at work so that no matter what happened during my day (for example, an unplanned late meeting), he was in his home and his routine could go on unchanged, albeit without me if I happened to get caught at work. I also am fortunate enough to work in a company and for an amazing boss (also a mom) who allows me to work flexibly in terms of both time and venue. If I need to take Harrison to the doctor, or work from home to keep an eye on a little sickling, then I can usually move my meetings or take them via conference call. If all else fails, I call in the grannies! It absolutely takes a village to enable me to be a working mom and I am so fortunate to have a wonderful one.
Every mom (working or stay at home) feels the infamous “mom-guilt”, how do you deal with this feeling?
The mom-guilt is such a real thing, and by no means do I think I’ve got it handled, but I do try to remind myself of that saying “You can’t pour from an empty cup”. I love my job and it plays a big part in making me feel happy and fulfilled, which means that I have more to give emotionally to everyone in my life when I’m challenged and happy at work. I know it sounds crazy, but after a long day at work, I find I have more energy to pour into quality time with Harrison than I do on weekends or when we are on holiday and I have all day with him. I think something about knowing that I have more limited time with him during the week helps me to be more present when I am at home with him.
I’m sure leaving one’s babe is difficult in the beginning, does it get easier?
I think that, like all things with being a mom, there is a level of unpredictability and things really can change from day to day and be up one day and then down the next. I definitely learned to worry less and less about whether Harrison would be safe and well cared for without me, and got better and better at the logistics and planning required to juggle work and motherhood, but there were certainly patches in Harrison’s development which made leaving for work harder. For example, when he started to be able to vocalise that he didn’t want me to leave, or when he was going through the toddler separation anxiety phase, I battled. Recently it has gotten much easier because Harrison started going to crèche in the mornings and I don’t feel so much like I’m missing out on things that I would be present for if I was a stay-at-home mom.
What is your top tip for moms preparing on heading back to work after their maternity leave.
Being organised has really helped me to strip out “unnecessary” activities so that I can spend as much of my time away from work as I can with Harrison. I completely changed my hours when I came back to work so that I am in early and can leave by 15:00; this means I don’t waste time in traffic and have a good few hours at home with my little boy before we start with supper, bath and bedtime. I also do a meal-plan and shop online for groceries on a Sunday night so that I don’t have to worry about what I’m making for supper and the inevitable trip to Woolies every night on the way home.
Having said that, I also think that being gentle on yourself is so important. Balance is not something that anyone really achieves 100% on a day-to-day basis and sometimes you won’t be in total control of your time, no matter how organised you try to be. Be flexible during those ebbs and flows, try to look at the bigger picture and remember that all your choices as a mom are made with your little one’s best interests at heart; going back to work is no different.
Images by Robyn Davie