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Questions I Ask Myself As Maternity Leave Ends, by Rakhee Shah

Updated: Aug 1, 2023

Back to work, a phrase which was surprisingly loaded post baby.

Like many women, pre-baby, my professional life was at the core of who I was.

I’d carved out a neat part time gig which suited me down to a tee. It had all the ingredients important to me; three days a week, leadership responsibilities and meaningful work which at the time was campaigning in public health.

I was certain I’d return to the role which I’d spent years working towards and so, on my last day at work, I waved goodbye to my colleagues at my zoom baby shower and told them I’d see them in a year.

Fast-forward post-baby, as maternity leave drew to a close, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of doom.

My dream job didn’t fit seem to anymore. My head was full of questions.

Some were about the emotional upheaval of letting my little one go:

Can I really be away from Isla three days a week?

Am I ready to let her go?

I probably won’t have another baby, so am I missing out on her best years?

Some about the practicalities of being a working mum:

How can I double/ triple task and do everything well?

What kind of hours and days can I actually work?

Do I want to work again yet?

What is it I want to do?

Some were about my daughter:

She’s starting nursery but is she ready?

At a year old, she’s so tiny, if she still needs caring for, shouldn’t I do that?

How can she possibly survive at nursery 8am – 6pm?

There were yet more questions about my identity now that I was a mum, compounded by personal perceptions of the societal expectations of working mums.

The expectation that we can easily and successfully look after a house, a child/ children, ‘do us’, hold down a job, progress a career and at the same time, maintain a sense of equilibrium. It seemed crazy to me that one person could do so much - even though of course the reality is that so many women do exactly just this with no qualms at all.

Certainly the women in my circle had all managed this beautifully and were really happy with their choices - so this was my norm.

I think for me, I knew I’d find it stressful and I didn’t want to be constantly stressed.

What was troubling to me was that I had so much more on my plate with the baby. I’d also changed as a person. The very core of me was different. I couldn’t just step back into my old life. It didn’t fit me anymore. I needed a different size.

I also struggled a lot with the term ‘back to work’ which I think is so loaded and in some ways, is rooted in societal expectations that are out of date.

Back to work implies that you’re not working when you’re at home looking after your child. That there’s no value in your staying home and doing this.

Certainly, when I was in the thick of it, a person very close and dear to me said to me, ‘when are you going back to work…you don’t want to sit around at home all day.’

On my working mum journey, which I’m still very much figuring out, the answers came through a period of intense meditation and through canvassing women from other walks of life.

It was great to speak to a variety of mums who had approached work in different ways. It was liberating to step outside my echo chamber.

On the answers I’ve found so far:

Can I really be away from Isla three days a week?

I can, but it’s incredibly hard. I miss her intensely.

Am I ready to let her go?

I don’t think I was/ am. Three months in, I’m still questioning her nursery vs home time.

How can I double/ triple task?

It’s hard, takes a lot of forward planning and team work with hubby, but we can do it.

Do I want to work? What do I want to do?

Yes, as I’d imagined pre-baby, work is really important to me.. for my sense of identity, purpose, role modelling for Isla, to bring new experiences into our family home.. and for so many more reasons..

I probably won’t have another baby, so am I missing out on her best years?

Jury is still out on this one.

She’s starting nursery but is she ready?

Surprisingly for a covid baby, she’s settled really well. I think in the end, starting at a year old was perfect. She’s got more wherewithal now she’s 15 months and in some ways, I think a later start would have been harder.

At a year old, she’s so tiny, if she still needs caring for, why don’t I do that?

I still struggle with this one, but I have to say, I can totally see the benefits of her being at nursery. She’s got great stimulation, she learns to be more independent, she learns about the fact that I’ll always go back for her and I get some much needed time to focus on me - through work, domestic bits and bobs or exercise. And I think having that space makes me a better mum.

How can she possibly survive at nursery 8am – 6pm?

She could have, one thing I’ve learnt through this whole process is how resilient babies are. It’s cliché isn’t it, but so true. But in the end, we settled on a shorter day.

So where am I at?

To start with, I’ve decided to work part time. I just don’t think I can take anymore on.. and I’m also still wondering what exactly my vocation actually is.. so part time hours gives me some space to work this out.

I have to say, I’ve enjoyed the mental gymnastics which has come with the projects I’ve worked on so far but I also love that I’m able to have a few hours everyday with Isla too.

To be honest, I’m still figuring it out and I expect I’ll still be figuring it out for a long time to come.

It’s important to say that this is my own experience and I know every mum is on a different journey. There’s no judgement on the decisions any mum makes. I’m just a mamma sharing my journey because I think sharing difficulties in our sisterhood is healthy… let’s forget the days when we pretended we had it all figured out all the time.

We are really keen to get the community talking and would love for you to share your back to work thoughts and experiences in the comments section.

Written by Rakhee Shah, a customer and fan of B&B and a mum trying to figure it out.

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