Many women work up until their maternity leave starts, and for some it is the first extended leave from the workplace that they have ever experienced. The idea of maternity leave – a paid holiday – sounds fantastic. The idea of having at least three to six months off with your new baby sounds even better. The reality, however, can be incredibly stressful.
Stressful? Not working? Don’t be silly, you might be thinking.
I would like you to imagine a normal working day. How many people do you interact with? How often do you need to shut the door to concentrate on something important? Are you a pro-active person who gets satisfaction from completing your ‘To Do’ list?
Now imagine waking up thinking the same way, but by the end of the day you have not managed to meet up with anyone, the computer and phone have remained untouched and you have not done one thing on your ‘To Do’ list. When baby first arrives this is fine, because everyone knows new mums are meant to lie back and do nothing. After four or five weeks, however, you might feel a little differently.
Take this scenario: Baby is a couple of months old, your partner comes home from work as usual, looks at you and his precious baby lovingly and asks, ‘”So, what have you guys been up to today?” “Nothing…” you think to yourself flatly. We’ve slept. I’ve changed some nappies, managed one load of washing and fed the baby so much my boobs feel like they’re about to fall off, but he doesn’t want to hear about that! You shrug your shoulders, “Same old, same old!” you manage with a wry smile. “Oh, so you didn’t manage to ring the gardener or buy the groceries? Never mind darling, I’ll get a takeaway and maybe you’ll find time to call tomorrow,” he offers, supportively. Meanwhile, you are feeling frustrated, exhausted and useless. You start to look at yourself and make comparisons. You think about the stimulating conversations you used to have, discussing exciting deals you were both working on, and how now you feel like you have nothing interesting to contribute. How you used to meet him for drinks and dinner with friends after work and the fun you had together, knowing you could lie in bed all weekend if you wanted. Now nights out seem more unrealistic than flying to the moon. (At least you could probably take the baby to the moon with you!) You remember how you used to organise everything at home and at work effortlessly, while keeping up with friends. Now just one of those seems a struggle.
It is an incredibly difficult time because you are drawn to this little bundle with the strongest instinct to protect and provide and yet often, muddled in are feelings of guilt and frustration which murky the whole picture.
Don’t worry, I’m here to tell you that all of these feelings are normal and that mental preparation can make a massive difference, allowing you to really enjoy this period of your life, instead of it being frustrating and stressful.
Mentally prepare yourself for what is about to hit you as much as you can. How, you might ask? Well, it simply involves thinking about how different your days will be and being ok with that, rather than battling against it. With enough preparation, you should be able to really look forward to baby and the lull your life will take, rather than resent it. No matter what stage of life you are in, try to fully immerse yourself in motherhood when it happens to you. Having a baby in your arms, but wishing you were out on a Friday night or working on the latest big deal, is like living in a the perfect house in the worst location or having your dream job but hating everyone you work with. The idea is fantastic, but before long you are miserable.
One of the first things to come to terms with is that most of us are control freaks. Even if you are not when it comes to controlling other people, most people are when it comes to controlling themselves and their own time. Having to let go of this can be very challenging, especially if you have not thought about it before it happens. Secondly, the exhaustion can take its toll. Not because it’s more difficult than what you’re used to, but because it’s different. Instead of being exhausted from mentally or physically challenging work, often being stimulated by others in the workplace, you are exhausted from the lack of sleep, and your inability to have any time for yourself. On top of all that, when you most need to rest, baby will probably need you – it’s just sod’s law! It’s the inability to rest exactly when you want to, which can be the most challenging part. Consequently most mums will agree that it is much more exhausting being a full-time mother, rather than going to an office every day. If these facts are surprises for you when baby arrives, they can be very stressful. Prepare for them and it is a lot easier.
The combination of just these two factors, without anything else, is enough to make many mothers want to go back to work.
The argument about whether women should go back to work or not, now that Feminism has created so many opportunities and ‘equal rights’ for us, is something which I imagine will be with us forever. If you are in the lucky position where you do not need to go back to work, and are undecided, I would advise you not to make any decisions before you have your baby. When I was pregnant with my first, I expected to be back at work within six months, with a full-time nanny in tow. By the time six months had passed, the idea of leaving my baby made me feel sick. I was very lucky to be able to make that choice and I chose to stay at home.
If you know you are definitely going back to work, enjoy hanging out with baby 24/7 while it lasts! You may take 3, 6 or 12 months off work. Whatever it is, it’ll go by in a flash. I understand that your partner will want ‘you’ back and probably feel a bit rejected particularly if you are breastfeeding, and of course it’s important to try and create a balance in your life. However, it’s impossible to be everything to everyone. Be where your heart draws you, communicate well with your partner, make him understand what your needs are, and try to listen to his.
Many women who want to stay at home get caught up in their frustration. If you are one of these, please try to search within yourself for a possible solution, so that you can have the best of both worlds. If being with your children is possible financially and is something you enjoy, you and your children will benefit so much the more you can be with them.
If you want to be at home but don’t know what to do outside of your existing career, try to think of this time as an opportunity. Pregnancy has allowed you to break from your work. It is the only time when you can have a break and no one asks any questions, so make the most of it! Use it as a chance to have a go at something different or pick up a hobby you loved when you were younger or you haven’t had time for since you’ve been working.
No matter how much you love your newborn, everyone needs time for themselves. Everyone! Some women feel guilty if they have the urge to spend some time away from their children. DON’T! No matter how much we love them, we all need time for ourselves. I knew I wanted to be at home with my baby, but having had my own business, the feelings of frustration, which I mentioned at the beginning of this blog where very prevalent for me and I knew I also needed something else. My job to date had been as an independent, self-employed film producer, which I couldn’t see myself doing successfully, part-time. So instead I started writing and researching the development of the human brain, from the womb, throughout childhood and into adulthood. I not only found it fascinating, it made me understand how my child’s brain was developing and why they find so many things frustrating as they grow, as their bodies are capable of more than their minds. It was what led me to start writing these blogs, two years later.
If your existing career is not something you can do part-time or from home, or if you want to change your career path, it can be very hard to think of what else might stimulate you. Keep your eyes and ears open to anything that appeals to you, or is suggested to you. Be open to new ideas and think about what you love to do. The latter stages of pregnancy, particularly when it’s uncomfortable to move, can be a very good time to think about what you really enjoy doing and what you think might work as a part-time job or new career which you can fit around your children. Thinking about what you like to do when you are relaxing is a good start. It might be something as basic as reading or writing, talking to people, laughing or eating. It doesn’t matter what it is, but if you can identify the number one thing you enjoy, try to think of doing something which includes that in some way. The happier you are, the happier everyone is around you.
What I find amazing is when parents find a new lease of life, working or creating in a totally different way from anything they have done before. For example, I am about to launch a Children’s Charity called Boo Bods, bridging the gap between creativity as a hobby and a career. Now, if I was still embroiled in the film industry I doubt very much if I would be doing this and already we are helping people. It feels fantastic.
With part-time work, however, comes the need to be very organised with your time, so that there is over-all harmony and balance in your life.
Balance is incredibly difficult and something I am constantly reassessing in my life to try and get right. Children like clear boundaries and when you work part-time they are constantly asking whether you are working today or not. However, children are very adaptable and I think it probably affects us (with the guilt that we are not giving enough time to them!), more than it affects the children.
What I have found key is to make sure that when I am working, I am working, and when I am with the kids, I am with the kids. This is relevant whether you work full-time or part-time. Again, it’s about clear boundaries. It’s easy for the children to learn (even if they don’t want to!) that when mummy is working, you don’t disturb her. However, asking them to be quiet for 10 minutes while mummy quickly finishes an email or a phone call is a lot more difficult. If I try and squeeze in a bit of work when it’s my days with the kids, the result is usually that I don’t do the jobs as well as I could and everyone is frustrated. Of course, having full days to yourself may not be a financial option for you, and in that case, you’ll become a master of grabbing the minutes when they are distracted or asleep, but it’s tricky to feel truly fulfilled when that’s all the time you can muster.
If you can, try asking for help, so that you get the time you need. If you start to feel suffocated by the lack of ‘you’ time, do something about it before it really starts to have a negative impact on you. See my previous blog, STEP SEVEN in Mentally Preparing to Have your First Baby: Prepare yourself to be able to ask for help & to take time for yourself. You’ll be surprised how many people want to help you out if you ask them. Keep a note of anyone who offers to babysit, so you and your partner can go to the movies one night, or anyone who is around in the day and can give you a couple of hours. If I don’t make a note, I can never think of who to ask when I really need someone!
You are about to HAVE A BABY! The joy you will bring each other, the laughter, the cuddles… There are too many wonderful moments to even start. They can bring you contentment and fulfilment in one. They can make you have real perspective and look at life in a totally different way – if you let them. Like with everything in life: the more you put in, the more you will get out.
For some people, a life full of children keeps them busier and happier than any full-time job. Others find being at home does not suit them, or their financial situation makes their decision for them, and they go back to full-time work. As I always say: you must do what works for you, be happy with your decisions and make the most of every day, no matter where you are or who you are with.