Going back to work after maternity leave & how to cope…

I am a planner. I need a plan for everything. When I fell pregnant, one of the first things I did was set up excel spreadsheets…I know, not everyone’s first go to once they see that little blue line. There was spreadsheets for finances, and an almighty spreadsheet detailing the planned schedule for the next year. How long could we afford for me to be off work? At the time, my employer only provided full pay for 6 weeks, then we would be down to statutory pay…around £600 per month.

So, with this in mind, I planned to survive on statutory pay for a few months, tag on some annual leave, and I’d be going back to work after maternity leave, when T was around 9 months old. Pre-baby me thought that this was totally reasonable. Post-baby me realised that this was going to be near impossible.

Making the decision to switch careers

He was still breastfeeding, refusing bottles, and eating hardly any solids. Not only that, but I wasn’t ready. I didn’t think I would ever feel ready to leave my baby, but I definitely knew that I was absolutely not ready at that point.

So, we extended my maternity leave up to a full year. Yes, we were surviving on statutory pay, but actually, we were fine. The mortgage was being paid, the bills were all ticked off, and we were still managing to find funds for fun.

But the idea of work still loomed over me. I was sad at losing the life I had build with T since he was born. Don’t get me wrong, it was bloody difficult at times, but it was all he knew, and I loved being there for him. I realised that, to feel ready to go back to work, I may have to re-think what work really was for me. Was I honestly happy where I was?

I loved working within a global cosmetics brand, in a Personal Assistant role that really suited me. It had been my perfect job for such a long time, but a few management changes had snatched away the joy and, coupled with a 1.5 hour round trip commute (minimum!), the prospect of returning filled me with dread. Once you become a parent, you realise more than ever, that to be away from your baby for so much time, it has to be for something that fulfils you, in a place where you feel happy. And so, the job hunt began.

Finding my “dream” job

I was fixed on the idea of finding a role where I could work from home, and I was surprised at how many openings came up when you simply search for “Remote” on Indeed. I have no problem with personal motivation and discipline to work from home, and I love getting on with my job with no distractions, so I knew that working from home would suit me. That, plus the benefit of being able to stick on a load of washing, or prepare dinner during my lunch hour!

Enter my dream role, in a PR & Marketing role within a skincare distribution company. Or, so I thought. I was wowed by job interviews in beautiful hotels and, when I succeeded in securing the role, whisked off for a few nights in the most beautiful house whilst I learnt all about the company alongside several other new starters. This is what it’s all about, I thought.

A role that I could really take ownership of. The flexibility to work to my own schedule from the comfort of my own home. Or, as it turned out, a foray into a culture of overwork, the feeling that I shouldn’t leave my desk for a second, and badly handled feedback delivery. My self esteem took a battering to say the least, and I was caught up in this whirlwind of craziness…the most hectic working environment that I have ever experienced. I barely even noticed how much it was wearing me down, taking away from the person that I wanted to be for my family and my friends. Until, I was given a lifeline.

The job that made going back to work after maternity leave simple…

Late one Friday evening, just 5 months into my so-called “dream job”, I spotted a message in my LinkedIn inbox. I had been approached by a global food brand, based just around the corner from my house, asking me to join the company as Executive Assistant to one of the Directors. I could work from home as standard, and would have access to some of the most generous perks and benefits I had ever seen in a workplace before. Their focus on the wellbeing of their employees drew me in, and after a few conversations with HR and my soon to be colleagues and manager, I knew that this was where I was destined to be.

Starting this job felt like a weight, that I didn’t even know was there, had been lifted. I will always tell you that to do this particular role, the most important thing is that you have a good relationship with the person you are working alongside. If you don’t have that, it all falls apart. So that was a huge part of my decision to make the move. I was continually weighing up whether this was right for me…I was interviewing them as much as they were interviewing me.

I had realised everything that I didn’t want as a working mama, and I knew exactly what I needed. In the last 10-12 months, I’ve gone from dreading the idea of being away from my baby, to experiencing the worst way to work alongside motherhood, to feeling totally fulfilled and happy in my work and how I combine it with motherhood.

So, what can I tell you?

I wrote this post because I have been asked to share my story by so many of those I chat to through Instagram. So many parents feeling the almighty panic that I once did, looking for answers in how they will cope with going back to work after maternity leave. And you will, you just will cope. In fact, once you’ve got into the swing of things, I promise that you will do more than just cope, you will absolutely smash working mama life. Here’s a few things I wish I knew a year ago…

  • Trust your gut. Looking back, I felt nervous moving into the new role I took when I was going back to work after maternity leave. I should have trusted those doubts! Going into the role I’m doing now felt instantly comfortable, and I knew I had made the right (albeit scary!) decision.
  • Make sure it is right. I cannot be apart from my baby to be in a situation where I don’t feel happy or fulfilled. It has to be the right job, or you will bring your negativity about work into family time too.
  • If you’re changing roles, look at the perks and benefits, they’re more important than ever now. Generous annual leave, family support, perks that benefit all of you, that is what is important now.
  • If you’re making finances work, take the time you need. I’m so glad that I took extended time with T, we were both ready when the time for change came.
  • It will take time. I would be very surprised if work feels instantly natural!
  • Give yourself a break. Particularly, if you are going back to work full time, fitting in caring for your baby, doing the housework, and catering for everyone is going to feel like the maddest juggle. You won’t achieve it all, but as long as everyone is clean and fed, you’ve smashed it. P.S. One of the best decisions I’ve made is to get a cleaner…at £24 every other week, she is worth her weight in gold to me.
  • Weekends will be precious. You will go from long stretched out days together to squeezing it all into a weekend, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Spending time apart for families is a good thing, we all need it, and it makes your time together even more special.

I’d love to hear more about your journeys and experiences with going back to work after maternity leave, and if you have any questions please just drop me a DM on Instagram.

Find out more about me here.