I went back to work in May after 14 months off of work. I was lucky enough to have 12 months maternity leave, six weeks annual leave and then an overdue eight week sabbatical which I added on the end. A huge amount of time off.
Yet it wasn’t enough.
I have gone back to the same job I left. Working with most of the same people I worked with before. And I know what I am doing.
Yet it feels so different.
I knew it would be a massive change for our family. So why wasn’t I prepared.
I think the answer is that you don’t know what you don’t know and even though you can maybe envisage or consider how different your life will be with baby, you can never fully prepare yourself for the feelings that come flooding along with it.
I posted way back in February (I know, I know, it’s been too long) about O turning one and some of the worries I had about going back. At that point it was all about Ottilie. How she was going to settle in to nursery, and how she was going to cope not having my boobs on tap throughout the day. It turns out both of these things are fine. Ottilie still breastfeeds like a pro and she has settled in at nursery so well. In fact she has moved up to the second room already. So it seems the things that were actually going to weigh my mind down with worry when I went back to work, I hadn’t even considered back in February.
The real issue here, is and always was, that I would rather be at home with my babe than going to work and it is as simple as that. But I am not sure I am alone in feeling this way.
But let’s be realistic. I am definitely not the first and won’t be the last to go through this. And even though I did consider our work options here, we wouldn’t be able to experience what we want to in life – holidays, maybe another baby, moving house – had I not gone back to work. As much as I do want to spend all of my time with our tiny human, in order for us to go on all the adventures and make all of the memories, we need a good income, and I needed to submerge myself back into the working world again.
So once I had come to terms with that fact (or at least got closer to it – still not sure I’ve fully come to terms with it even now!) it’s the juggle that knocks you off of your feet on the daily.
I hear and see a lot about mum-guilt. And yes it’s there. I definitely feel it. But for me, I feel it more when I don’t feel in control of all of the aspects of my life, not just in relation to Ottilie and being a mum, but everything. If I feel like the house is a mess. I haven’t read enough books with O. And don’t feel like there is enough food in the house (even with a full freezer), to name but a few. I begin to feel out of control, anxious, emotional and sad about all situations. I am a sensitive soul and stuff bothers me, more than it should at times, but that’s just me.
But when I get five minutes and I sit with my rational brain, I also come to the conclusion that Ottilie is having a great time at nursery, playing with other kids and reading books on the days she’s there and I am at work. That we are lucky enough to have more than enough food in the house – it just might not be what I want to eat that day. And the mess, well I think once you have kids, it’s here to stay, it is just keeping it to a manageable level, tidying up once the babes are asleep, and then preparing yourself to do it all again tomorrow – right?
I have also realised that I have to allow myself to feel those things, to have a cry and to get a bit frustrated, even angry at times. I have to own those feelings and then move on. Alongside that, identifying what makes me feel more in control and managing that too. If I have clean cloth nappies that haven’t been put together, I can’t go to bed until they are done, I have to do them first. On nursery days I have to have Ottilie’s bag packed and her clothes, nappy and shoes all ready to go on the changing mat as well as my clothes at least planned before I go to bed. And I can’t really sit down at night and ‘relax’ until the kitchen is sorted. I know that some of those things may seem small and Zoe sometimes says, it’s fine I’ll do it in the morning or it can wait. But it is just how I balance my overactive mind to allow me to not tip the balance in the wrong direction.
Taking time to appreciate the little things in life like Ottilie learning something new, getting into a bed with fresh sheets or going to the cupboard and finding that chocolate brioche tear and share you’d forgotten about is there for the taking, can be the change you need that day to get you through. Having plans also makes me feel more at ease. Knowing we’ve synced our schedules, nursery days are confirmed and that we have days together. All of these things as well as making the most of our family time and planning what we are doing on our days off gives me something to look forward to. I can draw on this if I feel a bit low or when it feels like the balance is tipped a little too far towards ‘work’ in that elusive work/life balance we all aspire too.
I would like to be a cool, calm and collected individual, never flustered and never panicked. But it’s just not me, never has been and never will be. I have coping mechanisms and I have found talking helps, whether to have a whinge, ask for help or just to educate someone about how my brain works. Zoe will tell you I think out loud, and I do. I have to in order to deal with the day to day juggling of this thing they call parenthood. Anyone else relate?