Last week I had two days off work with sickness, and for something I thought would be pretty straight forward and uncomplicated, it’s bought with it a range of unexpected emotion.
I saw a quote online the other day about a woman who as a child could never understand why her mum was never ill, and as she grew up and became a mother herself she realised that actually mums do get ill, they just have no choice but to carry on like they are perfectly well.
It’s so hard to stay upbeat, keep calm and stay smiling when all you want to do is curl up into the foetal position like the big baby you are and just sleep it off. You have to put a full shift in of mumming before you can even begin to think about yourself. But what took me back was the amount of guilt I was feeling…
Seeing Ted off to nursery with daddy, whilst I lay on the sofa snuggled up in the biggest, cosiest jumper I own and a blanket up to my chin made me feel terrible. I wanted to see Ted off at nursery and see his happy little face when picking him up. I wanted to walk him in and answer him every single time he points and says ‘what’s that?’ at every bird, dog and plane. Sitting at home without him was lonely and despite being ill, I felt bad that he was in the care of someone else when I was there. When Ted started nursery, one of the things we talked about was how when we were unwell we wouldn’t need to look after him and we would have time to properly recover. In reality, I missed him and wanted him there with me more than anything else.
I’ve always hated being off sick. To be honest, I’m the sort of person who would rather be in work and I don’t like sitting and doing nothing. Especially since Ted has been born, I’ve felt that every moment is so precious and shouldn’t be wasted and feeling ill always feels like a waste of time to me. I try and fill my time up as much as possible and that sometimes leaves me drained and exhausted. I’m determined to leave behind something to be proud of, so I work hard at work, I work hard at home and I put my absolute all into everything.
Actually, what I should be doing is making the most of those rare days I get to myself to relax and look after myself. I forget that for Ted to be okay, I have to be okay too.
I thought being a mum was hard work, but being a working mum is bloody hard work!
Let me explain my situation a bit, for those who don’t know me personally. I work in education in a teaching role and term time only, so I get all the holidays off. Ted attends nursery every weekday from 8-8:30 and finishes around 4:30-5:45 depending on when I finish. Daddy plays football on saturdays and that takes up most the day, so that’s mine and Ted’s day.
The word ‘isolation’ is often associated with being a mum- especially a mother on maternity leave. I did have times when I felt isolated when on mat leave, but I fixed that by doing small things, such as making sure I left the house, even if just for a walk, everyday. Finding a routine was my way around that. Isolation is expected when you are a new mum. You are learning to cope and deal with the new stresses that mum life can bring. You are on your own a lot of the time with a little human who can’t converse or entertain. It’s something everyone is told to prepare for by attending classes, meeting other mums and touring coffee shops.
However, I’ve never heard anyone talk about the sort of isolation I’ve felt over the last 6 weeks. I’ve not met one single person whose situation is even similar to mine, and as a mum that is hard and not something I’ve experienced yet. There’s always another mum somewhere who knows how you feel, but not for me this time. It’s almost unheard of for a mum of an under 1 year old to be at work full time with nursery childcare and non-flexible hours. I don’t think anyone really relates to it, even when they try. I know I’m flying solo on this type of working mum journey, and that’s proving to be difficult.
Seeing Ted after a working day is completely wonderful. He really enjoys nursery and his happiness at seeing us each evening is the warm, fuzzy, butterfly-feel you dream of, and I get to experience it every single work day. I don’t get to sit down when I get home. Luckily, Daddy makes dinner while me and Ted play, then we eat dinner and shortly afterwards Ted has a milk feed, bath and then it’s bedtime. As soon as he is dreaming away, I’m putting the washing on, tidying up, putting things away for at least another hour before I get to sit down again. As my working day ends, my mummy chores begin.
Fortunately, I do get the holidays off, and I’m really enjoying my summer with Ted and Rob, as he also works in education and gets time off too. It’s come with its difficulties however. The mums you are friends with have their own routines now to prevent their own new-mummy-isolation, meaning they see this person on this day, and have that class on that day, and they’ve filled up their busy schedules leaving you unintentionally left out when your chance does arise to catch up. They’ve got new friends and you aren’t always ‘needed’ anymore. You get so swamped in all the things you haven’t had time to do at the weekends of a working week that you realise your to-do list is longer than you care to share. You’d also be surprised at the assumption others have that you’ve now got buckets full of money, forgetting the pricey childcare bill you’ve still got to pay for next term.
Being a working mum does not make you any less of a mum. When I’m at work, I’m still a mum. My brain is always on Ted and my drive everyday is him. I still give him my time and attention. I think there’s this sort of assumption that when you’re a working mum you are escaping your child. I’m a working mum because I cannot bare the thought of not having a career. My life doesn’t revolve around my child, it is far greater than that, and something I’m very passionate about is not losing my identity and just being ‘Ted’s mum.’ My wages pay for childcare and then I have a little bit left over, and I’m constantly told that it isn’t worth it to do that, but it’s still more than I would have if I wasn’t at work. It hurts when other mums talk about how they couldn’t possibly leave their babies, because I am constantly full of self-doubt as to whether my decision is the right one. It makes me feel like I’m abandoning my son for my own selfish reasons and everyone else is doing right by spending everyday with their child.
But you know what? It really is the right decision for me. Instead, let’s celebrate that some of us have the choice. It’s been the best thing for my family of three. I’m happier, I’m focused, and although the isolation of being a working mum has hit hard, I amaze myself constantly at how brave I’m being. Gone are the days of playing it safe and staying in my comfort zone, and I’m quite proud of myself for doing this and taking what others see as a risk. Go me!
So the anxiety kicked in when it hit January 1st 2019. Not because I was going to work that month but because I knew that I was going to work ‘this year’ and that seemed too close for comfort. I had to book plenty of holidays as ‘milestones’ was whilst on maternity, to throw me off the thought of work. We booked a holiday to Lanzarote in February, trip to Windermere in March and then work in April followed by a trip to Newquay in May. Ever since January 2019, I had a go of the lottery almost every week as I had it in my head that I would win and not have to go back. It all seems a joke now, but literally, hand on my heart, I honestly, thought, I would have done so. I even had a go at a competition to ‘win a house’ (no lie). As you may have guessed, I didn’t win. I was enjoying maternity leave that much I was doing anything I could not to actually think about work. So, our holidays happened and it became closer and closer to ‘D Day’. In my friend group, I was the last mummy to go back to work, so I watched all my friends go back and gave them the advice I couldn’t take myself ‘it will all be fine’.
The night before ‘D Day’..
We had a terrible weekend as my daughter was poorly from her trial day at nursery. She seemed to have caught a bug which left us housebound for the whole weekend. I had lots of plans of making the weekend memorable but nothing comes between a poorly baba and cuddles. The night before ‘D Day’, it was touch and go as to whether my daughter was going to nursery, adding to my worries..
Wondering what will happen?
Who will look after her when I go to work?
Will they look after her the way I do?
What happens if she goes and is sick?
What happens if she goes to nursery and doesn’t drink milk?
What happens if they swap her milk accidentally to cows milk (she has a cows milk protein allergy)?
I prepped our bags reluctantly, made sure she had a change of clothes, plenty of milk, nappies, wipes etc. And crossed it all off my list.
I even had to get a new water bottle and mug for my own work to make me feel better about going.
Surprisingly, I slept quite well that night.
The day finally came, Tuesday 23rd May 2019. My first day of work. My daughter was still poorly so my husband decided to delay his work and take her to the doctors first thing. I think that made me feel better, knowing she would be looked after on my first day back. Knowing that I wouldn’t have to wave goodbye walking out of nursery for the first proper time. I think that was generally my biggest fear. I got to work, my colleagues had put up banners for me ‘welcoming me back’ and all my worries disappeared when I sat back on my old desk chair. Within minutes, it seemed like I never left and got back into the swing of things dealing with my 1600 emails in my inbox. Everyone asking questions about my daughter; how old she is, is she good, does she sleep etc.. made me think of her and eagerly awaiting home time to have lots of mummy snuggles.
Daddy took her to the doctors and they said her illness was practically due to teething. So, around 11.30am, we made a decision to let her go to Nursery for her first day. My husband took her to Nursery and made sure to write them a note explaining of her illness and lack of feeding. He said that was really hard and had to hold back the tears as he walked away. Anyway, our Nursery was amazing and they have an app that updates us after nappy changes, feeds and sends us little pictures throughout the day. I think I spent my whole first day at work checking the app for updates. I was so excited to finish work to pick her up. I raced to the Nursery to find out that she had a great day and settled in really well, despite being unwell. That was the most memorable part of my day and we had lots of snuggles when we got home.
If I could go back and tell myself a few things about my first day at work, I would tell myself this.
It’s all going to be absolutely fine. Work is great when you get there, it’s good to have adult conversations and there is no better feeling in the world than picking your daughter up from nursery. Also, work is the only time you get a hot cup of tea!!!!!!!!!!!!! I would tell myself that Nursery is going to be amazing; seeing all the different types of food she’s ate, developing her tastebuds, letting her play with other children and different toys. Yes, she is going to catch bugs but that is just human nature. It is developing her immune system. I am sure that lots of people have told me all of this before, but I realised that you don’t take it on board until the time actually comes. I am now so excited to see her grow and develop at nursery and looking forward to getting back into a new routine. I can now officially say, I am a working mum. And I love my weekends even more.
I’m about a month away before I have to go back to work. The closer it gets, the more nervous I am. I have always worked since I was 17. I’ve been away from it for 10 months. Things have carried on without me and people have left with new ones arriving in that time.
I worked at my current place for years before I went on maternity leave. I was familiar with everything and everyone. It could be worse and I could be going somewhere new. But it does feel like I’m starting over again, just I already know most of the people I’m working with.
I’ve gotten used to being at home with my daughter, going out with her, using time to meet up with people more often than I ever did when working full time, and adapting to parenthood.
Going back to work is going to change everything again for us. I was one of those people that struggled to get myself ready and out the house to be at work. Now I need to think of sorting an extra person too and the idea of that makes me anxious. I work a drive away where in peak traffic can take a long time. I’m thinking of how I’m going to juggle getting us both up, ready, out the door, drive to grandparents to drop off, tackle the school rush, find somewhere to parallel park in my bigger car (I struggled with my small 3 door), and get through the door ready to start work.
I’m thankful I do only have to go back part time so we still have the beginning of the week to do things together, as well as the weekend with Daddy too when he isn’t working. I’ve been given hours and days I wanted. I know not everyone is able to do that.
Going back to work is something I have to do. I’m glad I saved before I went on maternity because a new baby plus mortgage, bills, food and everyday life takes that pay away. With nothing coming in from my end we wouldn’t be able to do it.
My daughter is going to go to her grandparents while I’m at work. I’m lucky that both my mum and mother in law are around and willing to have her a day each as well as take it in turns for a half day. What would we do if we didn’t have them? I considered nursery but the fees for even a morning once a week add up, and when you take that off of your monthly income you aren’t left with much. I’m wondering how others can do it.
People ask me if I’m worried because I have to leave me daughter, but I respond saying I know she will be fine because she’s with people I trust. It will be good for her to have some time away doing other things. Of course I will want to check up on her during my breaks.
It’s going to feel strange at first. But like when a chapter ends and another one begins, you go with it. It’ll be getting those first few weeks out of the way and then it will probably feel like we never did anything different. Holidays will definitely be something to appreciate and look forward to.