How #MummaMakesItWork

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I was adamant throughout my pregnancy that I would continue to live as close to my ‘normal’, ‘pre-pregnancy’ life as possible once the baby arrived. That I would not get ‘lost’ in Motherhood and become detached from the traits of my personality and the characteristics of my lifestyle that made me ‘me’. I called for meetings with my boss to discuss my return to work (though unsure on the actual timings of when this would be) and wanted to make it absolutely clear that I wanted to retain my position. I told anyone who would listen that I would continue to do things for myself and show my daughter from the very beginning that both Mummies and Daddies work.

No one was more shocked than I was when I made the decision to ‘give up’ my job after 8 years in the workplace. Whether we think we are prepared for it or not, having a baby has a massive impact on our lives in so many varying ways. My reasons for not returning stemmed from multiple factors, and whilst it was not an ‘easy’ decision to make, my gut had made my mind up for me before I could process my thoughts fully. I didn’t feel I could leave Thea, even if our situation had more so easily allowed.

For a while I have wanted to create a post on returning to work after maternity leave, or in my case, not returning. I started to write, and I somehow felt that I wasn’t going to be able to effectively get the message that I wanted to across. I didn’t want to simply describe my own situation and how I felt personally, without being able to offer another perspective, or convey that I wholeheartedly respect and understand the many reasons that other Mums may be doing things differently. There is no one ‘right’ way, and the last thing I wanted to do was give the impression that I thought mine was, without giving a nod to fellow Mamas.

I decided the post should be a collab, and reached out to other blogging Mums with children of a similar age, each with individual circumstances with regards to their return to work. We put together a simple Q&A to discuss our thoughts, reasons and doubts over our situations. You can link to read their answers at the end of this post!

Here are mine…

  1. How soon after having your baby (or finding out you were pregnant!) did you decide how you would continue after maternity leave?

Before going on maternity leave and all through my pregnancy I was absolutely adamant that I would be returning to work. Firstly because of our financial situation, and secondly because I was oh-so-certain that the baby would work around me, slot into my life and I would be able to continue on as normal. PAHAHAHAHA. HA. Not so!

My decision to not return was a gradual one, made based on numerous factors following my daughter’s birth.

  1. Who else had influence over your decision?

My partner, because he said he would support whatever I decided, but also during my maternity leave, he had one of those ‘it’s now or never’ moments, and made a big decision to leave his job as a graphics installation manager and start up his own installation company. Since he’s still starting up and establishing a client base, it’s too soon to turn down work. His hours are long and completely random (sometimes I won’t see him for several days at a time while he works day and night, and I won’t know that is going to happen until a day or two before). The long and short of this is that I am pretty much the only ‘constant’ in Thea’s life, and the onus is on me for everything she does, wants, needs etc., so I want to be around to make sure she has some security in her life. Also, when my husband does get to have the odd day off, if I were due to be at work, this would then mean we’d not have the chance to be together as a family (he works a lot of weekends too), and that prospect just didn’t sit right with either of us.

My Mum, because when we were small she put her career on hold to be with us. She enjoyed it thoroughly, and doesn’t regret it one bit. All our memories of this time are deeply treasured and so happy. She went on to still have a brilliant career(s) and excel in many areas…so although becoming a stay at home Mum was never what I envisaged for myself or something I had ever even considered, my Mother’s recount of her choices and experience gave me the confidence to make the decision for myself, and my family.

  1. To what extent did finance have an impact on your choice?

I worked it out and after putting Thea into childcare, paying the train fare to the office & working reduced hours (I had a rough plan to work 6 hours, 4 days a week down from 8, 5 days a week), I would have only been a couple of hundred pounds a month better off (that’s not disposable income, that’s to contribute towards living costs etc.) and since my husband had now worked to get us in a position that allowed me the choice (which I am incredibly grateful for) I chose time with my daughter over that couple of hundred pounds.

  1. Do logistics/travel play a role in your decision?

We moved further away from my place of work to buy a house while I was pregnant…we got the keys after I had already begun my maternity leave. My train journey would have increased by about 15 minutes had I not got a baby to factor in. That doesn’t sound like much, but on top of this, I would have also had to somehow get Thea to and from nursery on foot (there are no nurseries near our home or nearby to any train stops on the way to the office) and get to work on time for a reasonable number of hours that would have made the faff worthwhile.

The move had a huge impact on my decision, but to re-locate to this new area was the only way we could afford to buy a house, and we wanted to be able to have the baby in our own home, given the choice.

  1. What kind of judgement from others have you feared or experienced?

This one is difficult, since I am embarrassed to say I didn’t have the highest opinion of stay at home parents before I had Thea and became one myself. Not that I thought they were in any way ‘less than’, but because I couldn’t understand how someone could choose to ‘not work’. What an absolute fool I was. Being a stay at home parent is the hardest effing job I have ever had, and there’s absolutely no monetary reimbursement involved! If I was paying someone else to look after my child, that would be considered a ‘proper’ job, whereas mine as her Mum is mostly not.

I have always been the kind of person who thrives in the workplace, so being a stay at home Mum is completely unchartered territory. If I had to summarise, I would say that my fears are that people would assume because of my situation that I am not clever, not driven, not capable, not a role model and not a feminist.

Even some of my oldest friends have looked at me with a mixture of confusion, sympathy and disapproval when I have explained my decision to not return to work, which I have very much struggled to come to terms with. At times have felt as though I no longer have anything to offer, or am no longer worthy of the same respect as when I was getting paid to work.

  1. How has your sense of identity/independence/confidence been affected?

Specific to not returning to my job, not having my own wage has been a difficult one to adjust to. I have always been in paid employment ever since I was 14 years old (that’s 17 years, folks) be it part-time while I studied, or full-time since finishing university. However, in our family it is me who handles all of our finances, so I do still feel involved and play an integral role. I am no longer employed in the traditional sense, but I am responsible for handling all of my husband’s business accounts and admin, as well as occasional freelance work for his clients, so that definitely gives me another focus and sense of value, and we work together towards the same goal of providing for our family. However, as far as anyone else is concerned, because I don’t take a wage or run my own business, I am probably ‘just’ a stay at home Mum, which I would be lying about if I said it doesn’t sting.

In some ways, I am far more confident than before I had Thea. I like myself better as a person. I look back on how my personality was affected by my job, and I don’t like a lot of things about that person. I could be stressy, impatient, often rude, judgemental & snotty. I don’t think that’s due to me working full stop, nor my former workplace. More so, an unfortunate bi-product of an underlying dissatisfaction with my situation at the time.

  1. Did you have career goals prior to pregnancy? How do you feel about them now?

I’ve never had my heart set on one particular job. I studied English Language & Linguistics at Uni, which is more of a core subject rather than specialist, so I’d hoped by ‘playing it safe’ it would leave me open to approach a range of roles/industries. I’ve held two full time jobs since I graduated, both office-based. I would have liked to have been challenged more than I was. The main challenges for me ended up being the workload, and dealing with stressful deadlines/confrontations. I didn’t feel as though I was doing any ‘good’ or had anything to show for my commitment or how stressed I had become, which muted my inspiration and enthusiasm in the end. I do slightly regret allowing a lot of my career so far to be made up of ‘firefighting’ and not reaching my potential…but equally, I am confident that once Thea is a bit older, that I am bright, flexible and hardworking enough to re-establish my career and that I will know my own mind better to follow what it is I feel passionately about.

  1. In what form does your ‘Mum Guilt’ kick in?

I think people assume that only ‘working’ Mums feel guilty. This is definitely not the case! Often if we haven’t made it out to a class/playgroup/activity any given day, I worry that Thea might be bored, or that she would rather be with some friends than at home with me while I do work or try (largely unsuccessfully!) to keep up with running the house.

I also feel guilty because I know there might be other Mums and Dads out there who wish they could stay at home too, and if I complain about my bum not touching a seat ‘til gone 8pm (because looking after a toddler all day whilst juggling everything else is HARD!) I may appear to be coming off as ungrateful or resentful, which I can assure you is definitely not the case. I always try and make the most of every day I have with Thea, whether that’s taking her out, playing at home or just singing songs and reading the same book a million times over with her sat on my lap instead of getting on with what I ‘should’ be.

  1. Name your biggest doubt/insecurity over your situation.

When I see or hear the term ‘role model’ used for being a working Mum, I get a pang in my gut…am I not setting a good example by raising my daughter full time instead of going out to work? Am I an inferior role model by taking another route instead? I have the utmost respect for Mums who go to work, I’d go as far to say admiration. I agree that it’s a fantastic example to set your children by showing them how to hold down a career and create your own independence. So when I see rants on social media or experience judgement about being a stay at home Mum, I do feel a bit upset that the support isn’t always reciprocated. I am cautious about being too open about the reasons why I am ok with putting my career on hold for a few years, because I don’t want to cause any offence or come off as though I don’t understand or respect why other Mums choose (or have to) do things differently.

Another concern is that I worked really hard and invested a lot of money into going to university and working my arse off for years, and whilst I’m not in paid employment, it’s difficult to not worry on some level that it was all for nothing. I do know really that it wasn’t, but it’s something that crosses my mind from time to time.

  1. Finish this sentence ‘I am happy with my decision because….’

…at the end of every day, I feel good about being with Thea. I genuinely don’t get bored with hanging out with her. I feel like I’m fulfilling a role I didn’t know I was made for, and I know I’m doing my best. I know I will 100% return to my career when the time is right. But for now, for my own little family and our situation at this moment in time, I am right where I need to be.

Jo X

See answers from:

Skorchcake

Mums Revolution

The Mummy Saving Expert

Adventures of Lyncoln and Sophia

Thrifty Mumma Thrifty Bubba

Georgie Plus Three

 

 

“Nothing Changes, if Nothing Changes”

Normally my Saturday evenings are spent at home, in my jammies, usually horizontal, chilling with my husband and largely ignoring one another as we lay side by side, scrolling on our respective phones. Last Saturday was different. I was lucky enough to be invited along to an event at Brighton hidden gem Powder Beauty Boutique in the South Lanes in honour of International Women’s Day, along with my one of my besties, interiors blogger Jasmin aka @brickdustbaby. I washed my hair, wore ACTUAL make up, and left my baby in the capable hands of my husband.

Powder itself was beaut; totally glam, retro and buzzing with energy as lots of lovely ladies and bloggers enjoyed their treatments and some well-earned pampering. We sipped on the most delightful gin cocktails and snacked on some ‘super-healthy-so-tasty-surely-they-can’t-be-healthy?!’  nibbles from Gem’s Wholesome Kitchen.

The night was hosted by the incredible Life Coach Mary ‘Badass’ Meadows and ‘Mental Mutha’ Blogger Natasha Bailie, who I had the pleasure of meeting for the very first time. I have to admit that on sitting down for their talk with a room full of other women, I was taken by surprise when they introduced themselves by unreservedly addressing and owning their battles with mental health, and Natasha looked me right in the eye and said “U OK, Hun?”.

I felt a bubbling anxiety rise up through my body, prickling my neck and cheeks, my heart pumping loudly in my ears. Never before had I been in a scenario where a perfect stranger had been so open and talked so candidly about what is (wrongly) considered a taboo subject. I was unsettled by the idea that the talk may result in an ‘icky’ confrontation with my own mental health.

I needn’t have been so fearful. It wasn’t so much a ‘talk’ as it was a refreshingly upfront and involved conversation about the prevalence of mental health struggles in everyday society, coping mechanisms/techniques, and learning to not be ashamed or suffer needlessly. Lots of incredibly brave women found the strength to share their stories and discuss their innermost thoughts and feelings with the room. I listened on with admiration as one by one, they became empowered to openly confront their own experiences with mental health.

Unfortunately, I didn’t feel prepared or brave enough to speak out about my own experiences on the night. I am not ready to do anything more than scratch the surface of my long-term battle with EDNOS and Anorexia. Close friends, family, professionals who have treated me, and anyone who may have deduced from my appearance during my darker moments will be aware of my struggle to some extent, but this post will be the first time I’ve addressed it in a public forum, and I’m not going to lie; it racks me with fear, guilt and shame.

An uncomfortable cocktail of fear that I’ll be judged for being mental, weak or neurotic. Guilt for ‘indulging’ in what is widely considered to be a middle-class, ‘first world’ problem. Shame for not appearing to have been mental or skinny ‘enough’ by whatever standards or criteria Joe Public has set for what an eating disorder should look like from the outside.

I know somewhere within that I have nothing to be ashamed of. I wouldn’t be ashamed to say if I had a headache and needed to take a paracetamol. I wouldn’t be ashamed to say if I had a chronic bout of cystitis, crying out for antibiotics because I was peeing out razor blades. I wouldn’t even be ashamed to say if I had a serious case of food poisoning and was sh*tting every 10 minutes through the eye of a needle. What’s the difference?

The difference lies in what society has told us up until now what is and what isn’t ok to talk about, and false ideas about what is and what isn’t a ‘real’ health issue. If we were suffering from a physical or visible health problem, we wouldn’t be so quick to stuff it away like a dirty secret, or treat it as merely an afterthought.

Conversations like we had with Mary and Natasha are crucial, because only by talking about our mental health, can we begin to break down the stigma that tells us that we shouldn’t; the cause of far too many suffering alone and in silence, believing that we’re crazy, or that no one could possibly understand or be able to help us.

The ladies told us that they’ve “never known anyone to regret asking for help”, which I can wholeheartedly believe. Granting release to our worries and difficulties is the only thing that ceases them from endlessly circling and intoxicating our minds, tormenting us from the inside.

Asking for help is a choice that we make. A choice in which frees us to discover that we aren’t alone after all; we’re all as mental as each other! Just like we all catch colds or get the sh*ts from time to time. Help is out there…often in places and in formats we didn’t even know were at our disposal.

As the ladies quite rightly declared, “Nothing changes if nothing changes, Babes”

Jo X

Chronicles of the After-Birth #2 – ‘A Bolt from the Blues’

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I wouldn’t class myself as a particularly, overtly ’emotional’ person. That’s not to say I’m swingin’ down the street fancy-free like Georgie girl. Oh no no. I have a tendency to obsess over things…often completely ridiculous things. Maybe I’ll keep replaying and dissecting something stupid I might have once said four years ago to someone I barely knew at a party or at work, and will probably never speak to again in my life. I also get frustrated and impatient when things aren’t done yesterday, and done my very own personalised version of ‘right’. But in recent years, I am not much of a crier…so I thought.

Approximately 4 days after my daughter arrived into this world, it hit me. A tidal wave of salty tears. In an instant, I waved goodbye to a well-rehearsed stoic exterior, and crumpled into a whimpering, wet-faced, ugly-cry mess. I am struggling to think of an example of something hilariously pitiful that I cried about to tell you, because the truth is, I cried over EVERYTHING. E-VER-Y-THING.

A couple of moments I recall include angrily raking through bin-bags of clothes, tossing my favourite crop tops and skinny jeans to the ‘throw away’ pile, resigning to my new, muted, conservative ‘Mum’ self, who would never look or feel great ever again. I also remember sobbing to my husband, because we couldn’t even take a moment to relax, cuddle and watch TV together like we used to. Everything around us looked the same, but it wasn’t. I was just a nappy-changing milk machine now, and it was never going to get easier.

I had heard the expression ‘baby blues’ before, and without much thought, I had assumed this was another term for Post Natal or Post Partum Depression (PND/PPD). Or maybe even similar to post-wedding blues, in that it’s a lengthy anticipation up to a huge event/climax, and then suddenly it’s over. Done. Of course, I know that’s not quite how it works with babies (you’ll never, EVER be done!).

It’s really hard not to feel guilty for feeling so down, especially when you are acutely aware of the pain and longing of those who haven’t got their baby…and what you know you should be doing is beaming proudly and cooing over your new little addition, thanking your lucky stars for such a blessing and absorbing every last blissful drop of family life. Unfortunately, there are some things, try as we might, that we just cannot control.

What I didn’t account for, was that it’s a physical reaction. A reaction consisting of a colossal comedown of post-birth hormones and drugs, trying to file away and come to terms with the trauma of childbirth, all whilst caring for a new tiny person in an upside-down world, suffering from sleep deprivation and recovering from major surgery, all at once. In my case, I just could not contain it. Why was I crying?! I had the most beautiful baby girl who was healthy, who I was bonding with well, lots of our family and friends showed their support and came to see us…I was lucky enough even to have my Mum come and stay and help out for several days in the first weeks (my husband couldn’t be around much because we had just got the keys to our new house, but that’s another story!). And yet I boo-ed, boo-ed and boo-ed some more. My husband didn’t recognise me, let alone know what to do or say to me.

This lasted maybe 3 weeks, peaking around 1 week and tapering off slowly until it was maybe only once or twice a day that I was reduced to a blubbering mess. Transitioning over time from borderline completely irrational, to genuine frustration and exhaustion. Even now, almost 11 months later, I still find it more difficult than ever to control my emotions, though not to the same degree as immediately post-birth!

How to overcome this? Well…firstly, it takes time. If you get through this phase completely unscathed without shedding even a single, silent Hollywood tear; you are an absolute machine of a woman, and I applaud you. For the rest of us mere mortals, the best thing I found you can do to get through this stage is to do something for yourself. Really make it a priority.

If you’re up to it, take a walk…on your own. Ask your partner, your Mum, or a friend to watch the baby. It doesn’t have to be for long. Even 10-15 minutes to get a pint of milk from the shop works! If you like music, stick your headphones in while you walk and listen to your favourite tunes. Or if you want to stay home, ask someone to take the baby for a walk, or a drive. Take a bath or shower, watch an episode of your favourite series, read a book, paint your nails, do a face mask…whatever it is that is a little ‘me’ ritual that you enjoyed pre-baby, or would make you feel a little more human.

Removing yourself from the screaming, crying baby and stressed out husband situation and giving yourself a little reminder that you’re still ‘you’ and ‘you’ still matter, and doing this as regularly as possible (I realise this might not be as regular as we’d like 😉 ), is a way to ease the pressure on yourself, at arguably the most challenging time of your entire life. Make sure you tell someone close how you’re feeling, and that you could use their support to reclaim a moment that’s yours, so you can be ready again to dust yourself off and carry on.

When you can do this, you give yourself enough space to stand back and re-appreciate the most beautiful and precious gift that you have, and that everything new and difficult that is going on is all a phase, and it really will all be ok.

How long did your ‘baby blues’ last? What did you do to overcome those feelings? I’d love to hear your comments and stories!

Jo X