21 January 2019

Milestones, balance and support

A milestone has been significantly, and quietly, passed: it is over 4 months since I came back to work off maternity leave. A milestone because this date means I've been back at work for over half of my baby daughter's short life already. And we have all survived.

I'm continually infuriated by the lack of inclusion of mothers who "go back early" from the maternity leave narrative, the lack of focus on the benefits of and barriers to parental leave, the difficulty in finding baby changing facilities in academic institutions and the fact that my daughter is being set up for a lifetime of disappointment once she realises that girls' and women's clothes don't all contain the multiple pockets she's become accustomed to in her baby wear.

But I'm also invigorated by how welcome my baby has been at work. We've joked about how she's clocked up more CPD hours than most in our profession since she arrived in June, but it's true. She's attended conferences, partnership meetings, seminars and at this stage, if you are one of our students, you're more likely to have met her than not met her. She's part of the team. And has having her around had any detrimental effect on the outcome of any of those meetings and events? No. Has it meant that I am happy in my work roles and in my home life? Yes. Has it been a juggle? Yes. Have there been unpredictable challenges? Yes. Has it been hard work? Yes, and, no.

I've been back at work now for longer than I was off on maternity leave, when the general perception is that all women are off for a year. They aren’t. But we "early" returners have all the same issues as those mums who do take a longer maternity leave. For me, the baby is 7 months old and still very much attached. She has never taken a bottle and isn't keen on being spoon-fed so after 6 weeks of offering purees we have given up and gone for complete baby-led weaning. She doesn't want to roll but loves sitting. She hates being on her tummy and her favourite place is being held by mummy or daddy. Basically, she's the entire opposite of her older brother. Which proves only one thing: all babies are different and you can't plan for all eventualities because nothing is predictable. Except perhaps that they will sleep eventually and that the absolute killer nappy will occur as soon as you've dressed them in a brand new outfit.

Not all babies are as content as she can be (my first was a lot harder work!) but if I've done nothing more than prove that it is possible to be a full time working woman and a good mother to a newborn / infant, and be the role model I wished I'd had in my own life, then the last few months have been worth it all round, not just for me.

But I had a tough December. My health nose-dived. I had throat issues, a couple of viral infections and lost a weekend (and the last of my pregnancy weight) to a vomiting bug. This all followed on from a short episode of poor mental health. I didn't want anyone to know, because I didn't want fingers of blame to be pointed. It's not because I went back to work “early” or work too much - I love my job, my work and even though I'm doing it at the pace of a snail, my PhD. I have a supportive partner and my children are doing OK (nits, colds, tonsillitis have all struck recently but they are just things that happen - the having of the kids far outweighs any stress they bring me). But life is overwhelming and after two very demanding work years it was more the realisation of how hard it's been that hit me as much as where we are now. I experienced unexpected anxiety and low mood and several of the other symptoms of PND which I didn't experience after my previous child's birth. But I can say once again that the NHS support I've had has been excellent and that if you find yourself in the same position, you must seek help and support sooner rather than later.

I'm doing a lot better now, taking more time out and switching off. I'm sporadically back running, albeit slowly for now, doing a couple of classes at the gym, and I'm working on getting regular massages to keep myself at my full height rather than potter about with hunched shoulders. A couple of commitments have had to fall by the wayside and I'm wary of taking on too much in the way of extra work projects.

So for 2019 it’s priorities only: health (for as much of it is within my control), balance and a refocusing on my PhD, on which further blog posts can be expected as I finally have a good clear stretch to concentrate on exactly what I need to get done over the next 2 years to get it finally finished! I can’t have two children in school and the damn thing still rumbling on…

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