I have been back at work now for almost three months, and life feels like it’s just starting to settle into a routine again. I was looking forward to returning to work and dreading it in almost equal measures. Not because I didn’t enjoy work, or because I hadn’t enjoyed being with Amelia, but simply because it was a change, and something I hadn’t experienced previously. I was going to be a working mum and be on duty both at work and home. When would I have those moments where I could come home from work and just lie on the sofa for hours without a care in the world? When would I have a day off that might involve a lie-in until lunchtime?
Prior to returning to work we were all set up with a plan of action. Amelia would be booked into nursery for three days per week, we would have Mondays and Thursdays off together to go to groups and have fun, Her grandparents would collect her on a Wednesday and bring her home ready for bed (as this would be my long day). It was perfectly fine initially – the routine seemed to work well, and Amelia was sleeping fairly well. Then we had some holiday and upon our return Amelia spent two weeks with a viral illness, and some more teething. During this time she would cry each time we dropped her at nursery, she would wake in the night for up to two hours a go, and then sleep in late so we had to wake her to get her ready in time. A couple of the days she was just too unwell to go to nursery (I felt I couldn’t really drop her off with a temperature of almost 39 degrees), and last minute care by Grandpa had to be organised. It was a really tough couple of weeks where exhaustion took over. As Amelia became well again some of the behaviours improved. However, she always seemed to know when it was Monday night and mummy had to go to work on Tuesday. She would have slept perfectly on Sunday night but come Monday night she would wake either in the middle of the night or at 5am. So the week always started with a sleep deficit. She continued to be clingy and cry when we would leave her at nursery. I think I spent quite a lot of the day on edge that nursery would call to tell me that I would have to come and collect her. They didn’t, and she was always fine by the time I collected her.
As time has passed she naps better at nursery, and she’s eating and drinking well both there and at home. He routine continues to evolve quickly, and I cannot predict how she will change from one week to the next. For instance, we have just finished a phase in which she was waking between 5-5.30 am every day and, as a result, being ready to nap just as its time to go to nursery. She’s a little better at entertaining herself in her cot for a while if she wakes early. I think she is also moving towards having a one nap per day routine.
As for me – the first two months of work were hard. I had to get back into a structured routine. I had been doing the odd half-day in the run up to starting back, and this had generally been fine. But working more, and not having as much time to switch off, and not sleeping as well were leaving me really tired. It impacted upon my decision-making, and thinking powers. Though I could still make appropriate decisions and provide what I think is good care it did sometimes take a bit more than the 10 minutes I have per patient. I found this quite tough to tolerate, having previously been very efficient and on top of things. I felt a bit like I was swimming in rough waters and the shore wasn’t getting any closer by the time I had finished each day. Now I feel like the waters are calmer and I manage to make it to shore pretty easily!
Where I do feel that progress is lacking is the days off. I find that they feel more like recovery days rather than days to fill with piles of activities. I feel guilt about this. Not least after her 1-year check when I was interrogated as to what baby groups we attend. It has been tough – the groups we had been going to and enjoying were on Wednesdays, and now I work all day Wednesday. There are alternative options for these classes but they’re a bit further from home, and at times where currently Amelia tends to nap. There doesn’t seem to be many other groups that run on our days off. It may just be excuses on my part, and I need to readjust my mind-set, or maybe it’s ok that we don’t go to specific groups on the days off. Is it ok to just spend time together – playing, seeing family and friends? Is it ok that I make sure she naps well on our days off so that she doesn’t have a bad nights sleep when I’m at work the next day? Am I being selfish or is this self-preservation? Or are they the same thing? I ask myself these questions a lot!
I think there also seems to be some stigma at times about putting your child into nursery. I certainly don’t get any negative reactions from friends and family. Everyone I know is in a similar position – they either have to work, or they just really want to work because they’ve developed a professional career that they’re not ready to give up. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this, just as much as there is nothing wrong with women who choose to stop working whilst they have young families. Everyone makes decisions appropriate to their individual circumstances. I’m fortunate enough that I probably could have stopped working for now, though it makes our lives a lot more comfortable with me working. I am also fortunate that I don’t need to work full-time, and my job enables me to undertake different types of activity to make my week varied. I also have a short commute, which makes it easier. So I am in awe of the women out there working full-time, having to undertake long commutes, and being a mummy!
I am sure that as time goes on, this balancing act of working and being a mummy will get easier. As Amelia gets older things will change again. There have certainly been benefits to being a mummy at work – I would say I am far better at managing my time, I am more pragmatic in my approach to working and on a clinical level I think I have better empathy, and can more understand the anxieties of parents, and those trying to juggle numerous aspects of life. It hasn’t suppressed my ambition to further my career, and I am always thinking about the future and how I might get there! Plus, having time off has given me a break from the pressures of working in the NHS, and the frustrations it sometimes brings. I have a renewed enthusiasm for work.
Has anyone else had a similar experience when returning to work after maternity leave? Or any tips for how I use my days off in a better way?