a woman in relation to a child or children to whom she has given birth returning to the place of work.
“Mumback” - this is what Lily Allen dubbed her return to the stage after 4 years off to have children. So what is it really like coming back to work after time off to have kids?
I was asked to write a short piece on coming back to work after having had two children. Well my start point is this…I am no guru and most of the time I feel far from perfect. You see, if I am being a teeny bit honest, I would say that work is my refuge. It’s the familiar territory for me. In the main, projects, clients and work colleagues follow some kind of pattern, despite the usual up and downs. But motherhood (and motherhood at 39) - now that’s a different ball game entirely.
Before it started I’d read all the books, done my research. Hey - I was a seasoned aunty to several nieces and nephews. I must have some idea of how to do it. But no amount of preparation really got me ready for having our first baby. Just the labour alone was pretty mind blowing. Yet this is something we don’t tend to talk about. Goodness knows why because it’s pretty bloody amazing, pretty bloody brutal and just plain bloody. But it’s like a rite of passage and once you’ve been through it, you join a sort of knowing sisterhood (and all this is before you even get home from hospital).
Fast forward to 9 months in, when wounds are [somewhat] healed and there’s some level of adjustment to the new reality. You wake up one morning (if you’re lucky, because this means you’ve been asleep) and discover that you’re expected to put on some clean clothes, reinsert your brain and go add value at work. Yikes. That’s a bit scary. How on earth is this going to pan out?
So what’s it like? Here are a few experiences I can share.
- Empty brain syndrome. You’re poised, ready to speak, you go looking for a word and…NOTHING. Baby brain is real, people.
- Wearing clean clothes is a virtue. I have a fleece uniform at home. It’s the domestic PPE kit. It is always covered in fallout from baby warfare.
- Client offices are rarely set up for people breast-feeding. If you don’t know - when you’re at work you have to express milk otherwise your boobs become enormous. The ladies toilets are the only place for this. There are no plugs. My breast pump sounds like a vibrator and the ten-minute coffee break makes it more like the 100m sprint.
- Sometimes I find stickers on my laptop.
- I’m way more efficient with my time. I sometimes shamefully judge my childless colleagues both with frustration and envy. Just make a bloody decision.
- Being assertive is so much easier now (see above).
- Being a parent gives me superpowers I never knew I had. And sometimes I do wear my pants on the outside of my trousers, mostly by accident.
- Being a parent means I’m just ever so slightly exhausted. All of the time.
But what about other parents? I’m never quite sure what my mum-friends are really thinking when I tell them I’ve been overseas working (aside from not actually thinking at all - we’re still in our slippers). But for those lucky enough to have grabbed more than 3 hours sleep, perhaps their internal reaction is something linked to the imagined joy of being able to leave the country unimpeded, lightweight and so entirely free. For others, the reaction may be a little different…how can I bear to leave my 9 month old at home and go jetting off for 3 days? What happens to breast-feeding? Who does the nights? Do you worry about missing the key milestones? How can you possibly go? Most likely the reality of returning to work is an entirely unique experience, but, like MBTI preference, perhaps it differs in similar ways?
I’m no expert in the area of juggling work and family life, but lowering my expectations seems to have helped me enormously. And in terms of whether we can expect ‘to have it all’, I wonder what that really means? I do have some incredible double life and somehow, just somehow, it seems to work. Having both a family and a career is a deeply enriching experience. And it’s also extremely messy.
Lucy Bound is an Associate at Impact UK.