Someone I know is returning to work today after being on maternity leave for 9 months. It is her first child and what a beautiful child she is. The funny thing is when I read her post about returning to work, my tummy lurched and my heart went out to her. The first 9 months, spent intensely with your baby, knowing its every move, its every need and its every likes and dislikes. Even before that, the initial 9 months carrying the child, the bond you have and the protection you feel for it is intense.
My tummy lurched because it brought back memories of the first day I had to return to work after I had my first child. In those days we had 4 months maternity leave. I remember the days leading up to having to ‘leave her’. Finding a suitable minder. Meeting the minder and checking out everything I could about her and the service she provided. I kept looking at my baby, the child I knew everything about, and I couldn’t help but think, that when the day finally came, she would hate me for leaving her. This made me feel sick, it made me feel sad, it made me feel guilty, it made me hate myself, just a little bit too.
I remember trying to be extra cheerful that morning after very little sleep, as per usual, because she was not a good sleeper anyway, and of course the level of trepidation I was feeling prevented a peaceful slumber!
She loved being in the car, and all the way to the childminders I felt like I was leading her into a false sense of security. A car ride usually meant shopping or visiting friends and family. This car ride was leading her into the hands of a perfect stranger (even though I did introduce them prior to this dreaded day). Not only was I driving her there, I was going to be leaving her there, until her daddy collected her, when he finished work.
I suppose we were lucky in one sense in that I was returning to work on a part time basis in the afternoons. He on the other hand was working the early shift 6.00 a.m. until 2.00 p.m. This meant my child would have a total of 2 hours per day with the minder. That, for me was 2 hours of torture!
Next to tears, before we arrived, I kept thinking about when she was born and for her daddy, life continued as normal, in that, he still had to go to work, to ‘provide’. However, he had the luxury of knowing she was a home with me, being well cared for and looked after. He was used to this ‘going to work’ scenario. This was a whole new ball game for me. This new Relay shun ship was filled with all sorts of emotions…. none of it was good! Yes I could impart all the relevant information to the child minder, her likes, dislikes, nap time, colic, screaming fits, due to colic, tiny naps, due to colic, infacol in the bag, due to colic. I could not, however, shun my increasing feelings of anxiety and guilt, the nearer I got to her house. Knowing I had to actually, really leave her there.
Walking up the path, I could barely speak, looking down at my precious bundle in the car seat, and her smiling up at me, not realising she was being tricked and what a bad mummy I was for tricking her! It was not nanny’s house, or our friends house, this was the ‘Torture House’. I was startled out of my guilty trance, at the door opening and the woman greeting us with a very warm welcome, assuring me that everything was going to be just fine. She could obviously sense my dread. Again I reiterated all the instructions on how to care for a child. How to care for my child! She is different to all the others, she has colic you see! Do you know how to deal with colic?
Oh my God how am I going to leave and get back in the car and then go to work. Not the job I had left to go on maternity leave. Oh no, that had gone into receivership whilst I was on said leave. This was a new job. Brand spanking new. I was the new receptionist. The FIRST person to greet the clients. The person to answer the phone. No pressure!
I squeezed her tightly in my arms. Kissed her a million times, and like any good villan, handed over the precious goods. I could hear the screams as I was walking down the path, then realised, that was in fact me screaming. My baby was cooing and blowing raspberries, whilst the childminder, sweetly smiling and reassuring me ‘Everything will be just fine. Please don’t worry’. Easy for her to say!
By the time I arrived at my job, not a trace of make up was left on my face from all the crying and wiping away the tears. Double checking in the mirror to make sure I didn’t have any sign of panda eyes, I proceeded to enter the building, trying to pull myself together, but looked anything BUT professional, with a big red blotchy face!
I was greeted by another girl on reception (older than me, married with children). She gave me a knowing look of ‘been there, it, done it, got the T shirt! She took me under her wing and, in between my sobbing, showed me how to use the switchboard. Luckily for me (and the company) she was to be with me all day and for the first week, to train me in. It was the worst I had EVER felt in my life, that first day. I felt like I had just shipped and dumped the most precious thing in the world, for what, the route of all evil – money!
I hated the fact that we needed for me to work too, but the reality is we did need the money to pay the bills. The other reality is, I actually would NOT have been satisfied to be ‘a full time stay at home mother’. In that moment, that is all I wanted, but the more she went to the childminder, happy to go and and happy to ‘play’ and interact with the other babies and toddlers, the happier I settled into work. We both achieved a good work/life balance.
So to all you young mothers, out there, at whatever stage of maternity leave you are on, feeling the trepidation, the guilt and all the other associated feelings, you are not alone, but trust me, and trust yourself in your selection of childcare, all will be fine. They will be fine. YOU will be fine!