Finding our ‘normal’, settling into life after maternity leave

You’ve probably noticed, but I’ve had writers block. That, and settling into life has got in the way.

We’re now just one week from the end of January and I thought it was about time I shared an update for those of you who don’t follow along our daily ramblings on Instagram.

January marked my return to work and Clara’s three long days with her childminder.

If there’s one tip you take from me it’s meal plan. For you, and your baby, lunch and dinner. A week’s worth of planning in advance and the next 7 days will be a lot smoother to get through.

The night before our lives changed I had a mini panic. I text one of my best friends (as I always seem to do late at night with questions about life when like any normal person she’s in bed wanting to sleep). I thought I’d done this wrong. I should have arranged for Clara to trial a whole day and I stayed local, just in case. Perhaps I should consider annual leave. My new boss wasn’t due in until my second day back so I wasn’t missing anything critical. Instead, I listened to her advice, and as planned, started work the next morning. And it was absolutely fine.

One of the hardest things about planning a return to work after maternity leave for your first baby, and I imagine any baby, is knowing what to ask for and what to agree to.

How do you know just how many days you’ll go back? The classic part time of 3 days? 4 days seems quite a lot when it’s been a year since you last did even 1 full day. A normal five day working week? There’s no right or wrong answer, but there’s also no guide on how to choose.

And even when you decide how many days you then have to think about hours. Does your role require standard hours? Can you start an hour earlier and finished an hour earlier to allow you time to get your child from childcare before they reach that critical over tired phase? It’s always a fear they’ll fall asleep on the way home, a total danger nap, and dinner will wake them up and then they’ll fight bedtime. Who will take your child to childcare in the morning? You, your partner?

Our set up is this: Dean takes Clara to her childminder in the morning for 8am. Meanwhile, I’ve left home at 6.30am for an 8am start in another city. I work until 4pm and then leave to get Clara at 5pm. In reality though, it doesn’t allow me enough time so I’m finding I’m having to leave at 3.30pm and work a bit extra in the evening. It’s great my job gives me the flexibility, and I appreciate not all companies offer this. It’s not always about ‘bums on seats’, it’s about getting the job done.

But the return to work has been so much harder than I thought. For surprising reasons.

Of course, I expected the challenge to be worrying about Clara during the day. And believe me the first day I thought of her every 10 minutes and hoped the childminder wouldn’t text me saying she can’t have Clara back again, it was too much etc. We have an app that logs updates like dirty nappies and naps and it saved my sanity. I could gather enough evidence to conclude Clara wasn’t having blow outs constantly (she’s never had this unless she’s been very ill but of course reason didn’t come into my thoughts!). In reality, I turned up to collect Clara and she wasn’t even that bothered to see me at first! This made me beyond happy, clearly she was happy in her surroundings. She didn’t need me after all!

There are no words for the bond Clara and her childminder share. We love her so much! We know Clara is in such safe hands, it’s truly a home from home for her.

So I massively feel the pressure is off. The first day I genuinely felt it was no longer just up to me to keep my child alive every day. Sounds crazy, but I think in reality I was just grateful for adult company and baby free toilet breaks.

For me, the hardest part was establishing myself back into a company which had changed dramatically in some ways but not budged an inch in others.

Things I used to do, other people now do. The role I used to have, that was someone else’s now. There are new people doing new things, and familiar people doing new things.

Starting a new role (especially a role new to the company) shouldn’t be underestimated. On one hand, it’s the best approach. I’m a new person since having Clara, I think I would have struggled trying to slot back into the old world. On the other hand, it can be a challenge. Without clear obvious accountability from day one, it’s hard to feel like you’re adding value. I’ve been in the company five years this summer, I’ve added huge amounts of value. I just need to work out how to continue to do so.

The days Clara and I get together, just the two of us, are extra special to me now. I can see the benefits of her days with the childminder and her new friends. She now loves it when I pick her up, her mouth wide open in surprise before she launches at me for a cuddle.

She’s growing up so fast, before our very eyes. As is the pile of washing now I’m not home every day and I try to get out on our days together.

But the most important thing? She’s happy, and so are we.

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