Becoming a mother changes many things in a woman’s life. How she sees herself changes the minute that pink line appears on the test and how others view her changes as her bump grows. Times have changed a lot. It is no longer unusual to find a pregnant woman in any workplace. Still, the route from positive test to returning to work can be challenging and full of surprises for any first-time mum. Hopefully, the following blog will cover some of the things I wish I’d known before starting my journey into motherhood.
I was never one to get emotional over babies. Actually, I was the kind of person who looked on in horror as parents with babies entered my plane, train carriage or restaurant etc.
I loved my job. I worked hard to move up the ranks and was finely at a point where I had achieved everything I wanted to academically. My line manager gave me freedom to plan out my week and I enjoyed juggling multiple tasks at once. I never minded covering last minute, or leaving late (a regular occurrence).
In my religious background, it isn’t common to announce pregnancies or even talk about them until it is obvious i.e. when you look like a whale. In the UK, employees have to tell their employer about a pregnancy at least 15 weeks before the baby is due.
I was 3 months pregnant when I told my Line Manager. A month later I told the other teachers (who had mostly all guessed) and my boss (who was happy and hugged me). I was used my target language of the week (will + infinitive and be going to + infinitive) to tell my class. We discussed the sentences ‘Lara will have a baby’ and ‘Lara is going to have a baby’. They were all happy for me and I was happy with them and their results in the next test on future forms.
Pregnancy at work
It is no longer unusual to find a pregnant woman in any workplace. Working whilst pregnant is tiring and it is important to decide with your employer what you are and aren’t able to do. Thankfully, there were few things I couldn’t do whilst pregnant. The bump accompanied me on various social programmes and a first aid course. I was even planning to attend the Christmas party (week of my due date).
In the UK, an employer has to allow pregnant women paid time off for 2 antenatal hospital appointments. The father has the right to unpaid time off to attend these appointments too. I was lucky that UCH was just around the corner so I didn’t need much time off.
Telling HR is important, as is maintaining open lines of communication with them. The earliest date to start maternity leave is 11 weeks before your due date. However, you can also work as long as you feel ok to do so. Having a meeting with HR will also make maternity payments clearer.
Whilst you can take a year off, you only get paid for 39 weeks. Statutory maternity pay in the UK is 90% of an employee’s average weekly earnings for the first 6 weeks. This figure drops to £151.20 or 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings, (whichever is lower) for the remaining 33 weeks. Knowing these figures can help you plan how much time you want or can afford to take off. I originally said I’d be so bored that I’d be back after 3 months. I’m so glad Alex from HR and Oscar, my line manager, didn’t take that seriously!
Although I’d planned to work until my due date (conveniently only one week before Christmas holidays), I had to admit defeat and start at 38 weeks. Lucky I did, as I was in hospital by the next afternoon. I was sending pictures of the baby on the school WhatsApp group instead of attending the Christmas party. A toast with milk is still a toast…right?
The first few months of maternity leave passed in a haze of vomit, smiles, cuddles and nappies. To be honest, I quite forgot about the job I loved so much every time I looked at my daughter (that’s right – I’d become one of those mothers). However, I was excited to start my Keep In Touch (KIT) days half way through maternity leave. I really recommend doing them to anyone on maternity leave. They made me realise I did still love the job and could still use my brain. They were also useful to meet new staff (a lot of changes happened while I was away) and see new protocols in action.
Negotiating the return
Before meeting with HR to schedule your return, it is important to know your rights and what you want. A woman can return to the same job with the same salary if she has been away for less than 26 weeks. Legally, an employer is does not have to allow part time hours.
As much as I loved my old job, I decided that I only wanted to work part time. This was something my school luckily agreed to. This meant I returned with a new role and the person who replaced me during maternity leave continued.
It is also good to have someone with you in these meetings to help you explain what you want. This person should ideally be someone who works in your department. It can also be someone from your team who knows of any changes in salary or contracts that have occurred while you were away, so you don’t lose out on any new contract benefits while you were “on holiday”.
I had no childcare for my HR return to work meeting and ended up changing my daughter’s nappy on the floor of the office during the meeting. As you can imagine, I wasn’t able to concentrate fully. I think it is also important to leave any decisions open to change and get everything written down in case things like contracts, salary and changing hours need to be discussed later.
First weeks back
Although I’d been back for my KIT days, returning was still quite terrifying. I was nervous and emotional about leaving my daughter and started doubting my abilities. Luckily, everyone was really nice on my return and I was able to ease back in gently. It was nice to see old faces and meet new ones and learn about the positive changes over the past year.
Being a mother also definitely changes how you approach work when you go back. Anyone with kids will know that just getting out the house is akin to a military operation so you become super organised. Secondly, after going through childbirth, nothing will ever scare you again. Thirdly, you’ve always got a clock ticking in the back of your head, knowing you can’t stay too late and be the last mum at nursery pick up. (Louise O’Shea, CEO of Confused.com). My new role still allows me to do aspects of my old role. But I no longer do any of the time specific tasks. Finding a compromise with your employer is key to happy employer, employee and employee’s family.
The reality of juggling home life and work along with sleepless nights is not easy and not for everyone. Some people find the balance too much and some simply can’t afford to work. I earn £3 an hour after childcare some days. My husband helps a lot. But it is me the nursery always calls if my daughter needs picking up. It is me that sits up all night when my daughter is teething, ill or just needs a cuddle and story (anyone with sleep issues- try reading ‘The Gruffalo’ over and over).
Managing your expectations is important. Some women can work full time and rely on childcare. Some work part time and some stay at home. There is no correct formula; you do what is right for you and your family. Michelle Obama once said that being a mother had made her a better professional, because she came home every night to her daughters and saw what she was working for. She also said that being a professional made her a better mother. Pursuing her work dreams allowed her to model how her daughters could achieve their dreams. I love that I can work and provide for my daughter, but also be home in time for our dinner, bath, story and bed routine. I also hope I am showing her that she can be anything she wants to when she grows up.