Returning to Work After Maternity Leave: The Five Stages of Grief

I remember thinking that my life was hectic PW (pre-Wilbur), and it was, but it had nothing on life post-Wilbur and back at work. This is my primary excuse for why I haven’t blogged for so, so long.

I returned to work late July, on a full-time compressed hours agreement. Basically, I work four long days, and get the fifth off to spend with Wilbur. Not all companies offer such flexible working arrangements, and when mine agreed to my proposal, I was relieved, happy, surprised and in, all honesty, a little disappointed. It was really happening, I was going to have to leave Wilbur and return to work.

I don’t think I ever truly considered not returning to work at all. As much as I loved spending every waking moment with Wilbur, I’m just not the stay-at-home type. I missed the work environment, I missed the travelling, I missed the social side of work and I missed putting on a pair of heels and a pencil skirt.

I was (irrationally) angry that I had to leave Wilbur to go to work, and cross that the only alternative was to be a stay-at-home mum, which was never a feasible option for me

But as July came, I grew anxious about whether it would work. The thought of going back to work was so much worse than the reality, as is so often the case in life. The weeks leading up to my return were really emotional, and I went through all the traditional five stages of grief I suppose.

  • First, of course, came denial. I didn’t let myself think about my return to work, instead pouring all my energy into enjoying Wilbur every minute of every day. We went to the park, we went to baby cinema, to the farm, and all of the other stuff us mummies do on rotation in an attempt to entertain our little people. Whatever I did, I did not think about deadlines or google analytics or spreadsheets.
  • Next up was anger. I felt cross that women (and men too, I’m sure) have to somehow juggle their careers with their family life. I was (irrationally) angry that I had to leave Wilbur to go to work, and cross that the only alternative was to be a stay-at-home mum, which as I explained above, was never a feasible option for me. Of course, society would argue that I chose to have a child and therefore put myself in this compromising situation, and of course, that’s true, but it’s just not easy for women. Especially not those of us that want it all.
  • The next stage is bargaining, and this is something I did with myself. I kept trying to rationalise my decision to return to work with all the clichés; going to nursery will be good for Wilbur’s development, it’s good for him to grow up and see that both his parents work hard, we need the money, etc. I kept bargaining with myself that my return to work would enable us to have wonderful holidays with Wilbur, that my time with him would be extra special and precious. All true, but all most definitely part of the self-bargaining process.
  • Then came depression. Not literally, but I was very emotional, felt on the verge of tears constantly, and wanted to hold Wilbur tight at every possible opportunity. I was beyond sad to be leaving my little soul mate. I remember the thing that upset me the most was thinking of him crying at nursery, and not being there to comfort him. It literally broke my heart.
  • The fifth and final stage of grief, acceptance, came later for me. It was a few weeks after my return to work when it occurred to me – and I allowed myself to admit –  that I was actually really enjoying being back. There was no defining moment when I suddenly started enjoying it again, it was more that it felt so normal being back that I suppose I took it for granted. There, in my editor’s chair, with my laptop, my team and my heels on, I felt genuinely glad to be back. Acceptance, nice of you to show up.

I’ve been back over three months now, and whilst I’m still enjoying it, I live for those three-day weekends with my boy, and it is true, the days at work ensure I never take that time with him for granted. Remember that blog I wrote about maternity leave making you either the statue or the pigeon? Well, I miss those days so very much. Sometimes when I sit in a jam on the M25, or am up to my eyeballs in a budget spreadsheet, I literally long for those quiet days, just Wilbur and I, walking with Mabel, or doing the big shop in my leggings and a baggy jumper whilst feeding Wilbur 207 raisins to keep him occupied.

Maternity leave epitomises that old idiom ‘you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone’, and next time, hopefully they’ll be a next time, I won’t take a single pyjama day with Thomas the Tank for granted.

Whilst Tuesdays to Fridays are literally carnage as I work four long and hectic days at a thousand miles an hour, missing Wilbur so much that sometimes it literally hurts, I know that returning to work was the right decision for me. So I let myself indulge in those hot cups of tea, those L.K. Bennetts and the office laughs knowing that soon enough it will be Saturday again, and I’ll have three whole days of happiness with my very favourite tiny human.

I let myself indulge in those hot cups of tea, those L.K. Bennetts and the office laughs knowing that soon enough it will be Saturday again

The Other Two Ladies and Two Babies

Stel was the first to return to work, and when Betsy was eight months old, Stel returned to work full-time (although for the first six weeks she worked flexi-time) in her role as Assistant Head. Her and Philpott are extremely lucky in that Philpott works shifts as a fireman in the LFB so he is able to take on a lot of the childcare for Betsy around his shifts.

Like me, Stel never considered not returning to work, and enjoyed returning, although found it very difficult for the first few months. I remember her saying to me “I promise it gets easier”, and she was right. She misses Betsy hugely, but knows she has made the right decision for her, and their family.

This year, Stel was promoted to ‘Acting Head’ which is a huge role to get, even without a baby at home. I’m insanely proud of her not just for her career achievement, but for being the very best example of a woman who is equally amazing at her job and being a mum.

Ted Bear and Wilbur, or as we affectionately refer to them, 'The Mitchell Brothers'.

Ted Bear and Wilbur, or as we affectionately refer to them, ‘The Mitchell Brothers’.

Fats returned to work a month before me. She had originally planned to return in April, but when she was made redundant and given a pay-out that would buy her an extra few months of maternity leave, she was over the moon. I remember her huge grin when she shared her good news with me: “I’ve only been made redundant” she said with jubilation.

She says that part-time hours is a perfect balance with having that “me time” and respite from the sometimes challenging Ted Bear

She got a new job easily (Fats is notoriously excellent at getting jobs!) and started in June, with the part-time hours she wanted: three days a week, and a job that she could “leave at work every day at 5pm”. I say the “hours she wanted”, but the truth is, Fats made no secret of the fact that “work really isn’t for me”, and if her situation had allowed, she wouldn’t have returned to the working world.

She really struck gold with the new job, however, and surprising herself has really, really enjoyed being at work. She says that part-time hours is a perfect balance with having that “me time” and respite from the sometimes challenging Ted Bear (that lovable monkey really keeps Fats and Coates on their toes with his temper tantrums and strong will), and getting four days with Ted. Naturally, she finds Tuesday mornings difficult knowing that the three-day Ted Bear drought is upon her. She now says though that even if money was no object, she’d still keep her part-time job. So, that’s a full-house of three ladies that have all made the right decision for them.

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