My maternity leave was coming to an end and I’d arranged a six month contract back with the employer I’d worked for before my daughter was born. I was going to use my spare time in that that six months to research and launch my new business.
That was the plan anyway.
Two weeks before I was due to return to work I found out I was pregnant again. We’d never really intended that our daughter would be an only child, but we’d been thinking of a three year gap between children, not the fifteen months we were now going to have. But I could still start my business, albeit with a bit of a delay. In fact, with the outrageous cost of childcare for two children under the age of three, getting a traditional nine-to-five job just wasn’t an option any more. So my safety net of a steady job was gone, but I hoped that would help push me forwards rather than stress me out.
So I spent a week settling my eight-month-old into her nursery and then back I went to work. Having read horror stories about heartbroken mums leaving wailing babies in nurseries and then the mums spending the best part of the morning crying in the toilets, my experience was uneventful by comparison. Baby wasn’t overjoyed by the nursery, but she was OK and there wasn’t any crying as I left. I was able to concentrate on my work much better than I expected and didn’t feel the urge to phone the nursery every hour. But (and it was a big but) deep down I wasn’t happy. I’d not appreciated how much harder it is to motivate yourself when you’re away from your baby and you’re paying a big slice of your income for someone else to take care of her. Far from losing my ambition and interest in my career after having a baby, it mattered even more to me now. If my work was going to keep me away from my child, then it damned well had to count for something. It wasn’t enough to simply pay the bills.
Then life got really difficult. Baby picked up every bug going at the nursery and then passed them on to me. I was in the grotty early days of pregnancy when you’re totally exhausted all the time. Baby kept me awake at night, then my coughing kept me awake at night. I was so run down that I had a cough that lasted for four weeks and only antibiotics would shift it. She couldn’t go to nursery, so I couldn’t go to work and I was very, very stressed indeed. My husband got ill and was off work for five weeks. Eventually a doctor and a midwife told me something had to give and I was signed off work for a few weeks myself.
Things started to improve. But in those first few weeks back at work a successful day was one where the nursery didn’t phone to ask me to pick up a poorly baby. There were a few days when I had to leave at lunchtime and catch up the hours I missed on my days off. I felt terrible for letting my boss and the company down, but there was nothing else I could do. By then I was convinced that nine-to-five employment as the mother of a baby was impossible.
After two months at nursery, my daughter’s immune system must have built up some resistance as (apart from a permanent runny nose) she stopped being ill. I was able to get to work each day and didn’t dread the phone call from the nursery any more. I was into the second trimester and didn’t feel quite so tired, although caring for an almost-one-year old whilst pregnant did take a lot of energy. A midwife suggested that it might be best to start my maternity leave as soon as possible at 29 weeks, which is what I did.
So, looking back at being employed as the mother of a baby, how do I feel? I’m glad I did it because now I know I can. And I know my daughter not only coped with childcare, but actually enjoyed herself there by the end. But it still doesn’t make sense to me to pay such a lot of money for someone else to care for my child when I’d much rather do it myself. Surely it makes more sense to work less hours (even if they are less sociable hours in the evenings and weekends), spend those extra hours with my child and pay far less, or nothing, for childcare? Being my own boss seems a much better option for me and my family.
Wish me luck!