Growing up, I was never sure if I wanted children.
Whilst I wasn’t adamant a child-free life was for me, the concepts of motherhood around me felt alien. I felt as if I wasn’t programmed correctly: my heart didn’t melt when someone bought a new baby into the office; I loved my job and couldn’t see a future when everything stopped to have a family.
But by the time I reached my 30s, I had changed my mind...
Don’t worry, I am definitely not saying all women become broody if they just wait long enough. But, in my case, I realised that just because I didn’t necessarily go weak at the knees at the sight of someone else’s baby, didn’t mean I didn’t want my own. I longed for a child and when I finally fell pregnant, a surprise after being diagnosed with low ovarian reserve and a failed IVF cycle, I was ecstatic. Yet, as soon as ‘pregnant’ flashed on the screen, I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d feel differently about my career.
Fellow mums were quick to assure me I would: that my whole world and identity would be centred around my baby, with motherhood completing me.
Of course, this is 2020. I knew plenty of working mums but, when I spoke to them, I only heard stories of how it was a financial necessity, how expensive childcare was and how they counted down the moments until they were back with their children.
After spending years building up my freelance writing career, I lived and breathed my work; taking precisely two days maternity leave before my son Jude arrived in May because I didn’t see the point of stopping (and yes, I do now know I should have slept whilst I had the chance!).
It goes without saying that being a mum is an amazing experience but it took approximately three weeks of motherhood before I felt the urge to open up my laptop.
I loved him (sorry if this keeps slipping out; I somehow feel programmed to add this disclaimer when mentioning my career to avoid judgement!) but with each rollercoaster moment I experienced in the early months, the creative instinct inside me just wanted to write about them.
Of course, I didn’t act on the impulse to work immediately. Being self-employed meant I was graced with only ten precious Keeping In Touch (KIT) Days and my recovery from a C-section made things hard. Yet when I did start to use those days, I loved every minute. When bumping into old friends or colleagues in town, I’d nod, unable to be honest, when asked ‘Is this the first time you’ve left him at home?’ (seemingly too embarrassed to add the ‘this week’ in my head!).
Yet I still knew that this is what I wanted to do. It was clear that my job was still a big part of my life and more importantly, after struggling with postnatal anxiety, I started to feel a bit more like me again.
8 months old later and it’s now time for me to return to things properly.
As the antenatal Whatsapp group starts to fragment with more moms returning to work, I feel like I’m the only one who is actually really excited about it. And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t being judged for feeling this way.
It seems us mums need to justify our return to work and doing so for ourselves, our mental health or just having a job we love isn’t a good enough reason.
Of course, I appreciate that many working moms don’t feel like me; and are returning to work purely for financial reasons. Yet, I still notice the looks of apprehension, confusion and disdain when I explain that I can’t wait.
And it’s not just looks but comments too.‘Won’t you miss his milestones?’ ‘I don’t want mine in a nursery.’ ‘It’s such a shame.’ ‘I don’t want to pay someone else to look after my child.’
I can’t deny there’s truth in some of these (yes, I probably will miss milestones but since my son decided to roll for the first time whilst I was on the loo, I’m sure that’s inevitable either way!) but am so frustrated that these same questions aren’t asked of fathers—the majority of whom return to work two weeks later, have a celebratory beer or two and then slot in as normal.
In facing judgement, I’m sure I’m not alone. I’ve heard snide comments cloaked as questions that sometimes get thrown at stay at home moms too. ‘Do you really want to rely on a man financially?’ ‘What about your pension?’ ‘Won’t you go crazy staying at home?
In a world where women already face many challenges, it’s baffling to see stay at home mums and working mum’s pitting themselves against each other. But we do. And the sad thing is that, although I am sick to the back teeth of the shaming, I know a lot of it comes from the insecurities we all face as new mums.
The first year is spent questioning every decision and deciding whether to return to work is just another thing that we end up beating ourselves up about. Finding fault in other people’s choices as a mum may temporarily make us feel superior but in the long run, nobody wins.
As it turns out, I really can’t afford to not work either. But my motives for returning to the workplace are more selfish. I love feeling myself again. I love drinking a whole cup of tea without it going cold and peeing without the door open. I love logging on to my emails and feeling valued for my work... and that nobody knows my baby wore odd socks yesterday because the rest were in the wash.
So, the next time somebody asks me if I’m going back to work, I’m going to plaster a big smile on my face, be honest and tell them those reasons instead.