The shock of realising that my hard-earned career is likely never going to be the same after giving birth has hit home. Hard. The last fortnight has been a tense tussle of a time as I've struggled with working out the best solution for the baby, for me and for the family finances.
As inexperienced and unprepared for motherhood as I am (this pregnancy has been a big surprise), I've turned to my friendly circle of mums for the honest truth about juggling career and being a mum. All of these women have had very successful careers.
The truth about working and having a baby is...well...read on to find out.
Ruth, mum of one, 3 months - "I'm aware of the glass ceiling of motherhood"
This one is tough as I haven't actually started to try to find anything to fit around Poppy yet. I think I am hoping that if I ignore it it will go away and we will have enough money without me working. Somehow I don't think that is going to happen!
A couple of comments though. Firstly, I am less interested in going back to work than I thought I would be. I find Poppy a full-time all-absorbing occupation, and I don't have enough time for myself as it is so I think it would be really hard to fit in a job as well.
I am also much keener to bring Poppy up myself than I thought I would be. Because I find it hard and time-consuming, I don't really trust anyone else to look after her on a full-time basis. This is going to be very hard to come to terms with at the end of the year.
Secondly, I am more than ever aware of the glass ceiling of motherhood. We try to convince ourselves that we can have it all but the horrid reality is that most of my working mates are still in the same position they were in before the baby, often without a payrise. In one case this the mother hasn't had a payrise in four years.
These stories take away my enthusiasm for going back to work. The thought that I will probably be treated like a second class citizen and regarded as not pulling my weight when I have to get back for childcare responsibilities.
However, on balance, I will also want a career in five years' time, so going back to work will ensure that I still have a career to come back to!
Sarah, mum of two - "Going back seemed too much of a compromise"
I took paid maternity (six-month entitlement) with the full intention of returning, on a four-day week basis. However, I was just having the time of my life at home with the baby, and going back seemed like too much of a compromise when push came to shove, for two reasons: I didn't want to leave her in daycare at just four months old, and the draining and stressful nature of a people management role just seemed too much of a compromise.
So, I quit the 'big job' and started doing small, nice, no-stress jobs at home...writing resort brochures, doing direct marketing copy, the odd easy article, etc. Slowly the work level crept up, as it does, and now I work three days a week co-running a marketing agency with my husband, which can be stressful, especially in a recession, but is I think less stressful overall and with more freedom than going corporate.
I certainly see my primary and most important role right now as guiding and nurturing the preschooler rugrats – work comes second. I sort of feel like I'm incubating lots of ideas and such for when they hit school and I'm able to commit properly to a venture of my own.
Eleni, mum of two - "I continued my studies to have something just for me"
It's a whole book, honey! How much time you got? I decided to go freelance when I got sick of corporate life and wanted to have kids. It works very well in that it's flexible and I don't need to ask anyone if I want time off.... BUT...the status and sense of purpose (and money) matters more than I ever thought it would.
It's very easy to feel isolated so it's vital to meet other people during the day for coffee etc - just to stay sane. Have a routine, go to the gym, do stuff for yourself.
Other mums are great because they are going through the same as you - especially ones for whom career is important (you'll soon make friends with those and funnily enough not really click with the earth mother types for whom being a mum is their only goal in life). I continued my OU studies to have something that was just for me and nothing to do with work or the kids. Intellectually, I need the stimulation otherwise I get depressed.
Do not fret. Use other mums, make connections, have breaks, and - above all - get out of the damned house!
Lu, mum of one - "Organisations say they are flexible, but....watch out"
To be honest, I don't know yet! I'm going back to work in October (theoretically at the moment as my organisation is threatening redundancy!!!) I think life will just get a bit harder to organise and be more tiring than I could ever have imagined.
I have had to deal with Nina a lot on my own as my husband has been too busy to help much, and I predict that this will stay the same, but with another job to cope with on top of childcare.
I'm going back part-time without a job share. I think that is the biggest thing to watch out for, organisations say they are 'flexible' and accommodating to new mothers in terms of hours, but often you just end up doing a full-time job in part-time hours and getting paid less for doing the same amount of work as before!
What having Nina has taught me is that you need a really good support network around you - family, friends or whoever - people who you trust to look after your baby for you, even if just for an hour or two while you sort your life out.
I know I'm going to miss Nina when I go back. I love being with her and ideally would wait until she was two years old before going back to work, because my career is not the be-all-and-end-all for me right now - I'm enjoying the slow life!
Charlotte, mum of two - "In the current economic climate I feel the need to hang on to my job"
Having children has affected my career. I am well aware that people I trained with are now doing much more senior jobs and earning more money. However, I am fortunate to work in the public sector for the NHS and I know that I can concentrate more on my career once the children are older, as there is no glorification of youth in my profession and life experience is viewed positively.
I am also very fortunate that I work for a team which is very family-friendly, so there was no problem for me returning to work part-time (2 days a week) in my old job and my manager is very understanding about family issues.
For example, when I returned to work when my first son was a year old (I took a full year's maternity leave), he was finding it very difficult to settle with his childminder. My manager heard about this and she suggested that instead of working two full days, I could work four half days instead. Luckily I live close to work and my childminder was also very flexible and could accommodate this change. This made all the difference, as he was then spending more days with her, but shorter hours. He got to know and trust her and it was also nice for me not being away from him for so long. After a few months, I switched back to two full days.
Going back to work was surprisingly easy in that it was all so familiar (my life had changed so much in the intervening year, but work was basically the same!), but it was incredibly hard to leave my son in somebody else's care. I felt that my whole approach to parenting had been around helping my son feel secure and attached to me and here I was, walking away from him when he was crying and upset – something I'd never done before.
I'm currently on maternity leave with my second son and intend to go back to work again when he's a year old. My main motivation is because I have a good job with supportive colleagues and in the current economic climate I feel the need to hang onto it. I'll end up spending a huge proportion of my wages on childcare for two children, so financially it won't make much sense, but I don't want to leave work completely, especially as I already have some catching up to do career-wise.
However, overall I feel very fortunate to be able to take a full year maternity leave (some of it is obviously unpaid) and spend this time with my gorgeous babies.
Suzanne, single mum of two, six- and one- year-old - "Time with your baby is fleeting and precious"
I've managed to juggle babies and work, although I have to say that my career took second place once the boys came along - somehow it will probably never seem as important again.
I used to work full time, but took 1 year's maternity leave with Joe and returned to work 3 days a week, which for me has always struck a good balance between working and family life. It is however difficult to balance the demands of a part time job - they are never truly part time, and family life and pay for nursery costs from a diminished wage, but I would still sooner do this than work full time and never have any real time with my children.
I started freelancing as well as working part time a few years ago which helps financially especially now I am on my own and I enjoy the work and find it stimulating.
I took 9 months maternity leave with Tom - I couldn't afford any longer, but found it easier to go back to work the second time around. I remember feeling so guilty after Joe and it was hard to leave him in nursery. But this time it has been much easier, helped by the fact that Tom is attending Joe's old nursery and is cared for by the same staff. Joe also thrived when he started school and the transition from nursery to classroom was really easy for him and probably easier than for his peers who hadn't attended nursery.
My only advice would be concentrate on working up till your maternity leave and then try to focus on the baby beyond that and just enjoy whatever time you take off. Work will always be there in the future, but the time you have with your baby is fleeting and precious.