Yesterday was June 1st. The first day of the month in which my maternity leave ended and I returned to work. I'm not gonna lie, I'm an emotional disaster area at the moment.
In my 16 years of working in schools (I PGCE'd straight from Physics degree, so was straight into teaching at 22) I've seen a lot of women go on maternity leave and return to work, and I've never thought much of it. Well to be honest I haven't really thought about it at all. So sadly I don't think I've given those women as much support as I could have done. Well, if I'm honest, I haven't really given them any support at all. Not because I didn't want to, or because I'm a horrible person, but just because I didn't know I needed to. I had no idea. It's only now I'm about to leave my beautiful M that I realise just how monumental this is for a mother. It's more than monumental, for me, it seems to be the definition of hideous. I've spent 24/7 with M since she arrived with the exception of a couple of hours here and there (some for the dreaded keeping in touch days!) and now I'm to leave her. Just. Like. That.
In my line of work I deal with a fair amount of long term staff absence and pride myself on supporting colleagues back to work through phased returns and other appropriate flexible and supportive arrangements. I recall a colleague asking for a phased return from maternity a couple of years back. I don't really remember any of the details, but of course I remember the response was obviously 'no'. We don't do that, it isn't usual. But now I'm thinking WHY NOT? I'm surrounded by women devastated at the thought of leaving baby, women who have been dreading it for the last three months. Women whose last precious weeks of their maternity leave have been overshadowed with the thought of returning to work, so why is there so little to ease the transition? It just doesn't make sense. Why are we so protected throughout our physical vulnerability in pregnancy, but when it comes to the time we're emotionally most vulnerable, there's nothing more than a quick welcome back and here's your diary for the day? In those weeks before maternity leave, it seems like your maternity leave will last a lifetime. Let's be honest, it seems like those first two weeks with a newborn are going to last ages - I actually had a list. A list! Of places the three of us would go in those two weeks. But the time flies. I have never experienced nine months go so quickly. And all of a sudden I am that woman. About to return to work, full time and imminently, with no transition at all.
I've done a fair bit of reading around breastfeeding rights at work, of which there are a few (not as many as you might think), but there are no 'new mummy' rights. And I guess that brings me to the purpose of today's ramblings. I just wanted to ask you all, for you to be kind, and consider your colleagues off on maternity leave. The next time one of those mummies returns to work, please please please support her. Ask how she's doing, make her a cuppa, talk about her baby and indulge her as she talks about all things baby/toddler, however dull they are to you!! But most of all, just try to understand, today, leaving her baby, has probably been the hardest thing she has had to do. Ever.
Sending love to all the mummies returning to work xxx