21/06/2018 14:06 BST | Updated 13/08/2018 12:12 BST

Mums Who Took Shorter Maternity Leave Explain How It Felt To Go Back To Work

New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern is taking six weeks maternity leave.

The Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, has given birth to a baby girl in Auckland City hospital: becoming the second elected leader in modern history to give birth while in office. 

As with all working mothers, the 37-year-old has already made plans to temporarily fill her role, announcing that her Deputy Winston Peters will be in charge of her duties for six weeks, at which point she will return to work.

This period is only a third of the paid legal entitlement in the country, where the primary carer is currently entitled to one continuous paid period of 18 weeks (and they're entitled to a 52 weeks extended leave). In the UK new mothers are entitled to take up to 52 weeks with Statutory Maternity Pay paid for up to 39 weeks. 

However, like Arden, many return to work far sooner than the options available to them.  

Handout via Getty Images
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and partner Clarke Gayford pose for a photo with their new baby girl on 21 June 2018

“I cried all the way to work,” Sharon Cooper-Collins, 48, from Hertfordshire told HuffPost UK. The mother-of-three returned to work six weeks after giving birth to her youngest child, who is now 26, because her partner had lost his job.

The third-sector worker, who had previously taken 18 months out of her job after the birth of her twin girls, now 30, said she was required to be the breadwinner after the change in circumstances, so she left her son with her mother. “We needed my salary,” she says. “I felt like I had lost an arm.”

Even now, nearly three decades later she says that those early months “haunt” her, as she worries she missed out on essential bonding with her son.

Sharon Cooper Collins

Another mother who was forced back to work at five weeks, because of financial circumstances, was Jane*. Her partner left when her daughter was six days old, and she says as a result she had no money. 

“I was very rational about it as we had nothing. There was no room for emotion or choices,” she says. “My partner left, consequently we also had no home. All I cared about was that we were healthy, happy and warm.”

The family moved into a friend’s spare room for nine months, and the friend looked after her baby while she was at work, as she could not afford nursery places. “I can never thank that woman enough.” 

There was no room for emotion or choices.'

One mum who had a more positive experience with her maternity leave was Kate Stinchcombe-Gillies, 37, a marketing consultant, from Oxfordshire, who has two sons, aged three and five, and chose to go back to work after five months at home.

She says of the other mothers she met at the time, and her friends, she was the only one who took less than nine months leave. 

Her reasons for doing so were mixed, saying that she is “a bit of a workaholic”, and like all the women interviewed for this story, it didn’t financially make sense to take more time off from her job than was necessary.

“Statutory maternity pay isn’t a sustainable income stream, so financially a year off was never going to happen, but I’m also a bit of a workaholic and love what I do, I had to keep my brain challenged,” she says.

Kate Stinchcombe-Gillies

Stinchcombe-Gillies says: “To not be contributing to the household really does not sit well with me and there’s no way I’d expect my husband to fund everything.”

In fact she says that taking off nine months to a year would have sent her “stir crazy” and she couldn’t have done it, although she doesn’t critique mums who do choose to do so.

“For us it was both personal and tied to our lifestyle choices. It has to work for you financially and emotionally,” she says.“I didn’t have ‘guilty mum’ feelings when they were little, I’m just too practical.”

Clarification: The article previously stated that primary carers in New Zealand are entitled to one continuous period of 18 weeks.