When I fell pregnant, I faced a big learning curve. I was dealing with the idea of having twins, I was given advice on everything I would need, on parenting, feeding, sleep routines, the help I would need… but I don’t recall anyone telling me about the overwhelming vulnerability I would experience.
I was preparing for the world of parenthood, but I missed the class on managing career anxiety while on parental leave. Now I will happily blame the hormones for some of the emotions, but to be honest, I didn’t deal with some aspects as well as I expected. My mind strayed and I let insecurities and doubts creep in.
I managed the obvious stresses: worrying about the health of our babies, dealing with financial changes, planning what time my husband would have off, and of course trying to buy nappies and wet wipes as Melbourne headed into its first lockdown. What I didn’t manage as well were the negative thoughts popping into my mind, thinking about what I was missing at work and wondering what it would be like upon my return. Surely with two babies I wouldn’t have time to think about work stresses. Well, my biggest learning during pregnancy and parental leave: anxiety is normal, and it can come out of nowhere.
After 11 months, I am approaching my return to work. I asked my parents group if anyone else was feeling anxious about returning. I was overwhelmed by the responses. Everyone had a funny story to share about their erratic thoughts and emotions, all being told with some disbelief they were thinking that way. It was a reassuring conversation to say the least. While I don’t have the secret to avoid anxiety entirely, I do have a few points that I think can help, weather they are for yourself, your partner, or someone in your team.
APPROACHING PARENTAL LEAVE
- There will be new anxieties and challenges. Falling pregnant and telling your employer can be hard for many women, not to mention dealing with fatigue, morning/anytime of the day sickness, excitement, and anxiety about the pregnancy. During this vulnerable time, many of us feel the need to hide what we are going through, but this is a period where a little extra support and understanding can go a long way.
- Understand what you are entitled to from your work and or from the Government. The financial pressure of having time off work and having a family cannot be ignored, so understanding your financial position can allow you to plan accordingly.
RETURNING TO WORK
- Be open about your plan and know it’s ok if it changes. Trust me, it probably will. I was living in another state at the time when I thought I would be back at work!
- Use “keeping in touch days” to stay in the loop with the business so the return isn’t as overwhelming.
- Savour the special moments. There were days I thought going back to work would be easier than looking after newborns. But the thought of returning to fulltime work and not being with my babies, made me happily return to changing 8 nappies a day and savouring my cuddles.
- Consider a staggered return. Returning to work on a part-time basis and slowly increasing time at childcare will help our whole family with the transition to this next stage.
- Getting organised. I don’t like clutter on my fridge, but these days you will find two things on it… little fingerprints and a magnetic weekly planner. I think it is obvious which one of these I could not live without. Juggling one car, work, kids’ activities, and time for ourselves, we quickly learnt we needed to map it out, some days, down to the hour.
GETTING THE BALANCE RIGHT – WATCH THIS SPACE!
I was fortunate to hear Amie Frydenberg speak last year about juggling motherhood, her career as a workplace relations lawyer and being the Treasurer’s wife. She provided a great insight on the guilt many mums feel. Juggling part time work and caring for two children when her husband travels a lot for work, she highlighted how important it is to make time for herself. This is something I really took onboard over the past 12 months.
As I return to work, I know that some things will have to give. I will only have time to exercise early in the morning and I may not have time to bake lasagnes and stay on top of housework and washing during the week, and that will be ok. There will be easy days and hard days, most likely when someone is sick, but we will deal with it.
For now, my biggest concern is getting to work without food on me. So, if you see me with what looks like avocado or Weet-Bix rubbed into the back of my trousers – please let me know!