I'm suddenly, just days away from returning to work. It is November 2019, over a year since my maternity leave began. WHAT?!
Looking back, that does seem like a lifetime ago, but at the same time, the last year has also moved at the speed of light.
I remember a friend saying to me that she wished she hadn't spent the last few weeks of her maternity leave worrying about going back to work. I've been trying and failing to heed that advice myself lately. I feel like I should be savouring every single second, but that is so much easier said than done on the days where you've had a bad night's sleep, the hours are dragging by, the weather sucks and you're struggling to make plans.
Unfortunately we have spent the last two months battling with teething and all or one of us being sick, with the last couple of weeks being particularly hellish, so the last of my free time has been spent trying to recover from sleep deprivation or being ill myself. As a result, my motivation has just gone out of the window. Invariably these are the days that the anxious part of my brain goes into overdrive and I find myself dying for Lee to get home from work to distract me. I find myself so frustrated for having failed yet again to do some exercise (fit, yoga Hannah of earlier this year has gone out of the window lately), for wasting what little time I have left, or for being too tired and wrung out to entertain Jack all day long without resorting to switching on the TV.
I equally find myself becoming more nervous about my return to work as the days count down. I have got into a bit of a cycle of beating myself up for not being where I feel I should be, but not actually having the energy to get there. This in itself makes me all the more nervous that I will be returning to work run down, stressed, frustrated and low on confidence. After a year away from my job, that is not the head space I wanted to be in.
But why am I being so hard on myself? Why I am putting SO much pressure on myself to use all this time "perfectly"? I'm exhausted and wrung out, and if it was a friend of mine I would instantly tell her to stop, to be kinder to herself, and to take some time for her. So why can't I do the same? It's because I'm a do-er by nature. I'm not naturally good at sitting still if there is something I could be doing, somewhere I could be going, or something in my eye line that needs cleaning or putting away. In many aspects of my life it makes me super productive, but in others, it makes me prone to burn out. I think a lot of women feel that they should use their maternity leave to do something other than be full time mums. You could learn a language, visit loads of places you have never been, go for countless lunches or coffees, take day trips with your little one. However, although those things are great when you have the spare time, or the energy, or even the money, it's a dangerous trap to fall into. In thinking that way we forget that motherhood is more than a full time job, with untold hours of overtime, no breaks and no holidays. If I was working flat out 7 days a week in my pre-mum job with insane overtime, would I expect to have the time to learn a language at the same time? Would I expect to fit in countless other activities during my working day as well as getting my work done? No I bloody wouldn't! It would be all I could do to find the time to eat or wash my hair. So why do we measure our value as mothers on how many extra curricular activities we do outside of the day to day of bringing up a human? Why do we feel we have wasted our time if we haven't somehow revamped ourselves or our lives in the time we are away from work? Quite simply, because society tells us that being a stay at home mum isn't enough. It isn't considered to be a job. It is considered to be time off, not work.
What is one of the first things people often ask one another when they meet? "What do you do?". Regardless of whether it is a genuine interest in the person or not, we are still measuring this person up somehow, and defining them by their job. If I was not returning to work, I for one would feel afraid to tell people that I was a full time mum and not in employment for fear of the judgement or dismissal I may get in response. Once again, I call bullshit. Parenthood is a full time job, and it is equally brutally challenging and incredibly rewarding, but it takes everything you've got and more.
I hear of many women saying how nervous they were to return to work after having a baby. Nervous because work is no longer their comfort zone, afraid of leaving their child for extended periods for the first time, scared that their employer may not be understanding of the fact that they may have to leave on time to pick their child up from nursery etc. It's an intimidating unknown, because the last time you were in full time employment, you only had you to worry about. You didn't really have to worry if you stayed late. Your partner would understand the odd week here and there of extended hours during big projects. Kids don't get that. Kids can't understand if someone doesn't turn up to pick them up from nursery, all they see is Mum or Dad not turning up for them which will damage them far more than it damages your employer. That's a stressful tug of war to navigate when you want to keep your child and your employer happy.
However, suddenly, another thought has occurred to me which has given me hope. Going back to work cannot be harder than being a full time parent. Nothing can demand more than a being who relies on you completely for their survival. Granted, it may take some guts to be strong and say "I have to go" when I feel the pressure to stay, and my brain may be a little rusty to begin with, but I had a baby, not a lobotomy, so I will adjust.
The difference with work is that there will be times where I have to and can say no. I cannot say no to a child who relies on me to protect them, to feed them, and to love them. And isn't that what I've been doing over the last year and taking myself for granted with? So why is the thought of going back to a place where I can have an adult conversation, pee in peace, drink a drink when its actually hot and eat lunch at lunchtime such a scary thought? Sounds like a holiday in itself to me! Will I desperately miss Jack while I'm away from him and count the hours until I can see him again? In all likelihood, yes. But will l also appreciate the time to be me again and have a little something for me? I really think I will.
The next step will be learning to juggle everything, and I understand that can be tough, but I already have a little experience in that area too, so maybe, just maybe, I'll be ok.