Having it all: Day 1

I’m on my way to work for the first time without my baby and wearing proper work clothes. How does it feel? Gut wrenching. I’ve had butterflies all morning, odd dreams last night and I have a sort of nervous shake going on. I think I set a new PB for my walk to the station because the nervous energy meant my feet hardly touched the floor.

Leaving my baby is like escaping the earth’s gravity. I spent a long time about to leave the house but not actually going. I had to work up the energy to do it and then when I finally stepped out I went as fast as possible otherwise I’d have been pulled back in for one more cuddle.

But phew, now I’m on the train and one step closer to being that mum who somehow manages to juggle a career and babies and does both amazingly (ha!) I must remember that everything about being a mum is hard work (which is why it’s so rewarding) and every choice is difficult. Staying at home to look after your babies is just as emotionally draining and intense as leaving them with someone else and going to work. And in taking this first step today I’m not alone. All us mums know this feeling. The nervous shake. The inability to maintain a train of thought. The pounding in your chest because your heart is bigger than ever since meeting and nurturing your baby. It’s terrifying, nauseating and knee-wobbling.

But at the same time, boy, am I proud. Proud of him and proud of me. I want to be a strong successful mother. I want to know more and more about the world so that I can teach James everything and going to work is part of that. When the time comes I’ll be able to tell him everything he needs to know about the tensile strength of steel or the buckling modes of I beams. I bet he’s looking forward to that!

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Going back to work….

I thought I’d leap in and write a blog post about going back to work and putting my daughter in nursery following the great posts of my gorilla mums friends.  It’s so hard knowing what to do and each solution has to be the right one for you and your family.  It’s been a while since I’ve posted and that’s precisely because I just haven’t had any spare time and when I do have a brief moment of opportunity I try to use it sleeping!

For me and my husband there really was no option.  I had to go back to work and I had to go back full time – we both did.  For us, when I became pregnant, the most sensible thing to do was to sell our cute flat and buy somewhere that could happily accommodate a baby, so we moved and bought a house.  That increases the mortgage, the outgoings, paying for the baby etc….  Anyway enough of the justification.

We were incredibly lucky to have found a nursery that we were happy with when I was just 5 months pregnant because (a) the place for her didn’t become available for over a year later and (b) I knew it was an excellent place and just the kind of care I wanted for her because my nephews had gone there before they moved to Singapore. 

She’s there 4 days a week; I look after once per fortnight on  the remaining day (I work full time but work compressed hours) and my parents or my husband looks after her once per fortnight.  It’s exhausting but it’s the best solution for us and I can honestly say that it’s one of the best things we’ve done for her.

I had a melt down about a month before my maternity leave ended and ranted to my friends about how unfair it was that my baby wasn’t ready to be separated from me and that I was an awful mother, but in fact I think the reverse is true.  It’s me who wasn’t ready to be separated and actually I think I’m turning out to be a pretty reasonable mummy – and our daughter is turning out to be a happy, feisty and well developed little girl.

The days are most certainly long – she’s waking up at 5.30am and since I mentally don’t switch off properly until about 10.30pm that usually adds up to a very tired woman pretending she doesn’t have bags under her eyes and trying to pull off the impression of a diligent and capable senior policy manager.  I am without fail on the 7.38 train every day, have 20 minutes for lunch, and around 4 policy/personnel meetings per day. Yet my 8.25am – 4.30pm working day (with top ups in the evening) is not the longest part. The longest part of my day is undoubtedly the walk from the station to the nursery – it takes 15 minutes but as I turn the corner to the road where it’s located I break into something of a frantic walk (I must look like a mad chicken on speed and dressed in a suit) and reach my hand out to knock on the door long before it is able to make contact with it.  I’m not kidding – I’ve tripped a couple of times.  And there I am, excited and giddy as a schoolgirl and with arms outstretched, at 5.40pm  to cuddle my girl.  The walk home is fun – she’s excited to see me too and we have a play at home for about 30 minutes before she’s ridiculously tired and it’s bed and bath time. We don’t see her much during the week but those 30 minutes are magical and those bedtime cuddles are the best in the world.

Weekends are precious.  It’s not just us who love her and want to see her, and we have the usual household stuff to do and people we want to see too, so packing everything us and having family time is difficult – there’s no two ways about it.  And I miss seeing my friends and their babies too, and having a tidy and ordered house, and spare cash to spend on this and that.

I tell you what though, I wouldn’t change it.  Yes, of course I would love to see more of my beautiful daughter and yes, I could definitely do without all of the stressed that I’ve just described above. The Fridays I’ve had off with her are brilliant.  But to be honest I enjoy work and, for me, I want to work and see that as part of being a positive female role model for my daughter (nb I know there are lots of positive female role models).  I’m mentally stimulated, I have friends at work that I can whinge to, and I believe I’m more rounded and fulfilled for being there.  But – crucially – the most important benefits are my daughter’s.  She absolutely loves nursery – she’s very very happy there.  Yes she is excited to see me when I pick her up, but I’ve also seen how happy she is when she thinks I’m not there too.  She spends her time there being cuddled, playing, copying the older children and having regular sleep and healthy food.  She’s learned to stand, crawl and cruise far more quickly than we expected her to; she’s communicating more confidently; and she’s learning far more social skills than she would have done if I had been caring for her full time.  She’s not as dependant on me or my husband and is generally much more tolerant of new people, she sleeps without a fuss (usually) and eats like a trooper.  She goes for regular walks, feeds ducks, learns about flowers and trees… the list goes on.  I know I did some of this with her before when it was just us, but rather than seeing nursery as a childcare solution I now see it as an investment.

My heart breaks every time I leave her.  I spend all day at work wanting to see her and missing her.  I think about her all the time and, frankly, just don’t care very much about things at work that used to stress me out.  . As I type this she is being cuddled to sleep by her daddy and it’s images like that which come to mind and almost make me cry when some idiot is being annoying about a deadline at work. Every day, the best part of my day is seeing her. I adore my girl and the best part of my day is seeing her.  I applaud those women who stay at home to look after their little ones.  Their reasons are as valid as mine and if being a mother has taught me anything it’s that one size does not fit all – mothers and their babies are all different.  But for us, this is the best way.

Separation Anxiety

Babies, when they are around 6 months old, often start to get anxious when their mother or father leaves the room. They will reach a stage where they will scream until she comes back, wailing as if the world will end just because she has gone to the kitchen and then hold their arms up desperately as if they have been waiting all day to be picked up. This is something which is, for the parent in question, upsetting, annoying and probably slightly gratifying at the same time. I say probably because, though I have seen several other people go through this, Hannah hasn’t reached that stage and hopefully never will. But this post isn’t about Hannah. It’s about me.

I think my baby is the most beautiful baby that was ever born, even more gorgeous than Prince George, and he is seriously cute (I wonder if Hannah will ever have to wonder whether it’s wrong to fancy the King …) and I am totally in love with her. She is the best thing that has ever happened to me and we have been together for 15 months- longer than some marriages. And while I started this journey not having much of an idea at all about how to look after her, I am pretty sure I know what’s best for her and would bite the head off anyone who told me how to raise my child. Raising her is the sole responsibility of me and my husband and always will be.

I don’t want you to get the impression that I am some kind of over protective lioness; I’m really not. The first time I left her – to go to the hairdressers over the road- I briefly cried and then an enormous sense of freedom came over me. In the end, while I didn’t enjoy leaving her, I was comfortable with the people who were looking after her and knew that I would be back in 3 hours. On that occasion I was more upset about the disastrous highlights I ended up with that I had waited a year for. I’m very happy for her grandparents to look after her, and made the decision about 2 months ago to join a gym and leave her in its crèche while I worked out (you wouldn’t know it to look at me). That was weird but I knew that it was a good crèche and that I would be back in a couple of hours. But the other day I took her for a settling in visit at her nursery and I think that is what has set me off….

The nursery in question has an excellent reputation and I am totally convinced that the staff there will take great care of my little girl; more so because they did an excellent job with my wonderful nephews who are growing up to be happy, confident and capable young men. I want the same for her. So why was I getting tearful when they started to look for a date for a home visit? Was it because my house is a complete tip? No. It was because putting her in nursery is now getting very real. There’s only a month to go now. I know I’ve written blog posts that are along similar lines in the past but as D Day approaches I find myself feeling more and more guilty, more and more like I want to kiss her all the time and less and less like I want to leave her with anyone- even when she is being a complete toerag and I feel like putting my head on a blender. Even today at the gym I couldn’t get into it as much as I would usually and I think it’s because she was crying when I left….

I clearly need to toughen up and accept that while no one will love my daughter like I do, no one can ever love me like she does either and that other people can enrich her life and advance her development far more than I can alone. So my fervent hope is that we are now bonded for life- me to her and her to me (at least until she leaves home) and that when she comes home in the evening she will still need me and love me as much as she does now. It will be OK because it has to be OK, and if so many other women can rear a happy baby and bring home the bacon I know I have that capacity too. But I tell you right now, one of the hardest things I will ever have to do will be that first drop off at nursery, and I pray it will get easier. My boss had better prepare himself….!

Perhaps you have had similar concerns or could even offer me some pearls of wisdom…..?

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My updated CV

I’ve been off work since the end of October, and I’m due to go back in July. I won’t dwell on that here; the thought of it isn’t pleasant for a number of reasons and most of them are to do with Hannah. However, when I was having one of my little wobbles yesterday, I got to thinking about what I could bring to my job rather than what I would be taking away from her. Here are a few of my thoughts (let me know what yours are…).

1. I work smarter. Note that this isn’t the same as harder, or more. To me it means that I have a fresher approach to prioritisation and that I therefore work more efficiently, using the tools at my disposition as they are really needed. I feel more confident now about deciding what needs to be done and when, and whether it needs to be gold plated or whether a quick and dirty job will allow me to get on with other things. Baby and home management basics?

2. I delegate more effectively. I don’t need to do everything and I don’t need to control everything either. Tesco can deliver the shopping. My husband can clean the loo (it doesn’t matter if it isn’t perfect) and I will spend time making puréed food for my daughter because I know what she needs and how much.

3. I can walk away from things that aren’t important. It’s easy for me to say now but I will be able to set aside petty issues in favour of the major stuff and at will be able to leave work where it belongs at the end of the day. My family is my world and work will always play second fiddle. A smile from my little girl would make me far happier than praise from my boss (although that will also be pleasing. If indeed it happens).

4. I can do loads of things single handed….. For the healthy minded readers of this post I mean that I am rather surprised that I can, for example, open bottles with one hand. I hope to have my eyes open to the possibility that I will discover new skills at work too.

5. I have rediscovered things I had forgotten. I am a right hander, but do certain things left handed such as pulling pints, and am ambidextrous with others such as using cutlery. I had forgotten this until I started to eat food with a fork in one hand and a baby in the other. Again, I’m rather hoping I will remember other skills that I had forgotten on my return.

6. I have more patience than I thought I had.

7. Other people have hidden talents too. They just need to be confronted with a new situation for them to be revealed. My husband is, for example, great at bathing and massaging our baby. Let’s see if I get any people to manage who I can test my theory on.

8. I’m more comfortable than I used to be with my competitors- who aren’t actually competitors at all. I’m perfectly happy with the kind of mother I am and with the way my daughter is progressing. The same will apply to my career- I will worry about me and my job rather than other people and theirs.

9. I am far more chilled out than I used to be. A former manager once told me in my annual appraisal that I needed to “change my face”. When I asked why she said it was because I “look stressed and unapproachable sometimes”. Perhaps, therefore, having a baby has given me a motherly and relaxed look that will encourage colleagues to come hither….

There will be more, I’m sure/I hope. I don’t want to go back to work; I have to. And leaving my little girl at nursery makes me feel sick. But knowing that I can bring great new skills to the workplace gives me some professional comfort after 8 months off in a climate where jobs aren’t secure, not to mention the fact that because of Hannah I will always have the best job in the world anyway.