When I got pregnant people used to ask me about whether I was excited about having a baby I always responded “yes, of course” (well that's what they want to hear and because it was true). However, what I didn’t tell them about was the very next feeling that used to hit me when they asked this; utter fear. Oh, but I wasn’t fearful about putting on weight, swollen ankles or feeling tired. I wasn’t even anxious about the long and painful labour (although let’s be honest that was pretty traumatic); rather, I was fearful about leaving my job in PR, if only for a short while.
It’s somewhat embarrassing to admit this, because in many ways I always felt it made me look like a bad mummy even before I had really started. As if I am not grateful for this wonderful gift, when truly I am. Yet I had this deep-rooted fear of how I would deal with my time off on maternity leave, how I would let go, pass over the reins to a maternity cover, and worst of all, whether I could deal with going from PR professional, to simply being ‘mum’.
By the way, I should just caveat above too that ‘time off’ is completely the wrong term of phrase here – having a baby is far from ‘time off’ – more like ‘time always on’ but for want of a better phrase I will leave it as it is. We’ll leave the argument about what to call maternity leave/ career pauses/ time off to have a baby etc for another time.
So was I the only one feeling like this? I couldn’t find anyone writing about this issue of maternity leave anxiousness, and it is never discussed in the pregnancy books or at antenatal classes. None of my friends seemed to mention it either… was I just not cut out to be a mummy because I was so focused on my career?
It was only about two weeks before I was due to give birth that I decided to be honest and commit my very biggest fears to paper (or rather to screen) in the form of my mummy blog that I realised I'm not the only one feeling like this. There are women all over the world panicking about letting go, anxious about going off on maternity leave, fearful over losing their identity when they stop working – and all the time feeling guilty about these emotions. Yet it is like the elephant in the room and something no one is willing to admit to for fear of people judging.
I have always loved my career in PR, and my clients and my team mean the world to me. In fact, before I had my baby, they were my babies (sad I know!). I have also, up until recently, believed that my career defines me, makes me into the professional that I am, even makes me the person I am. So how will I cope if I can’t do what defines me on a daily basis? How can I continue to be me? How will I deal with losing my identity? What will I talk about at dinner parties or social events if I don’t have my career? All these questions I agonised over in the run up to my maternity leave, resulting in my last few months in the run up to my due date being stressful and emotional.
But now as my daughter reaches the 18 months old milestone and I am back at work (and relishing it might I add) I have realised that what defines me is not, in fact, my career in PR. Rather, it is my deep-rooted values that define me. I am me whatever job or role I do, whether this is being a mum or a PR. And these values won’t change whether I am at work or at home. In fact, they will remain intrinsic in me at all times and help me every day as I practice my new (very difficult) job as a mum.
Not to mention the skills I will pick up along the way of being a mum, such as patience, the ability to meet new people, being able to think on my feet, the requirement to put in all the hours of everyday no matter how tired I am, and of course the skill of multitasking.
As I continue this journey into motherhood, I am so relieved to know that I am not alone and reassured that it is ok to feel like this. So, let’s talk about the elephant in the room and address this stigma, because it’s ok to be scared about going off on maternity leave and it’s definitely ok to love your career and love your baby.
Holly Pither is mum to baby girl, Amelia. She runs her own PR consultancy, Tribe PR and is also a mum blogger. She started her blog PitterPatterPither when she first went on maternity leave after feeling fearful of leaving work and impending motherhood. She writes about the trials and tribulations of maternity leave and finds it therapeutic. She champions flexible working, and doesn’t want working mothers to suffer in their careers after returning to work from maternity leave. You can follow Holly’s blog here: https://pitterpatterpither.com/