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Real Life Experiences of Returning to Work After a Long Period of Maternity Leave

This guest post has been written by one of my coaching clients who has recently returned to work after maternity leave.

Hi, I’m Alice and I’ve just returned to work after having just over a year off work on maternity leave with my daughter. In this guest post I’ll share with you my experiences of what it’s like to have such a long time off work and returning to the workplace.

Before becoming a parent, if you’d have asked me when I would return to work after having a baby I’d have said I’ll be back after about 6 months, 9 tops! In fact I did say this to my manager when we agreed my return date of May 2022. This decision was partly made due to affordability, but also because I really like my job and couldn’t see myself wanting to take such a long time away from a role that I enjoyed and the identity I had at work. However the reality of sleep deprivation, the long nights (and days!) and getting to grips with my new role of ‘mama’ was very different to what I’d have imagined. The days are long, but the weeks and months pass by in a flash. It’s true, no matter how much preparation you do or what people tell you, nothing can prepare you for the reality of parenthood!

Personally, I found motherhood quite challenging in the early months and didn’t properly start to enjoy it until my daughter was 9 months old. Looking back, I can’t imagine how hard it would have been to go back to work at this stage and am so thankful for not missing out on those really magical last few months. I’ve been able to be there for all the major milestones – seeing her roll over, say her first word, take her first steps! Having the summer to spend time with my new mum friends, attend baby groups and just make as many happy memories as we could has been amazing.

But this wouldn’t have been possible if the maternity policy hadn’t changed just after I went on my maternity leave. When I started, my workplace offered 16 weeks full pay (better than most!) followed by 23 weeks of statutory pay – which is about £150 per week. Not much when a tank of petrol can cost up to £100! Fortunately for me, their new policies changed the offering to 6 months full pay followed by 3 months statutory pay. With the money I’d saved this meant that I was able to extend my leave and take a full year off.

Coming back to work after over 12 months away was a really scary thing. Not just trying to remember what my job was, but trying not to get overwhelmed with the new routine of dropping / picking up from nursery, as well as the impossible task of making sure I build in time for myself. Thankfully I was given the opportunity to have a return to work coach. This is another brilliant offering that some organisations have made available for people returning from maternity, shared parental and adoption leave.

Having never had formal coaching before I didn’t really know what to expect. I’ve now had 1 session with my Coach, Laura, and we’ve started to put together some goals about my career aspirations, getting some work/life balance and helping me to process and define my new identity as a working mother. I’m amazed at how much clarity and self-awareness that one session has already brought me and it feels great to know that I have that additional support in place.

It’s only been a month, but working full-time as a new mum can be really tough. I’ve definitely felt the ‘mum-guilt’ for spending so much time away in the week, even though I can see how amazing she’s developing and how much she loves nursery. To keep a bit of balance I’ve decided to trial compressed hours so that we can spend Monday afternoon’s together (and save a little bit of money on the truly extortionate nursery bills!!). This is week 1 so we’ll see how it goes, but it was great to be supported by my manager and team in testing out this new way of working. Knowing that I have the flexibility to see what works for me and my family takes a massive weight off!

I’m absolutely no expert and appreciate everyone’s circumstance is different, but I really hope this helps anyone who may be daunted by the prospect of parental leave and returning to work and gives a few examples of how you can make work work for you.

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