After eight months maternity leave, I was so ready to get back to work.
I was ready to be clean, to get out of my housecoat. Yes, I have a housecoat. I highly recommend them for the working mother. They allow you to get dressed before the baby wakes and be pretty confident that you will get to work with your clothes unsoiled by poo, vomit or snot.
The hair is a different story, however. I have yet to work out a way of protecting the hair. I did try wearing a shower cap for a while but the baby didn't like it. So I wear it up a lot and cross my fingers that I am imagining that milky, vomity smell that we mothers secretly love.
But back to the point. I am enjoying work even more than before I had my daughter Ava and I didn’t think that was possible. I think I focus more and fit more into the day. I have become a better multi-tasker, faster.
Also, it is just wonderful to have little Ava’s face to look forward to when I finish. I love collecting her from the crèche. I love peeking in the window and seeing her with her own little life. I love seeing her face light up when she recognises me. I just love it. My husband and I fight over who gets to pick her up. It is the highlight of every day.
I did have reservations about going back to work. I worried that it wouldn't be the best thing for Ava. I worried about how the hell I was going to fit everything in, get everything done. I worried that even if I did manage to juggle the logistics, I wouldn’t be able to do my job well anymore, that I would miss out on opportunities because I had to leave at five but I really haven’t.
I am definitely ‘leaning in’ as much as I always did. (For those who don't get the reference, read Sheryl Sandberg's book 'Lean in'. It is essential reading for any woman in the workplace, regardless of whether or not you have children. OK it is full of American stuff that we love to laugh at, but her thesis is sound).
I think I am working harder and better, because I appreciate my career more than I did before. Much as I adore Ava, towards the end of the mat leave I really felt that she was outgrowing just me at home. When I see her in the creche, playing with the toys and interacting with the lovely staff and the other babies, I have no doubts that she is happy and being well looked after.
And I had definitely outgrown my time at home. For the last few weeks I was trying to put her down for naps all the time. Every time there was even a hint of a yawn, or even if she put her hand anywhere remotely near her face, I would try and put her down for a nap.
Looking back I was dying for some time to myself. To replenish. To go to the toilet. To have a hot cup of tea. Minding a baby at home is so hard on so many different levels. It is much harder than working outside the home. No matter what your job is, minding the baby is harder. You need so much patience and endurance.
You need to switch off so much of yourself. And this is good for you as a person. It is good for us, for me, to not be the centre of the universe. It teaches you humility and shows you what you need to work on about yourself.
I was a terribly harsh person before Ava – I abhorred any weakness, had no patience with anything or anyone that wasn’t fast and busy and furious like myself but now I see that there are loads of ways of being in the world, none better than the other. We all complement each other. We all need each other. And we are all, at different times, each other. Life is a journey. We’ve all been the helpless baby and we will all, with luck, be the old person who needs a hand one day.
But I don’t want to switch myself off all the time. That’s not good for you either. I love Ava so much that I want her to grow up to see that she can have her own money, her own identity, whatever she wants as long as she is willing to work for it. I don’t want her to feel any limitations. I don’t want her to be beholden to anyone. I want her to be free and I believe that working makes you free. Being fulfilled makes you free. Being out in the world is good for your soul.
There are as many ways of being a good mother as there are mothers. For some, it is staying at home and I know women like that, women that were born to create a home full-time and I think those women are amazing. For those women, not working outside the home makes them free. I love visiting their houses. I love their world but it isn’t mine. It isn’t me.
I also know mothers who would love to be at work but are forced through ridiculous childcare costs to stay at home after their first baby and they are not happy. It isn’t unusual and it isn’t fair. They suffer. They make the best of it and do a wonderful job but they suffer. We should be ashamed of that as a country - that most families can barely afford childcare for one child and that many women who want to work are forced to choose between a second child or her job.
Everyone has different strengths and wisdom and values to pass on to their children. There is no perfect model of mother. You can only be yourself and your first responsibility is to make yourself happy and fulfilled so that you don’t leave a vacuum that you expect others to fill.
I am not saying that you put your needs always before your baby – I don’t know anyone, working or otherwise, who does that, but you do have to balance your wellbeing with that of your family. If you are not well, no one in your house will be.
I work at trying to be a good mother. I think about this a lot and I really, firmly believe that we are all better off in my family with me in the workplace. And I am not talking about money.
Life is long and these baby years are so short. For me it makes no sense to think short-term and stay at home full time with Ava while she is a baby because what happens in three years when she goes to school and I have given up my job, my independence, my self? For me, being a mother makes these things more precious, more necessary, more urgent. I do them for my daughter, not in spite of her.