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'I happily g ave up work – I loved my job, but I loved my son more'

LAST November, life was picture-perfect – at least on paper. I was newly married with a gorgeous eight-month-old baby and had recently returned to an interesting and rewarding career as editor of Maternity and Infant magazine.

I had spent the first six months at home getting to grips with being a mother, which was challenging, for sure, but ultimately the best six months of my life.

I returned to work reluctantly; like most first-time mothers, I wasn't looking forward to the prospect of being away from my baby, but as I'm self-employed it was a necessity.

I mainly worked from home while my parents (when time allowed because they both work too) helped with childcare.

To many, it seemed like the perfect set-up; working flexibly from home on a magazine that mirrored my stage in life while family cared for my new baby.

I did worry about how I'd cope with a teething tot and a heavy workload, but I pushed these fears to one side and reassured myself that everything would be as it was during pregnancy, albeit with less sleep.

Two months in, I felt like I was on a hamster wheel with no way of getting off.

Had I escaped the first six months of motherhood without any symptoms of postnatal depression only for it to finally rear its ugly head after eight months?

It turns out these crippling feelings of exhaustion, guilt and not being quite good enough at work or at home were part and parcel of being a working parent.

Something wasn't quite right, though, and I couldn't figure out why. It took a while for me to pinpoint the root cause of my unhappiness.

I eventually realised I wanted to raise my son, not work while other people looked after him, regardless of how amazing the care was or how rewarding my job was.

I hadn't met many women in similar circumstances who felt the same way, or at least who admitted it.

Most seemed happy, or at least resigned to the fact that this was modern family life: mam and dad both go out to work while someone else cares for the children.

The blessing and the curse of the 'have it all' generation is that it was normal to go on to second level education, work hard and have a family in tandem with your career.

Ten years ago I would have been pretty darned happy at the mere prospect of this.

I could see the many advantages of being a working mother, aside from the obvious financial benefits.

Well-meaning family and friends were also at pains to point these out in an effort to make me feel better about my situation.

They would say things like: "It's great to keep the mind active /it's good for mammy and baby to interact with other people."

I knew many women would be, and are, happy to make it work for them. But I was not happy.

This took me by surprise. I'd always wanted children, but I'd never envisioned a future that didn't feature a career.

And, sure, why would I? Successful women surrounded me, both personally as well as those in the media, raising families alongside their professional career.

Nightmare

No one was saying it was easy, but it was seen as normal to juggle everything because that's what people do nowadays.

I had it all; I was one of those lucky women living the dream.

However, in reality, that dream was a living nightmare.

Trying to spend quality time with my baby, not fall behind in work and keep on top of the never-ending domestics of our home – something that became even more important with a young baby, even though it wasn't high on my priority list before – was incredibly hard.

Time with my husband, family and friends was a luxury that I just couldn't afford.

Then there was the guilt: of not spending enough time with my baby and of feeling ungrateful for being employed while many still struggled to find work, let alone find a job they loved.

Unfortunately, for me this wasn't nearly enough. Since giving birth, my baby had been my number one priority.

In my working life, like most of us, I have made mistakes, thankfully without any catastrophic consequences, but I learned from them and moved on.

However, I quickly realised I would get only one shot at being a parent and, unfortunately, the stakes were higher.

Everyone (and I mean everyone) tells you how quickly time passes when your child is growing up, so I was hyper-conscious of how precious each day was in the fascinating world of a clever and mischievous eight-month-old.

I didn't want to miss a minute, yet even when I was present in body, my mind was elsewhere. I was terrified I was going to drop one of the balls I was juggling.

More than anything I wanted to spend time with my son, nurture him and watch him grow and develop, but with a demanding job this was only possible in between deadlines.

How had it not occurred to me before that raising a child was a 24/7 job in itself?

How had I not realised that unless we were prepared to place Etienne in full-time childcare, my job wasn't really viable?

My husband and I had discussed how we'd both like for me to be with our baby full-time but, as money was already tight, we felt it wasn't a realistic prospect.

This was further reinforced by others. Whenever I expressed a desire to parent full-time, the general consensus was either, "We all do it, so suck it up", or, "You'd go crazy at home", but in the nicest possible way.

Ironically, I was going crazy. The pressure of trying to produce a quality magazine and be a good, present mother was driving me slowly insane.

No one tells you just how difficult it is to mentally switch from 'mammy' to 'work' mode and vice versa.

As I fired up my laptop, I panicked about whether I'd expressed enough milk or packed enough nappies.

And when it came to closing my laptop, my mind raced about emails I hadn't yet had a chance to respond to.

Meanwhile my little baby squealed in delight at having his mammy back (in body if not yet in mind), waiting expectantly for me to begin his bedtime routine.

After particularly busy periods at work, I found it took time to tune back in to my baby's needs.

Was he hungry or tired? Was he teething or ill? The bond we had built up over six months didn't seem as strong anymore, which I found unnerving.

I couldn't give either my baby or my job 100 pc – and that was wearing me down.

Something had to give. After three months back at work, it became clear that one of them had to go, and I'd grown rather attached to my cherubic little boy with his big blue eyes.

I loved my job, but I loved my son and I realised I wanted to raise him full-time, at least during his crucial formative years.

But before I could commit to this huge decision, I needed permission – from my husband (could he take the financial burden?), other women (does this fly in the face of feminism or did women fight for the right to choose what's best for them rather than conforming to social norms?), and myself (am I prepared to pause my career and sacrifice mental stimulation?).

When I eventually told my husband that I couldn't continue trying to have it all, he was really supportive. It was a huge relief, I'm not sure my fragile and frazzled brain could have taken anything less.

clarity

Just making the decision felt like a tonne of bricks being lifted from my shoulders.

I had clarity for the first time in months and knew that this was the best decision.

Financially, it would be a struggle. Although we weren't saddled with negative equity, rent was high and we had to consider moving to keep within our new single-salary budget.

We would also be holding on to our ancient but reliable car for the foreseeable future.

However, these were sacrifices we were happy to make if it meant at least one of us was present day-to-day with our son. As any full-time parent will testify, it's certainly no picnic.

Two months on from editing my last issue of Maternity & Infant I've no regrets about my decision to leave.

I do miss the people and the buzz, and my passion for work is still there, but being freelance means I can dip in and out when time allows.

Etienne turned one this week, and I've learned a great deal more than I bargained for over the past 12 months.

Mainly that I'd much rather have what's important to me than have it all.


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