My maternity leave with my son was far from conventional. It raised more than a few eyebrows from the people around me. And, to be honest, there were plenty of times I doubted that my decision was the right one. I was self employed when we fell pregnant. Working 7 day weeks, paying off a house renovation and driving around in the least economical car. Our outgoings were high, our savings low, and working for myself meant there would be no company maternity pay to ease the financial strain.
People often commented how nice it must be, being able to dictate my own working pattern. They envied the flexibility being my own boss gave. I envied them, with their maternity leave defined for them by their employers policies or the state. I knew from the start, that a long maternity leave spent at home with our baby would not be sustainable. Financially, it wasn't possible. Even if it was, the responsibility of running a business meant my presence would be needed before I'd like.
I chose to go back to work much earlier than society taught me I should. Before our son was with us, the thought of not being with him full time, for long enough filled me with guilt. Everywhere I looked around me, the women I saw on maternity leave seemed to be taking as long as they possibly could before going back to work. Their only focus seemed to be their new baby, without distraction. Baby came first, work could wait. Then there was me.
I filled my diary with appointments until 3 days before our due date. 4 weeks after it I had an important meeting scheduled. The whole way through that meeting I breastfed the baby and my supplier just accepted it. I put on a brave face, but I felt completely alone. Now I know, there's a whole army of women, working through their supposed maternity leave, for their families and their businesses. Self employed or otherwise, I'm learning of more and more women who, for their own reasons, are taking a shorter, or less conventional maternity leave.
The energy it takes for a working mum to manage the demands of her work life and home life are so often underestimated. Once I had a child, I realised the unfair scrutiny mothers come under for the choices they make. How long they take off work is just one. At my end of the spectrum, people stifled judgemental looks when I told them I was handing my 3 week old baby to my receptionist so I could reply to emails. At the other, those taking the decision to be at home til their children start school, tell me they still feel a stigma attached to stay at home mum's.
To others taking the decision to take a less conventional maternity leave I have two pieces of advice.
Be flexible with your plan and adjust it if you need to.
Babies, children and life itself are unpredictable. A change in direction is not a failure of your plan. Just as I can't anticipate every business change in my industry, we can't, as parents anticipate every change in our family needs. Adapt.
Learn how to ask for help.
Lean on your family and friends when you need to. If they offer support, take it. Accepting their support can sometimes be a survival necessity. As the old African proverb says "It takes a village to raise a child".
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