When You Don't Want To Go Back To Work After Maternity Leaveby Jenny Lord
I’m one of those women whose life ambition was to become a mother and be a housewife.
“I’m going to marry a rich man, have a horse called Rachel and breed Great Danes and live in a cottage in the country.”
That’s what I naively told my dad at age 15. Fast forward to now, I live in the suburbs in a 1930’s semi, I failed to marry for money, and I have to work to contribute to our lifestyle, not a Great Dane in-sight, but two hairy cats. I was never that interested in a full-on career, I went to university and promptly dropped out after a year (long story but went through clearing and chose any old subject so I could leave home and have freedom, but soon hated it). The rich man on horseback never materialised so I bit the bullet and went back to college to train to be a nurse, then further as a Midwife. I dated of course but still hadn’t found the one. I’d found several wrong ones, the last one affected me so much that I decided to go it alone, I didn’t need a man so I bought my own property and decided I could have kids using a sperm donor if needed. How dramatic!
Just before I started work as a qualified Midwife, I started dating my now-husband. He earned a similar salary to me, in fact, we’re pretty similar all round. So, reader, I married him. We’re still together almost 15 years later so we must have got something right. I didn’t need that sperm donor after all as we now have three children.
I enjoyed working as a Midwife, but despite romantic images of babies and heroic, altruistic Midwives, it’s bloody stressful. You have to work shifts, have incredible responsibility, and as a new Midwife, I was rostered onto a lot of weekends and nights. Plus, you also have to do at least one on-call per month, meaning on top of your full-time work, you could be called in to help during the night if the unit was busy, which it often was. You were expected to get on with it, although technically you had support from more experienced staff they were often snowed under.
After we got married, I cut my hours to 30 per week and started working as a community midwife. Although this was better, the on calls were now once a week and you could be called out to attend a home birth, or second on call for a busy unit. The stress when that phone went off was immense! I like my sleep, plus you never quite knew what you were going in to. I looked forward to having children and cutting my hours.
When I had my first child, things didn’t go quite to plan, she ended up being diagnosed with a terminal genetic condition (a whole other story) and work was a bit of respite actually. I returned to work after 6 months back in the community doing 3 days a week. Once she started having problems developing, I struggled seeing ‘normal’ happy families and my mental health was suffering, plus I don’t think I was being the best Midwife I could be. I didn’t want to give up completely, nor could we afford it financially, so I went down to one night a week in the hospital, where it’s more anonymous – you still get emotionally involved of course, but most women I didn’t know from Adam, and after my shift was over I went home and could switch off easier.
Me and my daughter, before we knew anything was wrong – breast pump in the background, won’t be put down!
This arrangement worked well for a while, it allowed me some time away from home and kept my skills up. Even after my daughter passed away, I was still OK with work. It was after I had my now eldest child that I began to struggle with the work-life balance. I went happily back to work after 6 or 7 months. I saw no point in delaying it, life goes on. It was hard though, knowing after a long day with your baby you have to go and be awake and responsible all night. Most of the time I felt anything but.
My now second child followed swiftly after (they’re 19 months apart), but during the maternity leave, I was frantically searching for an alternative career. I know lots of Nurses and Midwives who would quite like a different career or job, but once you’re in the profession, starting another job becomes difficult, because despite the general pay being not what we deserve, it’s actually not bad money. Especially when you compare it to minimum wage jobs, and others where you have to start at the bottom. Once you’re a bit older, too, it’s harder to get a job when young people are cheaper and easier to train. If you have children, you’re going to want the gold dust hen’s teeth job where it’s part-time and no weekends or shifts. Spoiler alert: I haven’t found it yet (except for blogging). At least nursing or midwifery is always in demand and you can pick and choose your hours to suit.
My two under 3
When my maternity leave ended, I was no closer to finding an alternative career, so back to Midwifery I went. By this time the small friendly maternity unit had closed, and a new, bigger hospital had been built, merging two departments. I didn’t get one of the coveted birth centre jobs and instead had to go back to work at the new hospital. I hated it, merging two teams gave it a bit of a ‘them and us’ vibe, the larger unit was like a conveyer belt of women. We used to be able to close the unit if we got too busy and divert to the other one, but this was no longer an option it seemed, putting pressure on everyone. I hated the way it worked, I felt isolated and unsupported. I dreaded every shift, even though it was only once a week.
I became really unhappy. I had two gorgeous healthy children, but they were hard work and I was dreaming of escape. Where I could escape to, I don’t know, and of course, I wouldn’t leave them. Our marriage went through a difficult time, we almost split up. I hadn’t processed the loss of my daughter properly; I was pregnant when she died and had two children in quick succession. I ended up having counselling, as did my husband and we pulled through. I knew a change was needed, and I asked to be transferred to community work again. I took the only offer, even though it involved a one-hour commute.
Life in general improved and I liked my new job. I didn’t like the on calls once a week and being dragged from my bed to face the uncertainty again and commuting. It did put a strain on us, as my husband had to do the school and nursery runs on the days I worked, causing him stress and meant he was late for work those days. I didn’t feel we had a choice though, as we’d moved to a new house with a higher mortgage and a house that needed doing up. Our choice, I know, but it was part of a change that needed to happen. Too many memories in the old house, plus I didn’t feel I was in the home I should be in (remember that cottage in the country?).
We decided to have one more child (!), and it was this last child that finally brought the change I craved. He was a difficult baby and sleep was a rarity. I took the whole year off this time, and it was during this last maternity leave that I discovered blogging after a friend suggested I’d be good at it. When I started, I had no idea you could make an income for it, but I was exploring making my own products (which I abandoned afterwards as it would have involved more investment than I had) and I thought it would be a good platform. I also thought it would be a good place to provide answers to the questions I regularly got as a Midwife.
By the time I went back to work when my baby was 10 months old, I felt like I was doing two jobs. I was reluctant to go back, I’d left a longer gap between two and three, and I felt like I was now getting it right – as much as you ever feel that. He didn’t sleep well still, and I was so tired I couldn’t give my all to the job. It showed. One lady complained to my boss that I seemed half-asleep – that’s because I was! All the time. I struggled through most days. My boss saw straight through me and knew I didn’t want to be there. I missed my baby whilst he was in nursery, despite never feeling that way before with the other children. Adding another child into the morning routine meant my husband was even more stressed doing the school/nursery run and something had to give again.
I asked for a transfer to a more local team so I could take over the school run and still get to work. I begged and begged, and Midwives in the local teams said they were struggling for staff so it seemed pretty straightforward. They kept saying there were no vacancies despite me saying how much I was struggling. The last straw was when I heard someone else had got a job in a local team. I gave them an ultimatum, if they hadn’t moved me by the end of the following month I would resign. Five months after returning from my maternity leave, I resigned. It was either brave or stupid, I was making some money from blogging, but not enough to replace my income.
I ended up getting into a bit of debt and had to work a few Midwifery shifts to pay it off before my blogging career took off later that year (there’s that versatility again, damn it). Since then I’ve had ups and downs but I’m so glad I made the career change to one that works for me. I’m around for the children and home and I feel more ‘me.’ I may even get a dog soon.