Wrestling my thoughts.
Attending interviews half way through my maternity leave is not something I ever envisaged myself doing. I had been out of the ‘work loop’ for nearly 5 months and my employers were under an obligation to ‘redeploy’ me in a role they saw fit unless I agreed to take redundancy. Each week I was sent a list of vacant posts that were deemed suitable to my skill-set, and it was up to me which I applied for. I would automatically be granted an interview which took a lot of the stress out of my predicament, but it turns out that the stress surrounding this new job search would come from other sources, ones which were much closer to home.
Having a baby is life-changing. I don’t need to tell mothers out there that. But having a premature baby is heart-wrenching also and I promised myself I would always put Martha first, come what may. When she was born I made a vow to never cry in front of her. I wanted her to think that the world was perfect, to never experience heart-ache, to never think that her mum was weak, and to always be happy. It’s like an over compensation that I needed to create this perfect world for her because I felt I had let her down; that my body had failed to sustain her during pregnancy and I owed it to her to make things right. Absolutely unrealistic promises to fulfil, and ones which I now know were ridiculous to have ever made.
It’s right that she sees my struggles, she sees my tears, she sees my frustrations, my joys my laughter all in Martha sized doses obviously, because that is what life is. It’s happy and it’s hard. We struggle so much with our conflicting emotions as mums, always trying to do our best and walking that fine line between being fabulously successful and a complete and utter failure. All or nothing. As a new mum, I needed constant affirmation from my peers and loved ones that I was doing a good job, that I
was a good mum, and that the difficult choices I was making, were the right ones. When you become a mum, you get a newfound respect for your own mum. They are the ‘go to’ person who can give you the best advice in your new parenting role, yet they can also cuddle you as their child when you are struggling. What I didn’t expect was that they are also the ones who can deliver the hardest blows; the curveballs that knock you sideways, and their differing opinions are the ones that hurt the most because they matter to you. They really matter.
I need to say that I love my mum so much. Those who know me know this. She was there at Martha’s birth and she is a brilliant parent, friend and Narny (the word for Grandma in our family). But she is one of those women who feels compelled to share her thoughts and opinions on pretty much everything anyone is doing, regardless of the impact that might have on them. She comes from the generation of ‘stay at home mums’ when, once you had a baby, there was no question of going back to work, certainly not within the first 5 years of the child’s life, if indeed ever again. She made cakes, she cooked tea, she cleaned, she ironed, she walked us in our prams, she always wore a skirt, tights and a nice blouse, and she created a fantastic childhood for all her three children. But she cried a lot, and she suffered from crippling postnatal depression after my brother Mark was born. Her tears used to distress me so much when I was little and the endless months she spent in her bedroom after Mark was born frightened me.
Now I’m not saying that the fact she was a stay at home mum caused her to be depressed, nor am I using it as the reason I went back to work- to avoid being depressed –
I’m just stating that what we witness as children influences how we try to be as parents ourselves (for example me trying never to cry in front of Martha stemmed from seeing my mums tears and how that made me feel). My Mum did absolutely the best she could with the hand she was dealt and now I had to find my best. Make the decisions best for my family, which may be completely different for your family and the next and the next. Because every situation is different. My mum’s situation
was different to mine, and mine is different to yours. We need to feel really strong in our personal decision making because the tiniest objection can knock us off our already fragile feet if we aren’t steadfast. As a new parent, I grew increasingly reliant on my mum’s approval to the point where if she objected to anything I was doing, I was sent into a tailspin. That’s not her fault, it’s because I wasn’t strong enough to stand up and own my decision. Sharing my thought’s with my Mum on my work situation whilst on Mat Leave made me question so many times whether or not I was doing the right thing by going back. What I saw as loaded questions kept creeping in such as ‘Do you have to?’ ‘Won’t you miss her?’ ‘I’d take the redundancy’ ‘you don’t get this time back you know? and such like, all of which made me feel terrible. I know new mums are particularly hard on themselves and if it was anyone else, I’d have answered calmly and certainly and thought no more of it. But this was my mum. She must know best. And her questions were translated in my mind to the following; What was she trying to say? That I was a crap mum for going back to work? Especially because Martha was prem? How could I even think about abandoning her? Why had I had a child just for someone else to take care of her? My confidence was waning with every distorted question.
This was going to be a lot tougher than I thought. And if I was going to do what I knew my heart and head were telling me to do, I was going to have to toughen up; be defiant in the decisions Nick and I had made for our family and stop listening so much to other people. More importantly to stop measuring myself against other people’s expectations. I owed it to Martha to be the best Mum I could be, and that meant finding a way for me to be at peace with the choices I made regardless of what people thought. Realising this was a turning point for me and one which put a new spring in my step, a confident spring.
By June, I had secured a new post with The Council as a Freedom of Information and Data Protection Officer. I had enrolled Martha in a lovely nursery part time in the village of Blackrod; an old grammar school which was Forest School accredited meaning that the children were encouraged to learn outdoors, something important to us as at the time we were living in a flat with no garden. October was looming and as the seasons changed, our routine was about to change with it. I have always loved Autumn. There’s something magical about the leaves crisp under your feet, the bite in the air, the early evening street lights and the home fires burning. It reminds me of going back to school after the summer break, wearing new shoes, with a new coat and a pencil case, a new teacher, new text books… A new beginning. A new mum with a new job.