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As A Mother Will I Ever ‘Fit’ In The Workplace?

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I was dreading telling my work that I was pregnant on both occasions.

The reason? The fear of their reaction, and where would it leave me? Would I be able to continue my role? Will I still be respected and viewed as the same as I was now? No matter what is said, the lead up to maternity leave you are treated differently. There is a period where you haven’t quite left, but the business needs to continue without you.

The word replacement is not uttered but ultimately that is what is happening. You slowly feel less and less included, and in some ways capable.

Suddenly, it is all about people talking about nappies, feeding and sleepless nights, ‘working you,’ seems to be fading before your eyes. Maternity leave comes and you are excited for a break, I mean who doesn’t want 9 months of not going to work? But, what they do not tell you is how you are supposed to feel for those 9 months when, you want to be more than just a mother? You need to claim something for yourself. To regain your identity that was lost but you no longer have that perfect fit in the workplace you once had. That you are not equal and the reason is because you are returning as a mother.

There comes a grand show of your last day where promises of popping in for cups of tea are made and that of course you will be kept in the loop. However, with all good intentions it won’t be the case after the obligatory post baby work visit, you look round see new faces, that everything is ticking on without you and you feel a sense of sadness. You wonder what will happen when you return months from now. Having a baby made me question who I was, it changed me.

I didn’t really recognise myself anymore it was like I was going back as someone else.

Things did not exactly go to plan when I left to have my first baby. He was born with an undiagnosed heart condition and admitted to NICU. At 6 months old, he had open heart surgery, leaving me with my own mental health struggles. I was in the grips of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I was not the person I was when I had left 9 months previously, and going from the only full-time supervisor, to a part time supervisor and sharing the load with two other full time supervisors. I was lost, not sure of my team, not sure where I was supposed to slot in.

They didn’t quite no how to treat the new mum who had a sick baby either. It dented my confidence, I began to doubt myself.

My anxiety which I put to bed years ago, had made an unwelcome return. My first day back should have been a milestone, after all here I was starting my new chapter as a part time working mother. Instead I felt like I didn’t belong, that for polite purposes people tolerated me but once the pity and sympathy subsided there wasn’t much left to talk about. Suffering from PTSD and having the 9 months we had, it was all I could talk about. Soon I guess people began to bore of the woman going on and on about her baby and bringing it up at every opportunity. Truth be told I didn’t know how to talk about anything else.

Before you have children, chances are your very much pre-occupied with work. After all, you are there 90% of the time. When you become a mother, this is quickly replaced by a 100% priority to your child. You find everything becomes about them, and it really is hard not to let it into other areas of your life. In the back of your mind you are always thinking about something to do with your baby. Are they okay at nursery? Must remember to get them that cup in my lunch hour. I hope they are feeding okay while I am here. Are they settling? Are they in bed yet? I found being a mother was almost an inconvenience to most of my work colleague who evidently were childless. With a post partem crash of identity, I found returning to work reconfirmed it even more. At home, I longed for more, wanted to be more than just a mother. At work, it was clear to all I was seen as just a mother. Being part time, I missed out on things in my time way from the office, or I did things differently and newer staff questioned why. I felt at times I was left out, whether it was unintentional or not if you are not there all the time you will miss out.

In the workplace, as much as we want to pretend that in 2017, women are considered equal, we are not. Going on maternity leave for the second time this year, I can see how women feel like they are being pushed out, or why they do not go back. I mean who really wants to play catch up all the time, and feel like they are not part of the cool gang at work. Women are a liability, going on mat leave and then coming back normally with reduced hours, or ‘too emotional’, and pre-occupied with their children. They are not seen as a valuable member of staff. Even with the introduction of shared maternity leave and more fathers choosing to stay at home it is still the mother who is a waste of money, time and resources. We are viewed as a detriment for needing to pick our children up, for staying at home when they are sick, for taking time off for Doctor’s appointments, newsflash, dad’s do this too. A stay at home mum is perceived as lazy with no ambition yet a stay at home dad basically gets a round of applause and admiration.

I have now had my second child, and as I type this I am on maternity leave until the middle of next year. Once again, my priorities have changed and evolved around my two children. Yes, I am a mother, but I am also a hard worker. I am loyal, I can multi task and carry out 90% of tasks one handed thanks to holding one or more children at any given time. I can run on little to no sleep and although I was up 700 times the night before, will still get up, get two kids washed and dressed and shipped off to nursery before I even arrive at my desk. When I get home, I will read a bedtime story and put them to bed, and be up multiple times in the night again.

So why is it that as a part time working mother I am made to feel like a burden to the workplace? And, if we are honest will this ever change? Why are we still having to fight for flexible working? The media paint a picture that millennial mothers should have it all and want it all as well. It isn’t enough to stay at home you need to have a perfect job to coincide with your perfect career and have a perfect blow dry with your perfect size 8 figure. However, the reality for a mother in the work place is far from picture perfect to the unreal expectations we are made to believe we want. As a part time working mother will I ever ‘fit’, into the workplace?

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Vicki Cockerill
Vicki Cockerill
Vicki Cockerill aka NICU Mum is the author of The Honest Confessions of a NICU Mum blog and writes for a number of parenting websites. She talks all things NICU, CHD, and all things parent with honesty, humour and finding any excuse for a gin!