This is not something new or radical, Mums do it every day and dads after 2 weeks or less. For me, I had nine amazing months off with my Daughter Ciara and one month ago, I started back to work.
The time off was amazing, but a complete rollercoaster. You are given this tiny little human, with no instructions, just instinct to guide you. For me, this was terrifying. I knew how to be a daughter, a friend, a wife and a researcher but a mum, how do you learn to be a mum? Now, I had the best Mum in the world growing up but when that person is gone, you feel slightly lost.
I took on being a mum the only way I knew how, like a Researcher. Which sounds crazy but worked for me. When Ciara was about 4 months, once I got some sleep back and stopped crying for no apparent reason, I created bedtime routines like research tasks and drafted timetables for her day, like a focus group guide. You might be thinking, the poor child, but as every book, Doctor and Wolf will tell you, babies love a good routine. It reassures them, they know what to expect and in return you know what they need, when they need it. This made it easier for anyone to mind her, almost like she had “instructions”, and gave me peace of mind when I went back to work.
When you come back to work, you feel totally different. You are changed as a person, you are now a parent, but work and life goes on. Spark had set up the Cork office and allowed me to ease myself back to work but as anyone in our industry knows, things don’t move slowly. Brands, consumers, shoppers, customers don’t wait for you, they change, they grow, and you need to keep up with them. Much like your new little baby.
I was always so confident in work. Spark had trained me well, I knew what was asked of me, where I needed to be, and which research objectives needed answering but when Ciara arrived, ALL I had were questions:
• Is she getting enough food?
• Is she getting too much food?
• Is she sleeping enough?
• Why is she crying?
• She hasn’t cried in ages, is there something wrong?
I was wrecking my husband’s head and when it came to getting ready for going back to work, I had more questions for him;
• Will I still be able to do this job?
• Can I switch my brain back to business mode?
• How do I talk to grown-ups?
• How do I juggle work and our baby?
• Jesus, do I have clothes that aren’t covered in vomit or food?
He patiently listened to me and told me, what every husband tells their sleep-deprived, over thinking wife “Everything will be fine”. And of course, he was right (don’t tell him that). Everything clicks back into place. Your brain doesn’t forget, it just needs time to process the new ‘Normal’.
I know it sounds cliched, but I learned a lot about myself when off on Maternity leave and grew a greater appreciation for mums. As millennials, we were afforded a lot more opportunities than our own mums. We went to college, travelled, worked part-time jobs to feed our social lives (not our families) and then focused on our careers. Not putting it badly, but we were more selfish. Becoming a mum makes you selfless. It teaches you:
• Perseverance – remember that routine I mentioned earlier, that was no piece of cake to get right. We stuck with it, even when Ciara didn’t want to. We knew this was going to be better for her in the long run, but it wasn’t easy. Myself and my husband worked as a team and supported each other.
• Patience – for anyone who has EVER been in a car with me, stuck in traffic, I have ZERO patience but trying to get Ciara to keep her socks on, trying to get her into her jumper or trying to get her to eat her peas, taught me to breathe, relax and take it one spoon at a time. I can’t beep my horn and scream anymore; in the immortal words of Frozen, I needed to ‘Let it go’
• That Nothing is Perfect – before he/she is even born, your baby is perfection in your eyes. You imagine all the great times you are going to spend together, and you don’t think of any of the bad stuff. That almost set us up to fail in a way. This for me was the toughest. Every day is not perfect, in fact most days aren’t at the start and why would they be? Do you expect perfection when you start a new job or learn a new skill in the first few weeks? No. This takes time and bonding with your baby is a journey. While you love them instantly, your bond grows as you get to know one another. This is perfectly normal.
• That a first-time mum will buy anything – I am a marketer’s dream. My house is full of every gadget and gimmick under the sun. I went to the hospital with 2 suitcases, I didn’t need half the stuff; where did I think I was going? You are so nervous and desperate to be the best mum, you buy anything that will help you achieve that goal. If anyone needs a beautiful, grey nursing chair – it’s yours! Again I had this ‘perfect’ image of me nursing Ciara in that chair. A picture of serenity and calm, in reality, I nursed everywhere but the chair. But in fairness it does look nice in her nursery – I regret nothing.
• You can’t do everything – I don’t know why, but for me, I put an enormous amount of pressure on myself to do everything. I think it was to prove something to myself; yes, I have a baby, but I am still me. I can clean, cook, bake, meet friends, go out, and take care of Ciara. This gets old quickly and you realised that if the baby is happy at the end of the day and the laundry isn’t done, so what. You don’t have to become ‘SuperWoman’, because in your babies’ eyes, you already are.
• Employer Appreciation – Transitioning from full time mum to working mum was daunting but Spark made it infinitely easier, but that is not the case for many mums. I still am in a lot of Mummy groups and the biggest frustration from them is the lack of support from both employers and wider organisations to help them transition – from finding the right childcare, offering flexibility and everything else in between. For a lot of mums, we want/have to work, and we need to feel that we can do both.
I am still learning to juggle life as a working mum, but going to work, doing something I love and coming home to the biggest smile from Ciara, means I have the best of both worlds.
P.S. For anyone interested; My bedtime routine – The 5 B’s
Bath – Bottle – Book – Bum – Bed
Heather Murphy, Research Director