Monday, 20 August 2012

Going Back to Work

When I first told my boss I was pregnant and he rushed straight in to asking me when I was coming back (which was the last thing I wanted to think about at the time!), I told him quite passionately that I would be taking the full year off, it being such a special time and all and us being in the very fortunate position that, whilst it wouldn't be a financial breeze for me to take a full year off, it was something we could afford to do so why wouldn't I want to?

And I meant it. I couldn't imagine anyone wanting to go back early and not spending every last minute with their bubba but I merrily joked with my boss anyway that "you never know, I might want to come back early for a rest!" - not for a second believing that looking after my precious little soldier could possibly be harder work or more stressful than my job. Not that my job was actually that stressful anyway, I'm just an extreme perfectionist (this is like extreme ironing but without the thrill, fun, or ready-to-wear clotheage) and as my department don't do everything perfectly just like I want them to, there will always be a certain level of stress that goes with working there (or anywhere for that matter).

As I approach the 8 month mark in my little boy's life, "Going Back to Work" is something that has been on my mind an awful lot lately. Not because it is approaching too fast and like a freight train, I just can't stop it, but quite the opposite, because I was wrong about my assumption that looking after my precious little soldier would be easier / less stressful than work (the type of work you get paid for) and partly because I was SO wrong, that it has caught me a little off balance.

Now, I love my boy more than anything else in the entire world. I love him so much it hurts sometimes and at least once a day, he does something that makes my heart melt so much I cry a little, even on the rough days but three things have prompted me to start thinking very seriously about going back to work:
  1. Whilst my son is full of character and I wouldn't change anything about him for the world, I am not going to pretend he is or has been an easy baby. He hasn't been an easy baby because:
    • He is enormous and from a few weeks in has far exceeded the weight of a normal baby his age. This has made him exhausting to carry around from the very early days and it gets a little harder every day, especially now my shoulder has given way under the strain (with no chance to heal whilst I am looking after him full time). He continues to get bigger and bigger but still requires me to move him from A to B (the poor little muffin is so heavy, he can't really even roll yet - something all the other babies in my NCT group were doing a few months ago!)
    • He has very unfortunately picked up his Mummy's character trait of being an extremist. An all or nothingist, an everything is black or whiteist - a character trait I really wish he hadn't picked up because it makes Mummy difficult to live with sometimes and it makes Dalton difficult to live with sometimes. He is either really happy and smiley all day (I LOVE these days) or he is REALLY grumpy. He either sleeps like a super hero and goes all the way through the night without any wakes (since crying it out sleep training - a post about this to follow) or we have a total disaster and he wakes all night every half an hour or so screaming his head off like someone is removing his left leg from his body with a blunt spoon (I HATE these nights).
    • He doesn't nap well, easily or consistently and we have zero routine as a result. This makes it particularly hard to plan anything at all in our day (unless you want to mess with his naps and you mess with his naps, he's gonna have something really loud to say about it I can tell you) and I regularly have to cancel meets, appointments and fail to achieve quite simple goals I have set myself for the day. Being the afore-mentioned perfectionist I made reference to, this makes me feel very uncomfortable in my own skin.
  1. I am hugely affected by lack of sleep. More than a lot of other mummies it seems. This is partly due to my ME but also, lack of sleep (to the level you experience when you are a new parent) just seems to affect some people worse than others. My mood is so massively affected by lack of sleep that days that follow our really rough nights, I find it very hard to cope (especially with a very heavy baby) and find myself getting ever so emotional and teary about even the tiniest thing. This is normally followed by me telling anyone that will listen that I am a rubbish mummy and just can’t do this anymore. Then, I get some sleep and everything seems OK again!
  1. Being a mum does not come naturally to me. It has been hard to admit this but it’s the truth. Now, I’m not saying I’m not a good mum. My boy will always have everything he needs, he will always be loved to the moon and back and as much as we can, we will have lots of fun together but sometimes, trying to give him everything he needs and loving him to the moon and back and wanting our days to go perfectly means that I put myself under enormous strain. I wasn’t a natural at breastfeeding (remarkably, we still do 2-3 boob feeds a day and disappointingly, I still bleed through most of them). I was never and will never be one of those martyr mothers who is so happy to be a mother that they just don’t mind being woken up countless times through the night because their sole function on this Earth is to give their baby everything they want – on demand. I am not someone who would ever be happy just being a mother (and when I say ‘just’, in no way do I under-estimate the challenge and hard work that goes in to being a mummy – quite the opposite, it is definitely the toughest job in the world, what I mean is, not having any other identity at all – you know, one that is just about me rather than me as a partner, daughter, mother or friend, one that is just about me being me).
So, the last few days, I've been giving a little thought to *sharp intake of breath* "Going Back to Work Early". Let's put things in perspective here though. I was thinking of going back to work after a year and I am now thinking of going back after 10 or 11 months so I'm not talking about giving up on the wee lad after just a few weeks but none the less, it makes me very sad to think that I didn't manage to make the 12 months, not because we couldn't afford for me to but because, quite frankly, I couldn't hack it! Whilst I am not always willing to change my faults or address my weaknesses, I am very aware of what they are and if I can't change them, I try to be a little realistic about how not to make everyone around me completely miserable and if that's going back to work a little early because I think that a) I will go insane if I don't and b) my body will completely give up if I don't, then that's what I have to seriously consider doing.

Plus, you know what, I want to feel like I am good at something again. I want to create a small piece of magic in Excel for my colleagues and watch their eyes sparkle in wonderment and amazement when they see all the little moving parts when they click a button. I want to pretend I don't need praise really when my boss is telling me what a great job I am doing. I want to pretend it means nothing when my work colleagues tell me they are desperate to have me back at work again. I want to go home at the end of my day having had some control over my day and having achieved most, if not all of the goals I have set myself. And most of all, I want to see my little boy smile because he is excited to see me and because I am happy and that makes him happy to.

You may think I am just trying to convince myself it's the right thing to do rather than any of you. And you'd be right. Of course I feel terribly guilty that some mothers would give their right arm to have been able to spend a full year with their bundles of joy and here I am with the opportunity to do so and don't feel I am up to it. Of course I feel terribly saddened that being a mummy didn't come completely naturally to me and that I need the balance of work and being a mummy to be completely happy with me and my life and of course I will my miss my little boy so much that it will hurt but I know it is the right thing to do and I write all this today not because I want you to feel sorry for me, not because I want anyone to worry about me but because I KNOW there are lots of other mummies who feel this way too and feel too ashamed to admit it. Well, don't. You are only human and different strokes for different folks and all that.

Also, I have never been one of those mums who is dreading sending their child to nursery. I am actually really looking forward to sending Dalton to nursery because I know he will love it. We have found a wonderful little Montessori nursery just round the corner from us and Dalton is never happier than when he is around lots of other small faces. He's such a sociable chap and would much rather be slapping other babies @rses (he likes to do this) than spending all day looking at my silly face and besides, the biggest skill you can ever have in life is to learn how to get on and get by with lots of other people (a skill that mummy never completely mastered) so nursery is a great start in the right direction I think.

So, I have agreed with work my terms for returning - 4 days a week with two from an office in Faversham (conveniently, this overlooks the play area at my little soldier's nursery!) - a nice balance with enough working days in the week to do my job competently I feel (I think I can easily do my 5 day week in 4 days - that's the confident Natalie talking - God I've missed her) and I still get to have that one precious day a week when it is just me and little D which I will cherish so enormously - even if it is a fussy day.

All that is left is to arrange a start date so I will give my boss an early Christmas present in the next few days I think by bringing my return date forward a bit and you know what, I'm really looking forward to it. I'm really looking forward to having a lunch hour again. I'm really looking forward to going to the toilet without a little face looking up at me. I'm really looking forward to finishing a cup of coffee again. I'm really looking forward to sitting on the train on my own, unaccompanied (apart from the millions of other commuters of course) and just reading a magazine (I don't even know which celebrities are seeing who or which are fat and which are thin right now) and relaxing. I'm looking forward to feeling good about something I achieve again in a day and most of all, I am looking forward to being me again and trying to restore some balance in to my life so that I can be the best mummy, partner, friend and daughter I can be.

Don't get me wrong. Having this time with my boy has been amazing and I have enjoyed giving it my best shot immensely but I want him to have a well-rounded mummy (I'm not referring to my physical appearance here) who isn't a little bit mad and being a full-time mummy isn't the way to achieve that for me.

To work *chink* (who'da thunk it?!) and to not being ashamed to admit that full-time mummihood is a little too tough for me *chink chink*.