This has been my second period of maternity leave, the first being 5 years ago whilst I was in the midst of FRCPath examinations. With the benefit of hindsight, I have been able to relax and enjoy this maternity leave much more than first time round, despite Noah arriving in the height of the 2nd wave and with full lockdown in place. Home schooling with a newborn and no external support was no joke! I returned to work last month when Noah was 11 months old, and these are a few things I have considered over the past few weeks:
Your immediate team make all the difference
I am so grateful to Owen for taking on the HSST Training Programme Director role, it was very comforting to know it was in such safe hands. Since I have been back Owen has continued to cover this role as I am slowly getting back up to speed. The whole team at the NSHCS has been amazing in supporting me and making my return to work as positive as possible.
Baby brain can be a good thing
I have always disliked the term ‘baby brain’ due to its negative connotations and its use to make people feel less capable during pregnancy, post-partum and when returning to work. However, baby brain could be interpreted differently. There is increasing recognition in job descriptions and person specifications for resilience, compassion, empathy, patience, in addition to the staples of problem solving, time management and multitasking. These are the exact same skills that you consistently work on and our tested on whilst in a caring role. By no means is this the only way to develop those skills, but it is a very intense period of time when you are solely focused on them. Therefore, the changes that someone may experience following a period of leave to care for another person should be embraced by organisations and not viewed negatively.
Being realistic is key
Being a healthcare scientist, and especially being on the HSST programme, is about embracing opportunities and that often involves taking on additional responsibilities. This doesn’t change following a period of leave, but it does become even more important to prioritise and identify those opportunities which bring the greatest benefit. It is important to be open and honest with others about what is and what isn’t possible for you, helping to set expectations early on and being consistent. I am guilty of always saying yes and then considering afterwards if what I have agreed to is achievable. This is something I will continue to work on!
Enjoy the downtime
The weekend and evenings have now become even more important to focus on family time. I don’t always achieve this, but I am trying. Of course, Noah has picked these last few weeks to stop sleeping as well as he had been. At first this felt stressful; Why now? How am I going to get anything done in the evenings? How am I going to function the next day? However, I have realised that this time together whilst everyone else is asleep is really precious and has actually eased some of the inevitable mum guilt.
Overall, I am so pleased to be back, speaking to my trainees, workplace supervisors and my colleagues energises me and gives me focus. However, missing spending all my time with the boys and their antics is hard (I know I am already looking through rose-tinted spectacles at maternity leave and forgetting how tough much of it was). I aim to listen to my own advice and to strive to achieve the goal of work/life balance whatever that may be during this new phase and try to be realistic with myself.