Beyond Diapers & Milk Bottles: One Mothers’ Return-to-Work Journey
As we celebrated Women’s History Month this March 2022, I have had the opportunity to reflect in awe about the trailblazing, ground-breaking, and profound achievements women and girls have accomplished to improve our well-being, culture, and society as a whole. What inspires me the most is that strong and courageous women globally continue to strive upwards, forwards, and excel in their career, while simultaneously holding the immense responsibility of being a full-time mother.
I can personally attest as a mother of two young toddlers (having had 2 kids under the age of 2!), that when the time presented itself for me to return to my career after my second maternity leave, I was consumed with the same insecurities I experienced following my first maternity leave: “how will I converse in an intellectual and professional manner when my vocabulary for the past several months has consisted of poop, diapers, milk bottles, feedings, while also being severely sleep deprived”, “why is it taking me so long to compose a simple email”, “what if I’m not as ‘good’ at my job as I used to be”, “will I have to prove myself yet again”, “what if I don’t know what’s going on anymore and can’t re-connect with my colleagues”, “how am I going to balance my career and my family”. Are all these rational thoughts, and do all mothers have them upon returning to work? Perhaps not. However, I remember facing these internal barriers and wondering whether returning to work was the right decision for me and my family. Do I regret returning to work? Absolutely not!
How CHR Supported My Re-Integration
Returning back to CHR was the healthiest decision I made, not only for myself and my family, but for also reigniting my career drive and aspirations. Obtaining a higher degree such as a Doctorate in the biological sciences is not a trivial and futile accomplishment, yet as career Moms, we are expected to shelve these hard earned, rare accomplishments to fulfill society’s antiquated views of what Motherhood should be – to then return to work as if nothing had happened or changed! Turns out, albeit not surprisingly, people at CHR are actually a caring, supportive, and fun-loving bunch! My line manager and peers continuously checked in with me to see how I was doing during the re-integration stage, were more than happy (and willing!) to take time-out to see tireless baby pictures and videos, and to date still want to hear about the utter chaos being caused by my two walking, talking mini tornados (as I lovingly call them).
My concerns about re-connecting were assuaged within the first week of being back and having catch-up calls with my colleagues, where it truly felt like I did not miss a beat. During the time I was away, several enhancements were made to CHR’s internal processes to drive efficiencies. Anytime I felt lost accessing information, I would (reluctantly) reach out and someone always got back to me to assist in my navigation in the right direction, while exuding smiles. Emoji smiles that is, as all of this re-integration was occurring remotely during Covid, but surprisingly did not add an additional layer of complexity to re-connecting that I thought it would.
I quickly realized that the doubts and false insecurities I felt regarding my confidence and the ability to perform on a professional level were all self-induced; for this I am especially grateful to the Founding Partners and Senior Management Group for their genuine enthusiasm and encouragement of having me back onboard and for removing all doubts I had about myself during these major life changing events. Even though I was itching to get back into the ‘game’ so to speak, I was given the time and support to ease back into my career and establish ‘steady footing’ prior to fully immersing into critical projects.
On the family front, I witnessed just how much the toddlers were thriving at daycare and how important it was for them to have social interactions with other kids (especially post Covid). The positive impact daycare has had on their development helped alleviate the ‘mom-guilt’ of me returning to work (however, I am quickly learning that mom-guilt is something that will never completely disappear!).
What Motherhood Has Taught Me
The greatest impact motherhood has had on my work philosophy is to pause. I never thought ‘pausing’ would be the result of screaming kids creating havoc, nor that it would facilitate or benefit a fast pace, high-intensity workplace environment. However, it did, and it does, and here’s how…by being a good role model and creating a positive and nurturing environment to enrich learning and development.
Patience is not a virtue with which I was bestowed. However, this is quickly changing after having children. I have learned that pausing and giving someone the space to grow while at the same time providing parental guidance where needed, possesses much more value in the long-term, in contrast to immediately intervening. As one would say, choose your battles wisely and focus on the long-term goal.
I have always been passionate about Learning & Development, and after returning from maternity, one of the first things I wanted to focus on was mentoring and coaching our Project Managers and Junior Staff members to nurture their growth and personal development. During this time, we paused and reflected on how things were going, identified areas of personal growth, and potential challenges to better prepare them. I was able to evoke my experience and knowledge of the industry to devise a range of alternative solutions to help tackle and manage projects and teams more effectively and efficiently.
Top Two Tips
Are the words poop, diapers, milk bottles, feedings, and sleep deprivation completely out of my vocabulary? Most definitely not – in fact, there has been a recent uptick in the former words due to my eldest toddler undergoing potty training (which deserves a blog topic of its own!). Here are my top two tips that I did not adhere to after the first maternity, but I learned from my mistakes, and implemented during my second maternity:
1. Be kind to yourself – I have everything under control – said no mom ever! It’s natural to feel excited but at the same time hesitant about returning to work and leaving your babies, and to feel overwhelmed with having to do ‘everything’. You’ll have days where everything is perfectly pieced together, and perhaps others where certain things slip. Know ahead of time what is “ok” to slip, so that you’re not so hard on yourself; prioritize your workout over the dishes, ask for help from colleagues sooner than later, etc.
2. Prioritization and preparation (including batch-cooking) are your best friends – where possible pre-empt what your working week will look like, ask colleagues to secure your availability ahead of time for items they need you to review / discuss, and kindly ask your teams to plan their holidays in advance so you know when you will be required to step-in. On the home front, prepare everyone’s lunches, water bottles, and lay out clothes for the following day the night before. Batch-cook breakfast, snacks, smoothies, and dinner on the weekends so there’s always something in the freezer to grab when in need
So, whether you’re a mother returning to work after your first or fifth maternity leave, or thinking about a potential or planned maternity leave, I want you to recall the legacy of strong, powerful, courageous, and loving women that have come before us, and those that had to unfortunately forego their opportunity to return to their careers, and hear them affirm alongside me: You’re a super mom! You can do this, and you will do this!