Each year I am astounded by how fast 12 months can go and the last year has been no exception. Here are some extracts from my imaginary diary as I re-live the transition of returning to work after having a baby and setting up on my own.
I’ve been on maternity leave (ML) since May 2011 and our baby is now six months’ old and still doesn’t sleep through the night. My mum told me it happens when they hit 12 pounds or around three months’ old – wishful thinking. I somehow continue to get through the day even when I’m up three times a night, while many of my friends are in blissful full night sleep mode. Jealous! We’ve started weaning and it’s going well, but the freezer is overflowing from little pots of various orange, green and yellow goo; if I have to puree another sweet potato I will scream. I’ve joined a local sing and sign class once a week in the hope that she will start to tell me what she wants, because quite frankly, half the time I have absolutely no idea!
I’ve got just less than two months left of ML and I’m spending as much time as I can in cafés eating lots of cake – because that’s what it’s been like since I left work – socialising with mummy friends, cake, cake and more cake. Baby is a bit more interesting now, but she still can’t sit unaided without a mountain of cushions propping her up and prefers to lie on her back, kicking her legs in the air. Sounds a bit like me really. I now have absolutely no money left because even though my husband told me to save my money at the beginning of ML, I decided not to because that was far too sensible. I now realise I need a new wardrobe for work so I can stock up on some clothes that a) don’t have buttons on because I plan to stop breastfeeding when I go back to work when she is 10 months’ old and b) don’t involve leggings, which I lived in while I was pregnant.
Baby has started her settling in sessions at nursery and I am a quivering wreck. I worry about everything: that she will choke on food and no one will notice, that they will leave her in her cot with a soiled nappy, that she will hate me for leaving her and that she won’t take a bottle and I will be breastfeeding her until she is 3-years-old. The nursery start to realise they have a nutter on their hands but humour me when I call up crying because I think that the room is too noisy and there is no way she will get to sleep. Apparently these are all normal reactions. In the meantime we decide to put the house on the market and up sticks to Surrey where we can, hopefully, get more value for money and some extra space to fit all these activity stations and jumping bouncing toys babies need to keep them from wailing the place down with boredom.
Back to work. Amazingly baby started sleeping through the night a month ago just in time for my return to work and she has also handled the transition to a bottle really well, happy days! My employers have been kind and agreed to let me come back part-time for three days a week, which helps me get that work-life balance that many mothers crave after having a baby. Husband does the first drop-off at nursery so that I don’t go into work crying like a mad woman and sends me a picture of her holding a shiny new elephant rucksack as she looks up into the camera with big sad eyes. I come back to work to find that the team has changed a lot and I am not really in charge of anything anymore, which leaves me feeling a bit deflated and almost like an editorial assistant again. There is a new system to get to grips with, but luckily my baby brain doesn’t last too long. However, things feel different and I know that my heart has already left the building and that now is the time to set out on my own.
Our daughter is picking up every single cold going at nursery while she builds up her immune system and the house is a constant zone of Calpol and decongestant. I tell my employers that the commute to work is too long (an hour-and-a-half each way), that I see my career taking more of a creative route in editorial, and thankfully they understand my decision. I am excited about the opportunity of branching out again – I know it’s not going to be easy to have my own business, but I feel quietly confident that everything will be okay. We’ve had an offer on the house, but it was a low one and nothing is happening there so we’ve cut down all the viewings on properties until we accept one on ours. Things have changed somewhat since the 2008 property boom and we are shocked that a house so close to the tube isn’t budging! Little one finally decides to start crawling at 11 months’ old, which helps enormously as she can actually start to amuse herself more without us having to sit and entertain her for hours on end.
Our little girl turns 1! We decide to shun the idea of a big party and do something small instead with close family at a soft play centre nearby. It’s my last month at work as I had to work a longer notice so that I didn’t end up paying back my maternity allowance. Since April I’ve been spending literally every spare minute getting my website up and running and building my online presence. I’ve joined Twitter and am trying to network as much as possible. It’s a juggling act doing this while finishing my current role, but has meant that I already have my first job lined up for when I leave my job, which will give me four weeks to keep busy. I decide to get some professional pictures taken for my website so that I don’t have to keep using the one from my sister’s hen party…. after a few too many glasses of Sangria….
I have probably chosen the hardest time to go freelance. The Olympics has started and everyone has left their desks! No one is replying to emails! Ahhhhhhh! I hold on in there and keep working hard on connecting with people and subbing a 400-page economic report for the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), which keeps my brain working and helps me brush up on my grammar. I realise that if I am going to make working from home work well I need to a) clean my teeth before midday b) get dressed first thing in the morning rather than working in my dressing gown c) get husband to hide all the biscuits d) get myself a printer – you cannot sub without a printer!
Work starts to pick up and I get a few more new clients and feel that, yes, this is all going to be okay. The Paralympics has begun but many people are back to work after realising that the London transport system didn’t actually shut down completely as they thought it would do. Well done Boris! We manage to get some tickets to see the athletics and take the little one with so she can experience a massive piece of history on our home turf. Shame I had to spend an hour of it walking her around while she slept and in doing so missed a British gold! The house still hasn’t shifted and no amount of cleaning and hoovering is making people want to give a decent offer – everyone is looking for a bargain, but we aren’t tempted to throw it away just yet. I am so busy with work that I realise that I haven’t actually done any exercise in months and start to wonder how on earth I will fit that in to life as a working mother.
Little one really loves nursery these days and rushes into her key worker’s arms every morning. She is ready to move into the next room and adapts so well that I am really happy that we stuck with the tough first few months where she hated it and kept getting ill all the time. Her speech is really coming along, she has become very sociable and eats like a trouper. I am finding it easier to juggle everything and have started to work with a fantastic charity on some very exciting work for parents and young people. I’ve even managed to get out more in the evenings again and husband is breathing a sigh of relief that he doesn’t have to pay for everything all the time – especially when childcare is nearly a grand a month for just three days a week.
We take a four-day holiday in east Sussex and have a lovely time in a place that is a cross between Centre Parcs and Butlins – not exactly classy – but when you have a kid all you need is a chalet with two rooms so you can actually have some time in the evening alone as a couple. It is freezing but we have a great time and it blows some cobwebs away. I meet up with all of my NCT mums for dinner and three of them are already pregnant again! Sprog takes her first steps in the Science Museum and I am sat there clapping and crying like a lunatic as we witness it together. What a moment, you think it will never happen then up they get like they’ve been doing it all their lives. Then back to crawling again! We decide to leave the house on the market for four more weeks then give up before Christmas. It’s so tiring having to keep it clean all the time and we will be glad to get the board down and enjoy living at home without people coming in and out. My mum came over and helped us rearrange the lounge so it feels bigger again, got to love a bit of fung shui.
I am just getting over a virus I’ve had for around six weeks and I am starting to feel normal again, which is lucky as I think the husband feels he is married to an old lady who is constantly moaning about her aches and pains and ever increasing grey hairs. Work is stepping up a notch in the lead up to Christmas and I am getting out and about a lot more while I record some audio podcasts for the charity. I travel up to Manchester to interview a lovely young man about his experiences with having a brain tumour and how it affected his finances while he was having treatment. Editing is so addictive and I get lost in the creativity and spend a day going round the house recording some sound effects. I spend the next two days hearing every noise I make as if it’s a sound effect!
I get an exciting phone call from a media agency in Berlin asking me to help them with some web content for a tender they are working on. It’s a real honour to be asked to work for someone who I’ve never met before and I get stuck into it with gusto. Fingers crossed they win the tender – hopefully we will find out early 2013. Last Christmas was a hard one as we lost our step father two months previously to a sudden heart attack at the age of 51, a second father lost at a young age. But this year we’re putting a spring back in our step as you do as a family and with the little one now 18-months old and very much into everything, it’s impossible not to enjoy it. The oohs and the aahhs of opening presents are worth every penny and she will be thrilled with the little stroller and baby she has to push around the place. It’s nearly time to take my first break that is longer than four days with a whole two and a half weeks off work! Here’s to a fantastic 2013 with lots more exciting challenges ahead, and a lot less cake. Thanks all for reading my blog and do feel free to get in touch.