Planning for your Maternity Leave: Part I

Surely having a baby in this day and age does not equate to career suicide… Or does it?

I recently came across a study which showed that having children can set a woman’s career back up to six years!

When I was pregnant with my first baby and planning for my leave, I was so surprised as to how little resources and supports there are for new mothers planning for, and returning to work after a period of parental leave. The transition from an independent working woman –> to a full time mum –> to a working mum is HUGE, and navigating through that change can be so daunting.

For those of you who may have read my previous blog about my journey, you’ll know I am an Occupational Therapist and have been helping people return to wellness and resume meaningful activities, with work being one of them!  As I was going through the process myself not too long ago, I then realised that returning to work after an illness or injury is not so different to mothers returning to work after having a baby and taking a period of leave.

You’ve been out of the workforce for a lengthy period of time, you’ve been through physical and psychological hurdles which you’re potentially still adapting to. Your identity and most likely your priorities have changed, and you’re de-conditioned from the 9-5 lifestyle (although really that should be considered a strength since you’ve taken on a 24/7 on-demand P.A. job working for the neediest boss you’ll ever have).

I have met so many amazing women who have found themselves through motherhood. The journey has given them a newfound sense of confidence,  and enabled them to chase their dreams. Whether that means leaving their day job in the realisation of a new purpose, a new role as a stay at home mum, or pursing their dreams in a side business which they never before had the courage or opportunity to pursue. For those of us who wish to return to the job we once loved or continue our journey in climbing the corporate ladder it certainly also isn’t without challenges.

So why are there still so many uncertainties when it comes to planning for parental leave?

What I have found is that a lot of employers are poorly prepared to assist you in planning your leave, so I have developed a guide in the hopes that It may help you in taking control and developing your own leave plan.

Before Baby arrives:

  1. Do your research: Start with the basics by researching your companies parental leave policies. This is usually found through an online portal/intranet. If you are unable to locate it  yourself, speak to a trusted co-worker or contact your HR representative to obtain a copy.
  2. Expectation setting: Open up the communications channels and set expectations with your employer around the length of leave (both paid and/or unpaid) you are wanting to take; don’t be afraid let them know what your needs are. The earlier they are informed, the higher the chances are they will be able to accommodate you.
  3. Develop a “stay in touch plan”. A stay in touch plan is a way to notify your employer that:
    a) you do want to stay in contact whilst you’re on leave, and your workplace is still important to you;  and
    b) the way in which you prefer to be contacted. Provide them with your personal mobile and email address so that they know how to reach you whilst you’re on leave.Ask to be updated on any major changes and invited to major social events, or sign up to receive monthly newsletters they might send out etc.
  4. SELF CARE! If you have the luxury of time between your last day of work and your looming due date, take this time to put yourself first (as this may be the last time for a while where you have the luxury in doing so). I was fortunate enough to be able to start my leave around 37 weeks which allowed me two precious weeks to myself (which at the time I didn’t even know I needed). Use this time to rest, put your feet up, read a book, watch Netflix and take in the beauty that is silence.
  5. Limit the nesting. I did a lot of shopping & endless cleaning/organising which as we all know can be quite exhausting but I just couldn’t help myself as I was not used to sitting around with nothing to do. I would suggest that you find a happy medium between nesting, fitting in some last minute preparation for the baby and getting some much needed rest.

After baby:

  1. Organise a workplace visit. Once settled and comfortable at home with your gorgeous baby, organise a time to come into the workplace to show off your proudest new accessory. This will remind your colleagues and management that you’re still around, your still interested in maintaining your relationships and you don’t want to be forgotten.
  2. Find your balance. Determine what working arrangements will provide you with the balance you need to feel like you’re kicking goals on both ends! You might want or need to be back at work in a full time capacity, or alternatively, if you have the financial freedom to explore part time work this might provide you with the flexibility to beat the working mum-life juggle.

    I’m not going to lie, the mum guilt really peaks when you start back at work (or at least it did for me).. Seeing their sad little faces when you drop them off at childcare in the early mornings and the late pickups can be tricky to manage.

    For some reason or another (enter: mum guilt) I felt this need to drop of my baby super early in the hopes that it would allow me to beat the traffic into work, and manage to get everything that I needed done early enough to leave work in time to pick her up by 3-4pm. I suppose it was the pressures of seeing other mums picking up their babies by 3pm and this was just not realistic for me. The guilt of being the first to leave the office was overwhelming and the guilt of arriving to childcare late after majority of the babies had been picked up was even worse. It was a battle inside my own head that I could not win. So I learnt to stop comparing myself to other parents out there because everyone’s circumstances are so different. I wrote down my priorities, my must haves, my non-negotiable’s, and started developing a plan of how this would work for me and my family so that I could drop the mum guilt. Somehow putting pen to paper made me feel like it was achievable, and I could find a happy medium for my circumstances by allowing myself to ask for and accept help where needed.

The key is finding the balance that works for YOU!

Laying the groundwork for your maternity leave as early as possible will hopefully allow you to focus on the most exciting new chapter yet to come: motherhood.

I hope these tips are helpful for those of you that are planning for your upcoming leave! On the flip side, planning for your return to work is equally as important. Stay tuned for Part II, my guide on a smooth transition back to work

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