Written by Felicity Thistlethwaite
Felicity Thistlethwaite is the digital content director at Stylist, a DIY enthusiast and Strong Women newbie. She also hosts the Baby On The Brain podcast (series 2 coming soon!).
Returning to work after maternity leave is often uncharted water for women, but Stylist’s Baby On The Brain podcast is back with a second series, and this year it’s all about returning to work. Digital content director Felicity Thistlethwaite explains more.
As I crept downstairs to make a cup of tea this morning – after a somewhat disastrous night of toddler sleep –I reminded myself that “baby sleep is never linear”. A hideous phrase I’d been told (and I’ve told others) when I was on maternity leave in 2021. I never thought I’d still be repeating it to myself at 6am midweek in 2023, but here we are.
I returned to work almost one year ago to the day, and the last 12 months have been… interesting. I remember the excitement of my first day back like it was yesterday: much like the first day of school, I had my outfit ready the night before, freshly washed hair, and I made sure everyone knew their routine to the minute so I could get to my desk (in the spare room) bright and early to be ready for the day. The reality was less Swiss Family Robinson than I’d planned for: my husband dared to take an unplanned shower; Amber, then 10 months old, had an unplanned, explosive poo in her PJs; and after getting dressed, I realised my carefully selected, first-day-back-at-work outfit had an unplanned, baby-related buttery toast stain down the front. Cue me running late, my husband telling me we’d miss breakfast at nursery if he didn’t leave there and then, and me shouting at him because it was all too much. It wasn’t the swan-like start I’d planned for day one of My Big Return.
But since returning to work – and actually getting into the swing of it – I think I’ve come to realise my biggest motherhood learning yet: it’s not just baby sleep that isn’t linear, nothing about life with a baby is predictable. (I should’ve known this after 10 months, I hear you say).
Over the past 12 months, I’ve had days in the office (with a bonus new commute after a lockdown escape from London) on only three hours’ sleep, I’ve cried into my keyboard silently when imposter syndrome overwhelmed me and I’ve totted up about 72 Victorian-sounding diseases caught from the baby (including the time I thought I had hand, foot and mouth). I’ve had days planned out to the minute with exciting interviews and much-needed meetings that come crashing down around me with just one phone call from the nursery and the dreaded words: “Amber’s thrown up. You need to come and collect her.” I’ve had to learn to be flexible, even when I don’t want to be. I can see in hindsight that isn’t a bad lesson to learn, but it feels pretty shit when you’re in the moment.
But with all the heartache and tough times comes an overwhelming sense of joy when the odds do fall in your favour. For every time I’ve felt guilty for handing over my baby to (genuinely wonderful) nursery staff, I’ve also felt the most amazing rush of adrenaline and empowerment as I do something I took for granted pre-baby. Walking down Chancery Lane with my headphones on, for example – my hands in my pockets, feeling the sun on my face and just entirely and selfishly engrossed in myself. I’ve never truly been able to put into words exactly what emotion it is I feel in that moment, but I think it’s a combination of freedom, excitement, independence, relief and weightlessness. Pottering commitment-free without a rucksack full of nappies and spare clothes is a joy that can probably only be understood by new parents.
Whether you’re undecided if you should return to work or not, or you’re in the deep water of your first few weeks back to work stealing moments in the office kitchen to scroll through pictures of your much-missed baby: you’re not alone. And that’s why we’re doing a second series of the Baby On The Brain podcast. The first series was set around pregnancy and how that changes every part of a woman’s life – even in the smallest ways. This upcoming second series is about returning to work after maternity leave. I wanted to carve out a space at Stylist for women to have the intimate and often neglected discussions about how we can centre ourselves and our needs in the conversations about our return to a world that seems pitted against us financially and mentally. From flexible working to busting the myth of ‘the juggle’, each episode tackles one of the conundrums that women who want to return to work often find themselves scouring internet forums for the answer to.
So if you’re reading this at 2am after the 4,567th night feed with a baby nestled in your arms and wondering how you even begin to decide whether to return to work or not or if you’re a few weeks away from returning to work and have no idea what that looks like for you, then this podcast is here to help.
Images: Getty; author’s own
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