I was four days off finishing work when I felt my waters break at four in the morning. It wasn’t a huge gush like you see in the movies, so I put on a pad and waited a couple of hours to make sure that I hadn’t just lost control of my pelvic floor.
An hour later, it was pretty obvious that I was starting to go into labour, so I called the hospital, had a shower and breakfast and sent off a few last emails that needed to be finalised. I was four days off starting my maternity leave, and luckily, I’d completed most of my handover the week before.
It was a strange feeling sending those last emails; a to-do list for the man who would be taking my role, a last update on handover projects for my boss and emails to my internal and external teams to let them know that I would not be attending any meetings for the rest of the week (or year).
When I went on maternity leave with my first child, I had originally planned to take eight months because that was all we could afford. But, when six months rolled around, I decided to start back at work to take advantage of the COVID-induced working from home conditions, which meant I could continue breastfeeding and get paid again. I was sleep deprived and exhausted with a baby who still woke up every 2-3 hours during the night. I took meetings (camera off!) with a baby attached to me and hired a nanny to entertain and teach my daughter while I typed in another room. I don’t know how I did it, but I did because I wanted to prove that motherhood hadn’t changed me. I wanted to prove that I will still good enough despite the fact that I had a tiny human attached to me at all hours of the day and night. I wanted to prove that nothing had changed and I was entirely capable of being the driven and high-achieving employee that I was when I was childless.
It was tough on my mental health, that’s for sure.
This time around, with twins on the way and more leave banked up, I had the ability to take more paid time off. This time, I’ve asked for one whole year and now that I’ve thought more about it, I might take even more – and that worries me.
With three children under three years old, the thought of getting everyone up, fed and dressed before dropping them at daycare and travelling an hour into work seems nearly impossible. All I can think of is the suffering that we will all go through. It will be stressful and rushed and exhausting. And without working from home full-time as an option, I don’t see myself being able to cope without having a breakdown of some sort every fortnight.
I have no idea what will happen after twelve months and it makes me nervous. Will I extend my maternity leave and take two years off instead? Will I decide to become a stay at home mum? Will I negotiate job-sharing or part-time work or working from home a few days per week? Will I get a new job that is closer to home? Will I start freelancing or consulting again? Will I try to utilise my writing career to make it a full-time income?
It’s only been two weeks since the twins were born, but I can’t help this swirl of questions in my mind. There are so many different scenarios, but most of them mean that I will need to start from a lower position than I was in. Even if I go back to my full-time job, it means I have lost a year – maybe even two – and I will need to prove myself again.
Maternity leave poses difficult questions and situations for a lot of women, even in Australia where many of us are lucky enough to have paid time off available for a few months. It takes us out of work for long enough to make others question our abilities in a way that is different than if we took a year-long holiday. For some reason, when we have left work to raise tiny humans and learn so much along the way, it can often seem to others that we’ve reduced our expertise to that of our children.
No matter what I decide to do for work, I will always have to think of the flexibility, maternity leave options (just in case!), commute and traffic times and the ability to work from home, which rules out a lot of jobs that I would love to do.
There’s no decision to be made or answers to be found in this post. It’s simply to admit that I’m nervous about the future. I’m no longer trying to hide behind a workaholic attitude. I’m admitting that things have changed and my priorities have changed, and it’s a scary thought to find out what the future might bring in one year from now.
I’d love to hear your experience with going on maternity leave. Drop me a comment or send me an email about it. For now, in month one of looking after my tiny twinnies, I’m trying to ignore the anxiety and enjoy watching my girls grow and thrive.