I was a career PA who worked hard and played hard. I had never had to separate my work life from my personal life as they had merged into one. My colleagues had become my friends, we worked long hours and we enjoyed venting about our days over a glass (ahem, I mean bottle) of wine. What started out as Wine Wednesday soon turned into Monday Malbec, Tuesday Tipple, Thirsty Thursday and Fizz Friday. Before I knew it I was out 5 times a week. I only really spent time with my partner on the weekends and normally we were both so exhausted we would be catching up on our sleep. This was my life and I loved it!
It had taken me 14 years, 6 companies and unaccountable pairs of Christian Louboutin heels to work my way up the PA career ladder and now I was at the top I did not want to come back down again! A year and a half ago it all changed.
I sat in the toilet at work with my head in my hands, “surely not” I thought as I looked down at the positive pregnancy test. All sorts of things were running through my head…. “OMG I had a drink last night”, “I have an event to attend next month”, “what about my upcoming holiday”. Then I realised how unbelievably excited and overjoyed I was. My thoughts turned into baby names, nursery colours and being a mummy. I could not wait to tell my partner, and on the train home from work that night I told him he was going to be a dad.
Over the next 8 months as my tummy grew, apart from the obvious changes to my body, everything gradually started to change. I was still crazily busy, getting in early (well trying, as the morning sickness meant I had to get off the train quite a bit) and leaving the office late. My workload was increasing and I was taking on more and more work. I noticed little things at first, like I had forgotten to book a taxi to take my boss to the airport or I had sent a meeting invite to the wrong person. I was normally able to juggle so many balls and now I kept dropping them. I was told this was called ‘baby brain’ so I had to start writing everything down so I would not miss anything.
I was so tired at the end of each day I went home to sleep, I could have attended the drinks evenings and had an orange juice but I did not see the point. I decided that I would see anyone that was my true friend (rather than ‘drinking friend’) at lunch or for a meal after work. Gradually colleagues stopped asking me out and I started to pull away, after all, we once had everything in common, and now it felt like we had nothing in common!
As my maternity leave date neared my work load slowed down as I watched it all being passed over to my replacement. She was the new ‘go to’ person and was socialising with the team at evenings. I found myself feeling slightly jealous.
At last, my maternity leave had arrived, and as I waved goodbye to my old life and the single girl about town PA I once was, I welcomed motherhood. The next 6 months of my life were absolutely wonderful and the best time ever. They went by far too quickly and before I knew it, it was my first day back in the office!
I was so nervous on my first day, I felt like I was 18 again starting out at my first ever job. I had mixed emotions, on one hand I was petrified of leaving my baby, but I knew she would be fine as I had used all my excellent organisation skills and she was in a perfect routine and would be safe with her Nanny. On the other hand, I was so excited to be ‘me’ again and not a mummy. I would have adult conversations and actually be asked a question that does not involve how to change a nappy or how to warm up a bottle!
I went back to work fulltime. It was very tough at first. Everything, although the same, was so different, I was different. As soon as the day was over I was rushing home rather than rushing to the bar! I still found myself being forgetful and having to write everything down at first. I did contemplate going part time but we did not want to give up our lifestyle and so that meant I needed the full time wage. It just meant we had to treasure the evenings and weekends even more.
I have been back to work nearly 5 months now and I have found a nice work / life balance. I am back to being the brilliant PA I once was, enjoying the responsibility of organising others. I am the ‘go to’ person that my boss trusts and relies upon. I often get comments that it does not even feel like I was away and how quickly it went by. I attend the occasional after work drinks now as long as it is planned way in advance but I have realised that I am not missing out, I had my time, and I have the best job ever waiting for me at home.
Here are my top tips for returning to work: –
- Arrange your childcare early while you are still off of work and are able to look around properly.
- Find someone you are happy with.
- Have a back-up plan.
- Try on your work outfits a few weeks before you return to work – do they still fit?
- Use childcare once or twice a week leading up to your return so you and your child get used to it!
- You need to give 6 weeks notice in writing to your workplace to let them know your return to work date.
- Find out what your managers attitude is to taking time off if your child is unwell
Preparation – “if you fail to prepare you prepare to fail”
- Get lunches, bags & clothes ready for yourself & your baby the night before.
- Start a housekeeping schedule.
- Make sure you do a few ‘Keep in Touch (KIT) Days’ during your maternity leave. Not only do you not feel so out of touch you also get paid for them which will help when you are only on Statutory Maternity Pay.
Back at work
- You will feel awful on your first day back but honestly things will improve. Your baby will be fine; it’s you who needs to adjust. Make the most of your lunch breaks and enjoy drinking a coffee or going to the loo in peace!
- Try to use accrued holiday or work from home to ease back into work.
- Make a list of the good points about returning to work – my baby’s face lights up when I get home and her legs kick with excitement.
- Accept tiredness, it is part of being a working mummy.
- Juggling a family is tough but prioritise your time at the weekends.
- Focus on positives – being able to afford a holiday!
- Let certain things go – you can not always volunteer for extra work or attend after work drinks!
- Do not feel guilty!
Guest post written by Stacy Price.