You Can't Have It All
At eight months’ pregnant, I was struggling to get in and out of my black BMW (the company car) without making unattractive heaving noises so with some reservation I opted instead to drive the maroon, practicality-over-charm Ford Focus (our 'family car' purchase) to and from work. I think this was a forewarning of my life to come - it was the first point at which all sense of style was sacrificed and my single short-term aim in life was to be comfy. The second sign was that the first thing I did when I got home from work every evening was to change into my husband's casual clothes to 'get settled' for the evening. The writing was on the wall..
Maternity leave, I thought, was a practical chapter where mother would bond with baby, establish the routine, before returning to work. It turns out that I was either massively misguided or foolishly optimistic.
I had fully expected to return to my career in finance - full time, possibly four days a week - slotting straight back in to the job I had worked very hard at. I held this assumption for a good four, maybe five months, before I was all-consumed with the following realisation: I would never match up to my pre-pregnant working self. I simply had not thought it through.
Sure, there are women who return to their pre-pregnant positions, fitting back in and re-joining their climb on the career ladder. I have nothing but respect (and a little jealousy) for these women. The trouble is, for most of us, something has to give. I had become accustomed to working late and logging on at weekends in the name of exceeding sales targets. I loved and hated the pressure of my job all at the same time and the reality is I chose to work myself to the bone - I thrived on it. But when baby Henry arrived I started thriving on something else, too, and it felt like both worlds were competing for my attention. Nowhere in the loving-my-job employment picture was there space for a 5pm teatime routine to get back for or frequent last minute meeting cancellations due to childcare issues. Having a baby is so uncorporate. I could have gone back, I could have given it my 'best shot,’ but it would have been the best shot possible as a mum, not the shot I had already proved myself to be capable of.
In the end, I cut my maternity leave short at six months and returned to the world of work to take up a new role outside of the financial sector altogether. Similar rate of pay, fewer benefits (so long, Brucie BMW) but it was a part-time job. Three days a week. The holy grail for working mothers.
Part-time work, I was told, would be the best of both worlds. And ten months later I still maintain it is probably the most favourable option for us right now. I have a couple of days at home to enjoy motherhood and a few days at work to be something other than a mother. Don't get me wrong, I understand why some mums choose full-time motherhood and why others choose full-time work (I also know that for many there is no choice, you do what you have to do). Personally, if I am to maintain any level of sanity and still stump up my share of the mortgage, I need to get out of the Mum Bubble for at least half of my week.
And now I have it all, right? The best of both worlds? Well, not exactly. Career-wise I've taken a step backwards from my pursuit of promotion and can’t help but feel that my ambitions are taken less seriously now I am prioritising something (or somebody) else. Home-wise I still feel guilty when I hand my child over to childcare three days out of five. So really, I’m not sure I’m doing either job at full capacity but I am as content as I can be for now that I am trying to keep both plates spinning.
I no longer think it’s possible to ‘have it all’ and wonder whether, when maternity leave ends, we ought to stop striving for the best of both worlds and settle for a bit of both worlds instead.