Returning To Work After Parental Leave
What is it like returning to work after parental leave? Two returners write about their recent experiences at Babraham.
Laura Biggins, Computational Biologist, Bioinformatics:
I returned to work a few months ago following maternity leave with my second child.
Overall, I had a very positive experience of returning to work after maternity leave with my first child. I enjoyed being back at work and though initially the thought of leaving my daughter with relative strangers was rather daunting, I was confident that she was in good hands at the nursery. Having a very understanding line manager really helped, especially when the inevitable childhood illnesses struck.
The chronic sleep deprivation that comes from having a small child who doesn’t appreciate the need for sleep did mean that functioning fully at work was a bit of a challenge at times. I'm not sure that BI could have done too much to help with that, other than perhaps providing beds for a rejuvenating nap!
Second time around and thankfully everyone is sleeping much better. Having a brilliant nursery onsite is a great help and they were very flexible with accommodating my children so that I could do some ‘Keep In Touch’ days during my maternity leave, which certainly eased the transition back to work.
Before returning, I made a request to reduce my hours and I now work 3 days per week. My eldest daughter has just started school and my husband works long hours so it felt like this would be a reasonable balance for us. Inevitably, some weeks at work do feel far too short but in general it seems to be working so far, though with the scarce supply of after school care around us it feels like the juggling act is really just beginning!
Laura Norton, Athena SWAN/LIBRA Manager:
I’m writing at the end of my first week back after 10 months of maternity leave. How do I feel at work? Already like I haven’t been away.
I approached this maternity leave in a very different way to my previous two at Babraham. During the last two I was a post doc working in the lab and while on leave I mostly disengaged from work, although we did joke about me taking a PCR machine home. I attended the odd lab meeting or seminar with baby, milk and stacking cups and I would occasionally open pubmed at home.
This time it was different. I now work as the Institute’s Athena SWAN and LIBRA manager. These projects do feel more accessible from home and feed into my everyday life. Before maternity leave I prepared various spreadsheets of tasks and roles that would need to be fulfilled and who could complete them – members of the equality4success committee, my line manager, my maternity cover – however I did keep some of these for myself. Maybe I was struggling to give up control of my work?
I was sure that I wanted to be involved with the project throughout my leave. During every week of leave I engaged with work in some way - be that just logging on and checking in, coming in for committee meetings, meeting my maternity cover, writing or uploading a blog post, or having a skype meeting with our LIBRA partners. This was fully my decision.
After my first two maternity leaves I really struggled to get going again in the lab. I was back at work but couldn’t fully engage with my project; I was tired from the lack of sleep at night. I spent time wondering if I should even be at work while the baby or babies were at nursery. This time I wanted it to be different. I was really enjoying this new role. I wanted to stay involved but mainly I wanted my return to be easy. I dreaded that feeling of being back at work but not yet busy enough, of missing the baby and questioning my decision to return to work at all. I’m only at the end of week one but so far that hasn’t happened this time. With hindsight, I wonder how much of this is really about how I approached the leave or how much I was enjoying each role at the particular time of going on leave?
I’m certainly not saying this is how others should approach their leave. Everyone should do what feels right for them. There is something amazing about switching off from work completely, focusing on your relationship with your new baby and fully soaking up being a new parent. I have questioned what really was behind my decision to approach my leave in this way. Was it truly for my own enjoyment or was I struggling to let go, did I feel that I ‘should’ stay involved or did I feel some guilt that this was my third maternity leave at the institute? Was it just easier this time because the role allowed it to be? Now I am back and the motivation behind my decision doesn’t matter to me anymore. I’ve truly enjoyed my leave, I’ve loved my time with our new baby and with our older children. I have no regrets that I ‘kept in touch’ and regularly checked in with work. It’s certainly made my transition back to work easier so far.