386 days later: returning to work after maternity leave

On August 19th this year I returned to work after being on maternity leave for over a year.

It didn’t feel weird. I think I was lucky: I knew my team was looking forward to my return; I knew I’d have plenty of things to catch up on but I also knew the ropes. Things change in one year, but a lot of things stay the same.

I wasn’t scared, or sad. On the 18th, I mostly worried I’d forget I had to go to work the following day.

My son was (and is) at a stage where he moves about a lot, but needs constant supervision, distractions, things to play with. It’s important for me that he meets other babies and broadens the number of people he knows. I felt excited for both of us. And particularly excited that it was up to my husband, and not me, to do the settling in at his new daycare — that wasn’t so easy.

Looking back

I had big plans for my maternity leave, most of which I didn’t follow through.

Firstly, the three weeks I had planned to hand over my work vaporised when my son decided to be born 6 weeks prematurely: no hand over document, no final catch ups, no farewell lunches. Also, no time to even get a hospital bag ready, or make those final purchases you won’t have time (or brain) to think about once you’re handed a newborn.

I decided eventually to put my Open University Creative Writing module on hold until the following year. They make you write. A lot. Every day. Several times a day. I would wake up every morning already feeling frustrated that I wouldn’t be able to do my module work for that day. I hadn’t gotten out of bed and I was already procrastinating. (You’re supposed to write for a few minutes upon rising everyday… Yeah.) Just a few months before, I was debating whether I should sign up to two modules: I was going to be off work for a whole year, what else would I be doing, right?! But it felt good to quit. When I told my husband about my decision, it was like a dark cloud suddenly stopped hanging over my head.

I did somehow managed to complete a few Code School courses over the last few months. It felt good to learn something.

On top of things

I must confess I kept my work inbox clear — that’s how I roll. I’d frequently delete or archive emails I knew someone would have to deal with immediately, and kept the ones I thought might still be relevant when I’d come back — there weren’t many of those. If you wait long enough, requests have a tendency to go away.

For some reason, I received several invitations to speak at events during that year. When I was 6 months pregnant I spoke at Responsive Day Out. In May this year I spoke at Front-Trends, in Warsaw. Last month I spoke at London’s Generate and Oslo’s makingWeb. Next month I’ll be at View Source, in Portland. In January I’m going to Awwwards, in Amsterdam. And more.

It wasn’t super easy to prepare for these events, but the sense of accomplishment was, and is, great once you’re done.

Final words

I can hardly believe we’re now approaching Christmas 2015. I’m back at work, my son is in nursery, and my year off has come and gone. It was extraordinary to have had this time with him, and with my husband, when he could. And I’m also very happy to be back at work, and to settle into a new routine.

I find it interesting that I don’t see this topic mentioned amongst our industry (are we calling it ‘industry’ now?). I follow several parents on Twitter, Facebook, but rarely I see accounts of how being away for a few months or more has affected them (mums, dads, and other carers). I would like to know what other people’s experience has been. Did you keep in touch with work? Did you tune everything out? Did you cancel personal projects? Did you read a lot? Did you watch the news? Did you do freelance work? How did you pay the bills? I’d like to know everything and there’s so little out there that is specific to us.