Maternity Leave: Here’s Everything You Need To Know About It

Three Irish mums share their experience and advice.

Taking time off to have a baby can be worrisome for career-driven women, but it doesn’t have to be, says Grace McGettigan

Congratulations missus! You’re having a baby and the next part of your life is about to begin. While you relish in the scans, food cravings and name-picking, the time to venture on maternity leave will soon approach – and with that might come mild panic. For some women, temporarily leaving their job (and the routine that goes with it) can be a daunting prospect. Fear of the unknown and the unpredictable future that lies ahead can seem more intimidating than a Monday morning meeting. For others, leaving is a joy, but it’s the returning to work that brings doubt. With that in mind, we asked three new mums to open up about their personal experience and offer some advice that might make someone else’s transition easier.

Laura, 31, worked in retail but has since gone back to college, has just had her second child. She recommends you tell your employer about your pregnancy as soon as possible, even if you feel a bit awkward. “Just bite the bullet and let them know. You’re only going to get visibly more pregnant so don’t put it off. Give plenty of notice for all your appointments too, as you’re entitled to attend these. Most companies will be fine and are used to pregnancies, and they’ll have policies in place once they’re informed.” This advice is seconded by Sinead, 25, who’s just returned to work as a visual merchandiser after ML. “My employer definitely helped,” she says, “I had two great managers – one of which had just come back from maternity herself and was very strict on what tasks I was allowed to do while pregnant! I really struggled in my third trimester with tiredness and pain… I found it very hard to be on my feet all day and it was absolutely no problem when I decided I wanted to leave.”

“Once I had a cry, I took a few days to process everything…”

Unfortunately, not all employers are as supportive. Laura admits her boss was a bit sexist, making her role more stressful before eventually asking her to leave early. Things didn’t change when it was time for her to return either. “I began contacting my employer about going back to work. They ignored my emails for two weeks, and eventually I got a call one morning, while sitting having a cup of tea with friends, to tell me things had ‘changed’ while I was away and my job was gone*.” Laura went through a range of emotions, from anger, to feeling like a failure, to relief that she wouldn’t have to leave her daughter just yet, and she decided that this difficulty could be made into a positive. “Once I had a cry, I took a few days to process everything. I remember looking at my daughter and thinking ‘I’m a good mother, she is healthy and happy and I’ve managed to keep her alive and do the best I can.’ That’s what’s important, so f*ck them! I then realised that I now had an opportunity to assess what I wanted to do with myself. I decided to make the best of it and go back to college. Now I realise it was a blessing in disguise!”

For Jane, a 26-year-old teacher who’s just finished ML, the return to work was smoother but by no means easy. “I was traumatised by leaving my son,” she admits, “Even though he’s almost one, I find missing these valuable moments with him difficult, and it conflicts with what I want to do career-wise. I’ve always been ambitious in work, but I’m so distracted by wanting to be a good mum that one or the other suffers. It’s hard to find a balance, and being pulled in both directions is tough, although obviously so worth it.” That feeling of guilt is something Sinead knows well. “I worry I’ll miss a lot of his ‘firsts’ while I’m working, but I try to stay positive and hope they happen while I’m there! If they don’t, at least we always have a camera in our hands to video special moments. I’m lucky my Mam watches him for me and I can ring her during the day, and she sends me lots of pictures. The guilt never leaves you, but I just tell myself that I’m doing it to make sure I can provide for them.”

“I worry I’ll miss a lot of his ‘firsts’ while I’m working…”

Maternity leave flies by a lot quicker than you’d think, and each of these mums have offered the same advice: Enjoy it! “This isn’t forever, it won’t be long til the baby stage is over and I’ll miss it, so I just try to be present, enjoy my girls and find the humour even in the most manic of days,” Laura says, while Sinead adds, “I felt myself almost counting down the weeks before I was going back to work and letting it hang over me like a dark cloud. I felt pressure to be doing really exciting days out and making the absolute most of the last bit of time off. But you being at home is more than enough, cuddling up on the couch and reading them a story is just as exciting to them. Don’t spend your last bit of time off thinking about work! There will come a stage when they won’t need me as much, and I feel like I can really focus on my career and my goals then.” Lastly, Jane says, “If I had the time back, I wouldn’t have put pressure on myself to try do so much. Now, I look back on my baby’s first year and I’m so proud (and incredibly lucky) because I was there for every minute of it, breastfed for months, and have wonderful memories which are much more valuable in the long-term.”

*Being made redundant while on maternity leave is against the law and anyone subjected to this is entitled to take legal action on the grounds of unfair dismissal. Laura advises you keep all correspondence with the company and seek legal advice from a specialist in employment law.

The Dos and Don’ts of Maternity Leave

Do:

  •  Sort your maternity benefit paperwork in plenty of time to avoid stress in the later stages of your pregnancy.
  • Give your employer plenty of notice of your intention to return to work and sort out childcare early.
  • Test out all the baby things you’ve bought so you don’t feel clueless when baby arrives!
  • Spend time with your S/O and have as many date nights as possible before baby arrives. If you have other children spend lots of time with them too.
  • Give mummy’n’baby groups a try. Maternity leave can be lonely, so mingling with like-minded women can help break up the day.
  • Be kind to yourself: We women are our own worst critics. Know that you’re doing a great job everyday. We triumph and we fail, don’t worry about it! But if you’re feeling down or overwhelmed, tell someone.
  • Be proud of yourself! Look at what you’ve created!

Don’t:

  • Don’t feel like a break from work means you’re stopping yourself from going where you want to go career-wise. You’re just bringing along a little person for the ride.
  • Don’t overdo it when you start your leave – it’s such a cliche to say ‘relax before baby arrives’, but try to chill as much as possible!
  • Never feel guilty for spending numerous days in your PJs!
  • Don’t restrict yourself from having ‘me time’. It’s okay to leave baby with a loved one so that you can catch up on sleep or indulge in a pampering sesh.

This article first appeared in the December issue of STELLAR Magazine. Our January issue is on shelves now.

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