Thursday, 22 August 2013

Does maternity leave damage your career?

Once I was young and ambitious, now I'm still ambitious, but I would rarely be described as young. I've always known I wanted children and I've always wanted to be successful in my career. I was brought up believing I could have it all, but how much damage does having children do to your career?

When we decided to have a baby I was unhappy in my job and I was considering leaving, but it made sense to stay in a job with a convenient location and maternity leave and have a baby first.
When I was pregnant I had no idea how long I would want to take off for maternity leave. A whole year not working? How boring. I was also concerned about my need to know everything that was going on at work (both to do my job well and because I'm nosey). A year off would leave me well and truly out of the loop.
Before I announced my pregnancy I was offered a new position at work, one that challenged me again and that I loved, but the stress of trying to prove myself and work long hours was hard. I decided to extend my original 3 months planned maternity leave to 6. Instead of working up until a few days before the baby was due I took a month off (well it was summer time).
Being at home all day everyday with a baby that wouldn't sleep alone could have pushed me into depression, but from the moment I was able to walk again after labour I started going to baby groups.
The constant tiredness and desire to be with my daughter led to the decision to extend my maternity leave and take the full year. A major change programme was happening at work and messages about potential redundancy and the stress experienced by my colleagues persuaded me I was better off not being there.
A few months before going back to work I offered to volunteer for a local charity and at the first meeting I ended up being the Chair! Who said it was a year off? I definitely had no time to get bored.

Mother with child on her lap
Being a working mum means compromising
Once back at work I could no longer have nap time and with a one year old who didn't sleep through the night I was going to bed early to get enough sleep.

Motherhood meant I could no longer work long hours. Even by sharing the nursery drop offs with my husband I couldn't get in to work early because either I would end the night cosleeping (meaning getting up would wake my daughter) or staying late would mean missing my daughter's bedtime feed, bath and bed time.
I think the biggest challenge for me has been how much my position has changed. There have been many new staff and I have missed the opportunity to get involved in changes. This means I have been unable to shape the way things are and challenge decisions (at least at a point where the outcome could have changed).
Before I left I had been shaping my new role: building relationships and reputation. Ensuring I was in the right place and knew the right people to influence things. When I came back I had lost all that. The role I had built up had been downsized by the person covering my maternity leave who was looking for an easy life. I was no longer asked to be involved in activities I had previously been a part of.
While my job title is the same the effort I had put in to be in a position where I could really make a difference had been lost. Opportunities I missed were taken by others meaning that I now have less responsibility than before and my colleagues have more.
6 months after returning I was still fighting. My manager has changed twice since I was pregnant and like Chinese whispers the knowledge of what I was doing (and am capable of) eroded. I was having to convince people to let me be involved with actions I had previously led. I worked through lunch breaks and others got recognition for my work and ideas.
Apparently this is to be expected and it's the price I pay for having a child. At 6 months I was wondering whether I would ever be able to get back to where I was. I was wondering if it was worth the effort to get to some where I was no longer constantly frustrated and I could make a difference or do should I start again, somewhere else with a blank sheet?

I decided to stick around. I decided to try harder.
The sky is the limit if you want it to be
Yesterday was almost 2 years to the day since I went on maternity leave and less than a year after I returned to work. I was invited to a meeting and informed my post is being deleted and that I will be made redundant.

Do I think this was due to me taking a year out to spend with my daughter? I don't know. I will never know. What I do know is that I am far stronger women than I was 2 years ago. Having a child has shown me I can do more that I previously thought was possible. I am a better manager, a stronger leader, a more productive colleague. On the toughest days at work I am extra determined to succeed, and when I don't achieve what I want the sight of my daughter reminds me that there are more important things than my work.

I will be sad to leave the company I love after 7 years, but there will be new opportunities. Everything works out for the best if you make it happen. And I will.

Having a baby may have harmed my job, but I am confident that what I have learnt will do great things for my career.

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