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Finishing work and taking maternity leave, without the guilt

Did you ever have that feeling of happiness that plays like a beautiful song in your head, making you oblivious to the world around you? Like you’re in a movie or a show all on your own and everything is playing in slow motion? A feeling that shows that when you’re in that moment, nothing can hurt you or make you sad. It’s a mindset dream that is deeply romantic, creative and nostalgic. In fact, this what I imagine ‘cloud 9’ to feel like.


Well, unfortunately this has not been my reality. And this mindset dream is not the kind of happiness I felt when I finished my last day of work before my maternity leave (!!) The happiness that I felt was more like relief. More the feeling of ‘it’s time,’ ‘I can’t work forever,’ and ‘It’s not the best situation if I go into labour at my desk!’ Time to stop the fast pace of life for a while and time to prepare my body, mind and spirit for a baby. But as a fast-paced girl with no current children (out of utero), this is not something that comes naturally (and I’m sure many of you go-getter readers can relate)!

I am now two weeks into my Maternity Leave, and through these weeks I have been digesting a strange feeling that is certainly not unfamiliar to me or to probably most women in our culture: Guilt. That feeling of a sinking heart that weighs down on you like an anchor. Guilt when even at a week to D-Day, that I’m not working, I’m not doing enough, and I’m not achieving. Guilt that all friends and most people would dismiss for others as ridiculous (as would I with any friend or family member) – but somehow when it’s yourself, it’s hard to accept. All the books and advice will tell you – rest, prepare for the baby, just do what you can, and ‘don’t feel guilty’…so why do I still feel guilty? When will this sinking feeling lift?

I have a good friend who is also going through this pregnancy journey at the same stage as me, and is similarly motivated in her work as well as committed to her growing baby in-utero. See, she is a lawyer with quite a full on job, yet dreamed of working up until her first contractions. However, at about 30 weeks, her doctor had to intervene to say that she was no longer fit for work because the stress of her job was severely affecting her and her baby, so much so that they were both losing weight. In our discussions, she said upon hearing this from her Doctor, she felt a combination of relief (I no longer have to try and pretend like I can cope at work, physically and mentally) as well as what she described as ‘feminist guilt’. Yep, that sounds spot on.

See, we learn about pregnancy from those around us that may have been pregnant and had babies, but we also learn more than we would care to admit about pregnancy from hollywood and the media. So, in this vein, I’m going to admit somewhat a tad embarrassing. One of my fave’s is Friends. Yes, the show that hasn’t been on for almost 15 years and started airing when I was a cropped-haired little munchin. In fact, I don’t want to admit how many times I’ve seen each episode…but let me just say: all that wasted time in front of the couch!!! So, as (somewhat unfortunately) this series has had an affect on my learning and assumptions, I can’t help think about what the show has ‘taught’ me about pregnancy. OK, so they covered the surprise of pregnancy, morning sickness, cravings and moodiness (all the stuff that makes for good sitcoms), but they didn’t cover tiredness (a seemingly permanent state at times during pregnancy), and certainly not the idea of finishing maternity ‘early’ in order to prepare for baby and God forbid – rest! In fact, Rachel (Jen Aniston) basically works right up until D-Day at her corporate, high-stress job, even though she is significantly late! Along with Beyonce’s super sexy twins announcement and Serena’s recent announcement that she won a tennis Grand Slam whilst in early pregnancy, it can be easy for us to feel like we don’t measure up. Hence: Guilt.

Here is just a few of my musings: Why can’t I be that beautiful, pregnant? Why can’t I achieve all these things despite this little human growing inside of me and sapping all of my everything? Why can’t I just push it that little bit harder to show my boss, my colleagues, my friends and my workplace, that I’m different: I’m that pregnant woman that can work right up until the end, that can implement a successful project in my last trimester, that can be the ‘face’ of healthy, working pregnant women everywhere?

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Me at 33 weeks pregnant at my baby shower in the UK, proving I’m Aussie 😉 

I’ll be honest – for me, as much as guilt, it’s almost arrogance. I WANT to be that impressive pregnant lady that sails through pregnancy with no worries, a tonne of energy, smashing out awesome work and still having great sex. Maybe she’s born with it? Maybe it’s not REAL! And the thing is – nothing will ever be enough. Work projects end when other ones start up, energy fades awaiting better days, and goodness – sex is often the last thing on the list (yes, behind that cheese sandwich), no matter how good it can be.

Now that I’ve finished work and I’m finding things to fill out my days (like making up our ‘nursery’ filled with two pieces of furniture in our one-bed London flat – Ha!), I’ve had an intense realisation of this feeling of guilt that pervades us when we refuse to be satisfied with our current state. I’m forced to see that making dinner, going for a walk, and doing life admin and future planning are achievements. Necessary things that I have always either taken for granted or completely procrastinated with the excuse that ‘I’m too busy’. Well, now that I’m not ‘too busy’- these things alongside of course being a mother to a baby will become my life! Should I feel guilty about that? That no one is going to do a performance review on my ability to achieve these things and potentially give me a raise when I do them well? 😉

And gosh – this is all before I even become a mother to borne children! This feminist guilt is no doubt compounded by very real mother’s guilt – which is why the whole topic of ‘wanting it all’ is still so talked about and so challenging. I remember my cousin, another lawyer who at the time was raising 3 little kids (gorgeous boys) in London, wisely telling me many years ago when I was barely 20 over a late night cup of tea that ‘it’s a myth to have it all’. ‘When I’m at home, I feel guilty I’m not at the office, and when I’m at the office, I feel guilty I’m not at home’, she had said. This stuff never becomes completely easy – even Sheryl Sandberg, a mother of two and Facebook COO, will tell you that!


So what of this new life? Am I and all those pregnant women and families venturing into parenting doomed for an eternal guilt-fest? Or is it possible for us to choose to be happy amidst our (no doubt, inevitable) failures and struggles to balance everything?

Reality suggests – yes, but not all the time. I’m not going to give you the whole speech about loving yourself and embracing your mistakes, but this doesn’t mean that this stuff isn’t true and isn’t key. Because the more the we do these things – self-love and acceptance – hopefully, the less guilt we will feel, as we will be okay with our imperfections. In parenting, in work, in relationships, in life. Living without guilt burdening us could seriously open our hearts to see the simplicity in our complicated lives and to appreciate all that we have and achieve – no matter what this having and achieving looks like.

So, I’ll see you on the other side! Watch this space for no doubt many musings on what all this mothering is like – through a series up and coming (featuring some of you lovely ladies!) that I’m calling ‘Raw Motherhood’. 

Love, smiles, and laughs,

cat_bioline-01

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