Maternal mental health and returning to work
“In April to June 2021, three in four mothers (75.6%) were in work in the UK, reaching its highest level in the equivalent quarter over the last 20 years from 66.5% in 2002. In the same period, 92.1% of fathers were employed. This has also increased from 89.6% in 2002 but has plateaued in recent years” published by The Office of National Statistics census 2021.
In light of mental awareness month and my return to work 12 months after the arrival of my second child (Rafael), it got me thinking about my own return to work and the mental and physical challenges faced by those in similar circumstances across the world. Becoming a parent has been one of the most incredible and stressful experiences of my life and managing professional responsibilities with family time (as I return to work) has become something of a complex and artful balancing act.
On maternity leave I found myself at the centre of piles of washing instead of piles of emails, swapping daily meetings for extended periods of negotiation with my three-year-old daughter (Mia) and learning the true art of patience as I woefully tried to persuade her not to poke her new-born brother in the eye or chuck cereal all over the floor. Admittedly, life was suddenly very different and yet I do feel that I mastered some pretty useful skills during that time, including empathy, negotiation, reasoning and patience (so much patience!) to name but a few.
Suddenly, time with my precious baby was over and I quickly found myself trying to get back into work mode. At first, it seemed overwhelming – there was so much to remember, so many new documents to get my head around and a huge amount more on the to-do list. Swapping modes each day has certainly been tricky, but thankfully my wonderfully supportive team have eased me in gently. Springer Healthcare has been extremely understanding and supportive to the needs of working parents, which has made the return a lot easier and a lot more accommodating.
Returning to work can certainly be an emotional rollercoaster. One second you can’t wait to jump back into something intellectually challenging, solving problems, speaking to adults again and progressing your career. The next you’re racked with guilt at the thought of leaving your littles one all day in the care of people you barely know! According to research carried out by Tena, “31% of 1000 mothers surveyed found the return back to work harder than they thought it would be”. Often, those returning to work come back to new team members, new procedures or processes and the job seems quite different to how they left it. Much as I can certainly understand this, I do think that my company were extremely good at keeping me informed. For those of you about to head off on maternity leave (or for those returning to work) a quick look at the Springer Nature maternity leave policy will show you that they offer up to ten KIT days as a way of keeping you in touch with your team. I found these extremely helpful in the transition back into the world of work.
Another thing that can be tricky is prioritising. I am a Project Manager so I should already be good at this, but prioritising work (as a parent) is a whole different ballgame. Whoever decided that nursery pickup should be at the same time as the end of a working day has a lot to answer for! As you come to balance childcare and your workload, coming back to work can sometimes feel both stressful and isolating, particularly if you’re one of a few (in the team) that has very young children. I think it’s important to keep talking to your line manager and your team if you are struggling with that balance, as you’ll find a lot of people to be more understanding if you’re open with them. You also wouldn’t believe the amount of people around you that are going through something similar. Seeking out guidance or support (particularly in those early days) is certainly no bad thing and both HR and Managerial staff here are all available for those discussions and advocate openness and approachability.
Becoming a working parent can be a huge life change. You need to be kind to yourself. Having a child can affect you in many ways – some visible, some not – and taking the time to work through these whilst settling into your job again is important. The physical and mental effects after childbirth can continue for months, even years, and some people simply don’t feel comfortable talking about them. According to research, one in 10 mothers suffer postnatal depression within one year of giving birth and, understandably, speaking about this openly can be a real issue, but there is so much help out there if you look for it. For those that may need it, take a look at wonderful organisations such as Maternal Mental Health Alliance (who share a lot of links to local support organisations) PaNDAS and Mind and you will find an array of different tools and resources available. Springer Nature also have a fantastic wellbeing champion scheme encouraging a culture of open communication with access to support and information when required, as well as a dedicated SN Parents page on Hive which links working parents together and shares a lot of useful links, information and events.
Although it’s very easy to say that self-care is important for our mental health, I often see parents put themselves at the bottom of the pile. Do this often enough and the problems really start to mount up both at home and at work. So what does self-care actually look like to you? How do you make time for yourself on top of work, home life and parenting? What makes you feel good and what can you do each day to keep yourself well whilst balancing it all? Whilst maternity leave can be wonderful and rewarding in so many different ways, the return can trigger an array of mental worries, personal struggles and anxiety for some… so let’s get talking. Find some time to check in with those around you returning to work, open those lines of communication and take some time to listen. We might never know about the struggles someone next to us could be experiencing and in light of Mental Health Awareness Week, I wanted to reach out to those parents returning to work, to let you know that I am thinking about you, that I am listening and that I ask you to do one thing each day that makes you happy, something just for you.