• Akosua Acheampong

The Big Return to Work – Rude Awakenings

As my alarm went off at 5:50 am for the first time in almost a year, my heart sank and sang simultaneously. Besides the fact that it was still pitch black outside, and I second guessed whether my clock was incorrect and it was actually 1 am, I mentally woke myself up, dragged myself like the creepy girl from The Ring (not literally) into the shower. Usher in my first day back at work after an 11-month maternity leave. I had anticipated this day coming but when it’s staring you right the face, it’s a whole different situation.

But off I went! I had flutters in my belly as though it was my first day of school, my meat pie lunch in my bag, my trousers pulled up way too high, winged eyeliner for the win, anticipating the endless free lattes I was going to enjoy, I was ready to conquer the day with my full armour. Well let me tell you, London Underground has a way of killing every vim and excitement in one’s bones with just a single journey. I had some major rude awakenings in store which reminded me of the main bane of being a London commuter. We will come back to that one later but let me progress with the story about my first day at work.

In all honesty, it was fairly unadventurous. It being the first week of January, there was hardly any real action. If I was expecting a welcome back banner with party streamers and balloons I was in for some disappointment but thankfully I wasn’t. Life of a consultant dictates you are hardly ever working in one office long enough to even own a permanent desk space so here I was, wiggling my way through the rows of tables to find the perfect spot to park my behind. You know that spot where you are equidistance from the kitchen, bathroom, printer and chat buddies…. yes, that spot.

Once settled, I looked around and thought “ahh…I actually missed this place”.

I also missed my little best friend but it’s true what they say “the thought of them being out of your sight is worse than the reality”.

I was comfortable to get on with my day knowing he was in safe hands, happily playing and making the most of his new surroundings, therefore, I should too without any guilt. One cup of latte, and a cappuccino later, I was feeling like a full-fledged employee, bumping into familiar faces in the corridors and the endless “wow you’re back comments”, followed by requests to see the baby’s photos; the office felt like my second home again.

Mummies, we truly can have it all!

In summary, my big return to work was quite underwhelming in a good way. This was important; being eased back into the work environment in a phased manner is necessary. Never underestimate the benefit of taking it slow and adjusting to the newness of it all systematically. It’s great that a lot of companies are realising this and allowing returning parents time to settle back without undue pressure. There is still a lot of work to do in this area to remove mental bias when it comes to returning mothers but progress seems to be on the way. If you’re in a similar boat and haven’t already done so, enquire about flexible working and discuss with your employer to agree on a pattern that suits all sides as much as possible. You’ll appreciate it so much more when you do return to work, as I did. Some of the ways you may be able to alter your work pattern includes: working less days, compressing your work hours, going part time and working from home on agreed days.

In my usual fashion, here is a roundup of some rude awakenings that slapped me in the face on my first day back in the rat race

  1. You realise you are definitely back to work when you are out and about the same time as the foxes returning from their night shift of rummaging through bin bags. Who leaves their home in semi darkness? Commuters do.

  2. No more “baby on board” badge means no automatic claim to a seat on every single commute. I forgot what that felt like but I was reminded with no mercy

  3. Standing with your face underneath someone’s armpit is the normal order for the day. In sardine-packed central line trains, why would I have expected any different

  4. Say goodbye to those spontaneous afternoon power naps with the baby (saddest one for me) and say hello to persisting yawns

  5. Realising you forgot how to do your job. What is it I’m paid to do again? Yikes. It may take a day or two for it all to come flooding back

All in all, it’s a nice feeling knowing that mothers for generations upon generations find that delicate balance to managing work and home life. Not to say it will be easy but it most definitely seems like it will be worth it.

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