Mama Identity & The Mat Leave

I never knew it would be so emotional and difficult but the day I stepped out of the office to start my maternity leave I crumbled. It was a day I had been waiting for since I was 18 years old. At last, it was my turn to go and be mum so why didn’t I feel a sense of elation? Why did I step outside the office doors and sob all the way down Baker Street and on the hours train journey home? I arrived home numb, I felt a huge void and that a huge part of me had been taken away.

My main focus for the last 17 years had been my career. Not climbing a coorporate ladder but putting all my energy and passion into whatever I did. It wasn’t exactly a straight forward or a logical path but I’ve got an varied CV as a result, have been lucky enough to see different parts of the world and work with different brands. What I didn’t realise is how I was going to feel leaving it all behind for one years Mat Leave:

  • After uni and working in retail / bars for a year, my career really kicked off with an amazing year teaching in Tokyo. Next my dream job in a buying department where I came to discover what some managers can really be like in the dog-eat-dog world; onto working 90 hour weeks working 2 jobs setting up food festival trucks and wholesale manager for European Kids brands; and finally onto brand sales & ops managent in the fashion accessories industry.
  • I suppose, until the day I stepped out of the office on Mat Leave I didn’t realise exactly how much my varied career and passion for work had moulded me and defined a lot of my emotions through my adult life. Within seconds of stepping out of the office doors on leave I felt a huge part of my identity had been erased.
  • From discussing with friends and reading articles, I knew that others struggled with their identity and holding the sole title of “mum” while on mat leave could be hard, but perhaps naively I hadn’t realised the depth it would go to and how immediately I would feel it, even before bump was born.
  • The first 2 weeks of mat leave waiting for bump to arrive were hard as I drifted into a very dark place (despite being a fab hot summer). I fought to find my identity, I felt lost, the hormones were kicking in and crazy thoughts were filling my head distracting me from focusing on the amazing thing about to happen to us.
  • My mind would whirl through scenarios of colleagues trying to step into my shoes and pushing me out of my position, pulling apart the work I had meticulously handed over. It spiralled out of control and the anxiety I had kept at bay for 6 years came back to haunt me.
  • Anxious & depressed??? Why wasn’t I in this pre-baby state of euphoric glow that I envisaged all mums-on-the-brink-of-birth to have?
  • Bump arrived and I’m glad to say the feelings subsided for a while but then returned once I got out of the 4th trimester fog and had a chat with my manager.
  • It sparked my love for my career again, my drive and passion for my job but my head was on super spin, I couldn’t switch off from work and it was having a negative affect on my relationship with my daughter, husband and immediate family. I was a nightmare, wound up like a coil ready to fire off at any minute.

I needed to do something to fix it. I was told by my nearest and dearest to slow down and totally switch off from work but I couldn’t. There was something missing.

  • I decided to distract my mind and focus on a project for me, that worked alongside my daughter, allowed me to learn some new skills and that was not directly related to work.
  • I had become rather fond of Instagram and the community it provided me as a new mum. I had become fascinated with the workings of it and as a “geriatric’ mum I decided a few digital skills wouldn’t go amiss for my CV for both my work and parenting life.
  • So I set about studying. Something I hadn’t done since leaving uni 17 years ago.
  • It started with a WordPress evening course, suggested by my husband to give me 2hrs of my own time. The time was great, the course not so much but it gave me a window to create this blog site.
  • I then signed up to an Instagram online course I could pick up when baby napped. It’s a slow process as I’m still going with it 2.5months later.
  • I’ve signed up to online webinars that I could watch in the evening and went to an awesome Insta talk with the one and only @mutha.hood hosted by @loveforthemama last week that little lady to come along to with me.

The importance wasn’t on what I was learning but what it was doing to help my identity crisis and to settle my mind. By taking a little time for myself it enhanced my mood, mental capacity and therefore my time with my daughter.

In the beginning I got really frustrated when little lady woke while I was in the middle of online studying or trying to get simple jobs done around the house. But in the end it taught me a few things:

  • To be realistic with my goals and lower the expectations of myself which reduced my anxiety and frustration.
  • It’s reignited my creative juices. A recent article in Stylist touched on this with a quote from psychologist Marisa Peer, author of Trying To Get Pregnant (And Succeeding). “Studies show that during pregnancy our brains are more resourceful and creative,”
  • I’ve noticed an improvement in my mood particularly when spending days snowed in the house with my daughter.

So this is what brought me to launching this blog that is still very much work in progress. I am looking forward to building it further when I return to work this summer and can document my feelings of a working mum from the other side.

In the end it has forced me to look at my career at a different angle and rather than being anxious of my return and question my identity while on Mat Leave, I feel ignited with new skills and ideas to bring to the table. I have found something that anchors me and compliments my additional role of being a mum.

Helen Packham summerised it perfectly for me during her Ted Talk with a quote from The Wizard of Oz “You have always had the power my dear, you just had to learn it for yourself”.

You can watch her Ted Talk here.

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