Tag Archives: Beyond Blue

A mother’s right to choose – when is the right time to return to work post baby?

13 Dec

During my pregnancy I suddenly sensed a shift in the force. Being a shy and somewhat reserved person, I found this shift both intriguing and unnerving. You see, it turns out that when you have a baby your every decision becomes fodder for discussion and debate. Family, friends and strangers alike bombard you with questions and advice ranging from what haemorrhoid cream is best during pregnancy to what parenting style should be followed. Being a fairly career-focused woman, the question I was asked most often was, “When will you be returning to work?”.

I couldn’t believe the controversy I created when I told people I would most likely be back at work within a couple of months of having Boy Wonder. “No way,” they said. “You’ll see, once you have that little baby you’ll never want to work again!” This wasn’t everyone’s view mind you. Those people who know me well understand that my work is a big part of who I am. And with that feeling in my heart, I left 18 week old Boy Wonder in the care of his grandmother last Monday and spent the day at work. I thought just talking about an “early” return to work was controversial, but actually carrying through with it caused quite a furore. Everyone had an opinion. I was told that I would ruin my relationship with my son, that I would no longer be able to breastfeed, that my son may resent me when he’s older, that 18 weeks is not the right time to return to work.

So when is the right time to return to work after having a baby? According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2007 the average length of maternity leave taken by Australian women was 34 weeks for those taking a combination of paid and unpaid leave. On average, those taking only paid leave were back at work after 17 weeks. Perhaps the introduction of the federally funded Paid Parental Leave scheme which provides up to 18 weeks paid leave at the national minimum wage will change the average length of maternity leave. However, are finances the only factor considered when deciding when to return to work?

My answer to that question is a resounding NO! Many people assume that I have chosen to return to work for financial reasons. Why else would you leave your precious, defenseless baby in the care of someone other than yourself, the parent? Now I’m not suggesting that Mr Wonderful and I are rolling in it. Our finances were certainly one reason I decided to return to work. But there were many other reasons as well.

As a new mum and a Jewish woman, I was wracked with guilt when pondering the maternity leave question. Will my baby suffer if I’m not with him all the time? Will I still be able to breastfeed if I return to work? What if something happens and I’m not there? Will our bond be strong enough to withstand our not spending every waking moment together? Will people judge me for returning to work and not being a stay-at-home mum? How will I cope with the judgement? At the same time I was also worrying about my job. How much leave would my boss find acceptable? Will my replacement do a better job than me? Based on the answer to the last question, will I have a job to go back to? Phew, all this pondering, guilt and paranoia was exhausting!

I spent a significant amount of time thinking about what was best for Boy Wonder and what was best for my employer, but I also had to consider what was best for me. I like to think I know myself pretty well. I have suffered a form of depression in the past. I am also an introvert and could easily spend my days in isolation, just me, Boy Wonder and Mr Wonderful. However, as a pharmacist I also know that the risk factors for postnatal depression include a past history of depression, isolation and not having time out from caring for baby. According to Beyond Blue, some new mothers may find the change in lifestyle associated with having a new baby hard to deal with. Adjustments such as spending less time with work colleagues, having little time to go out with friends and other social and psychological risk factors may increase the likelihood of developing depression in some women.

Although I worship and adore my Boy Wonder, I sometimes felt isolated and alone at home with him. I craved the stimulation and social contact of my paid work. I needed some adult conversation and some structure. So I exercised my right to choose and have returned to the pharmacy. I’m only working one day a week at the moment, but it’s enough to make me feel like me again.

The key message I would like you take away from this post, is that choosing to return to work post baby is a very personal decision. Instead of criticising, questioning and debating the reasons our fellow mothers choose to return to work or stay at home, let’s just support a mother’s right to choose…

Some useful links related to returning to work after baby:

1. Raising Children Network: Returning to work – a guide

http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/returning_to_work.html

2. Body & Soul: Back to work after baby

http://www.bodyandsoul.com.au/parenting+pregnancy/pregnancy/back+to+work+after+baby,15031

3. Family Vie: 10 tips for returning to work after maternity leave

http://www.familyvie.com/2010/09/22/10-tips-for-returning-to-work-after-maternity-leave/

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