I’ve always found it strange how the media applauds women like actress Angelina Jolie and supermodel Miranda Kerr for returning to work within a few months of giving birth. Yet, us mere mortals – the unsung heros of motherhood – are resigned to endure criticism, judgment and self-inflicted guilt regardless of our choices about when we return to work.
Stay home for “too long” and we’re labeled lazy, return to work “to soon” and we’re poo-pooed for being too career-focused. If only I’d married Brad Pitt or Orlando Bloom and chosen a career in the entertainment industry and I could have avoided all the negativity about my choices!
Making the decision about when it’s time to go back to work is a personal issue. For some it is simply a matter of finances while others are luckier to be able to base their choices solely on emotional considerations. I was lucky enough to receive employer-provided maternity leave equivalent to 14 weeks full pay as well as financial support through Australia’s excellent social security system. Together, this enabled me to be financially no worse off for staying home until my first born child Alisha was 8 months old. By that time, I was well and truly ready to go back to work – I neede something else in my life that I was achieving for myself as a woman, completely separate to my role as a mother and wife.
The three days part time I worked each week actually made me cherish being a mum and the time I got to spend with Alisha on my days off. Although, that may have had something to do with the fact that on the day I returned to work I had to tell my boss that I’d be going on maternity leave again in six months time so I was lapping-up any together time I could get with Alisha before the new bub arrived.
Baby number two Sara is now four and a half months old and I’ll be back to work in two weeks time. This time around, my decision to go back to work so soon was mainly influenced by two factors, the obvious one being financial – after all, two kids ain’t cheap. The second factor is the availability of childcare. New child care places become available at the beginning of the school year and with vacancies in high demand if I didn’t get Sara in while I had the chance, I probably never would.
So, I’ve spent the last couple of weeks introducing Sara to solid foods and teaching her to drink from a bottle. I don’t only feel terrible that I got to spend more time at home with Alisha than I did with Sara, I’m also racked with guilt that Alisha got to spend longer breastfeeding. I’ve decided to mix feed Sara – formula feeding during the day then breastfeeding morning and evenings when she’s at home. Mix feeding is the only thing I can do to allay my feelings of guilt… and reassure myself that at least breastfeeding twice a day will keep me in contention for the mother of the year award alongside Angelina and Miranda.