Shared Parental Leave: End of Part 2

In the blink of an eye my time off work has come to an end. While I feel like my whole world has changed from when I left for maternity leave 6 months ago, it feels like only moments since I was setting up my out-of-office replies and bidding my colleague adieu.

Before I even got pregnant we knew that if we were able to have the family we so desperately wanted, we wanted to do things differently and share our parental leave, (as I have written about before.) In those early conversations, and when making plans during my pregnancy, I always had the 6 month mark in mind as the time I would take off work before handing over to Alex. I really enjoy my job and get on well with my colleagues. That, coupled with my fierce desire to embody the gender equality I go on about so much, meant that in all our planning I felt quite confident about a return to work at 6 months.

So much of how you think and feel before you meet your baby changes once they’re here doesn’t it?! Now, don’t get me wrong, I haven’t changed my plans, I haven’t changed my belief that this is a good option for us – and that shared parental leave is a good option for families in general. But I never fully appreciated when I was pregnant how hard this would be. I know I nust sound daft when I say this, but I didn’t realise just how much I would love her; how physically connected to her I would feel; what an animalistic protectiveness I would feel towards her. How could I know? I swear my heart has doubled in size at the very least, and is able to feel things it didn’t before.

So, yes, coming to the end of this treasured time together is going to be hard. I will miss her. I will pine for her, no doubt. Maybe I will feel a pang of jealousy towards Alex, who will now be the one she spends her day with. But didn’t he feel that way when it was him at work and me at home? Doesn’t he love her every bit as much? Is his ability or desire to parent any less than mine?

Becoming a mother has challenged some of my beliefs, I will give you that. Breastfeeding Luna continues to be an incredible and incredibly intimate experience, which has forged a very physical and literal bond between us; my instincts have surprised me, and there are still times when I feel every bit as physically and spiritually joined to her as I did when she was growing inside of me. I understand why we need to fight for, protect and increase maternal rights when it comes to taking leave from work after your baby is born.  But equally, I still, every bit as fervently, believe that fathers should be accorded that right too. Sorry for getting a bit political, but the personal is political, and I deeply believe that equality for women in the workplace means establishing equal parenting and doing away with out-of-date gender stereotypes about who should do what.

Ahem. Where was I?

There is definitely a part of me that would love to have another 6 months off with my little rockstar; she is simply and completely a joy to spend time with, and I have honestly loved every second of my time with her. It’s been a wonderful gift to have had time together as a whole family; we’ve got loads of jobs done (there was a spreadsheet, yes, thanks for asking), had a lovely little holiday together and it’s been my pleasure to watch Luna become more and more trusting and knowing of her dad – just as much as I have enjoyed seeing him blossom in to the role I swear he was born to fulfil. Their relationship has grown deeper, and I feel so excited for the time they will have together over the next few months.

I am looking forward to working; as I said above, I love my job and I’ve genuinely missed my colleagues. I like using different parts of my brain, and on my KIT days it’s been fun to begin getting my teeth stuck in to familiar (and unfamiliar) work tasks. I’m nervous, of course, about whether I’m still up to the job, with a mind slightly addled by disturbed sleep and obsessive thinking about my child! But I can only go and get stuck in! I’m anxious too about pumping at work, and how that will affect my breastfeeding relationship with Luna – but again, I’ll just keep putting one foot in front of the other and see how things go.

In life it sometimes seems that the only constant is change. And while change can often feel uncomfortable and scary, inevitably it drives us forwards, often to new and exciting things. For now, I am trying to choose thankfulness over fear. I am trying to focus on how lucky I am to have had what time I have with Luna, when there are so many other parents – both in the UK and overseas who aren’t afforded the same luxury; and to be thankful too that I have a job I enjoy to return to, one which gives me a level of flexibility and understanding I wouldn’t get many places. So with gratefulness for all I have had, all I do have and all I will have, I’ll say goodbye to this beautiful chapter, and turn the page to the next.

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