31 January 2012, by Tan Yi Lin
I returned to fulltime work on 1 December last year. Today marks the completion of my first two months as a working mum.
Since I know of a few mothers-to-be who would be planning how to utilise their maternity leave entitlement, thought I’d share how my maternity leave plan has worked for me so far.
I also hope that this will be an encouraging post for new mothers due to return to work. Take heart — going back to work is not as bad as you think!
The Four-Day Work Week
The first 8 weeks of maternity leave has to be taken as a block. The subsequent 8 weeks is flexible leave, meaning that you choose how you want to utilise it. In addition, leave during the 9th to 16th week is calculated on a daily basis — so take note, Public Holidays don’t count towards your leave entitlement. Hooray!
I’m glad that I took my colleague’s suggestion not to utilise the full 16 weeks of maternity leave at one go and to instead “save” some to take a day off every week. Of course, this is only possible if you don’t actually need to be at home for the full 16 weeks. With a large amount of help from my family, we had established a round-the-clock caregiver system very early on. Thus, I was able to return to work earlier, worry-free.
Establishing a regular four-day work week is more systematic than using your flexible leave on an ad-hoc basis. The latter may be difficult to execute once work commitments kick in full swing. I’m fortunate that my boss fully supported my request to use my maternity leave to take every Wednesday off from December until May.
It’s lovely having a mid-week break — almost like working part-time but being paid anyway! Plus, I only work two days at a stretch. Of course, it means that I need to work more efficiently in order to complete the same amount of work in a shorter time, but hey, productivity is a good thing.
There are a few things to look into before returning to work and it’s best not to leave such preps to the last minute, despite how much you are dreading the inevitable return to the office (like I said, it’s really not that bad!)
1) Caregiver arrangements: Whether you have people coming over to help with the baby, or you’ll be driving the baby to the in-laws’ or an infant care centre, it’s a good idea to do a dry run to simulate the weekday routine that you’ll be having once you return to work. This will not only reduce the daily rush and ensure that you don’t forget any important items in your panic; it will also get the baby used to the new schedule and instil confidence in both caregivers, as well as the parents.
2) Get a suitable breast pump for the office: If you are planning to express breast milk during the work day, make sure you have a pump that will suit your needs as a working mum. Before I returned to work, I was expressing at a leisurely pace using single pumps. I eventually invested in a brand new double pump for office use, so as to halve the time spent in the nursing room and away from my desk. Plus, the new pump, pump accessories, bottles and cooler bag can be packed compactly in the purpose-made backpack that came with it, which is very handy for my daily MRT commute.
3) Mentally walk through the process for a nursing session in the office: How many bottles would you require? How will you be sterilising the pump parts? If possible, get acquainted with the office nursing room before you return to work proper.
4) Think about how much expressed milk to leave at home: I used to leave three bottles of milk for my mum, helper and aunt to feed Coco while I’m at work. Recently, we worked in two additional cereal feeds for lunch and dinner, so I’ve reduced the number of bottles to two and can still rest assured that she won’t go hungry while I’m away.
5) Try to recall all your account login details and passwords that you need for work. I failed miserably at this. Spent a good part of my first day back at work getting all my accounts unlocked and login details reset.
6) Go through your pre-pregnancy wardrobe and prepare a set of work outfits to see you through your first week. If nothing fits, go shopping! Looking good (and feeling it) will help start the week on a high note. If you plan to express at work, remember to select outfits that are suitable for nursing (i.e. separates, button-down dresses, nursing bras and blouses, etc.)
7) Time a mid-week return: Avoid the mother of all Monday blues by starting work in the middle of the week. My first day back to the office was a Thursday, which meant that the weekend was only two days away!
Back To Work!
Finally, maintain a positive outlook about returning to work.
Remind yourself that a good job guarantees meaningful work, opportunities for learning and personal development and a stable income. It provides a platform for social interaction, be it with co-workers or counterparts in other organisations. Of course, it would really help if you liked your job and work environment in the first place and you’re looking forward to returning to that part of your pre-baby life.
I’m not ashamed to say this — working gives me a good break from all things BABY. It forces me to clear my mind and focus on the world beyond milk, poop and baby activities. I feel energised by the adrenalin rush compared to when I was on maternity leave, where I would succumb to an afternoon nap simply because the bed was THERE and I would wake up feeling lousy for letting yet another day pass me by without doing anything productive.
It’s definitely hectic trying to work as quickly, efficiently and productively as possible so that I can go home on time, and on top of that, having to set aside time to express milk, wash, clean and sterilize bottles and pump parts, etc. during the work day. But it’s definitely doable. Nevertheless, the daily grind does get to me once in awhile and there are still days when I don’t feel like going to work! 🙂
Apart from work itself, Dan and I treasure the little things such as getting ready together for the work day ahead; the short car ride to the MRT station where he drops me off en route to his office; meeting midway after work and continuing the rest of the journey home together, where we fill each other in on the day’s happenings, hand in hand. It’s our daily couple time. Just the two of us 🙂
Of course, I miss spending the day with my baby. It’s really hard tearing myself away from her every morning. I spend my sessions in the office nursing room flicking through her photos and watching videos of her on my mobile phone, and wondering how she’s doing at home. I feel a little sad not to be the first to witness her rolling over and in time to come, maybe crawling, standing, walking or talking. I’ll just have to work harder at being the one to introduce her to other firsts — first taste of solids, first beach experience, first swim (we’ve done that!), first time on a playground swing (and this too!), etc.
Being away from Coco for most of the day makes the remaining hours that I spend with her — and the weekends — doubly sweet. Every night, when I put her to bed, instead of wishing that she would go to sleep faster so that I can do other things, I savour the bedtime routine of patting her to sleep. I love it when she turns towards me and hugs me as she drops off to sleep! I used to think about how much my arms and back ached when she wanted to be rocked. But now, I welcome every opportunity to hug and hold her before she grows too big to be carried easily and I find it hard to set her down!
I treasure my weekly Wednesday off. I think of it as MY special day with Coco and I guard it jealously and don’t make any plans involving other people on that day. We do simple things like going for walks, playing on the slide and swings at the neighbourhood playground, or taking the MRT to the nearby shopping mall for her swimming sessions.
Work + Life = Balance?
So when one talks about work-life balance, I definitely think that I’m blessed to have that, especially when it comes to family life.
To those going back to work or making provisions to do so, I hope that you will find an arrangement that works for you too that will help make your new role as a working mum a fulfilling and enjoyable one!