Returning to work – finding balance amidst the mummy guilt

From the day Moo was born I’ve second-guessed every decision I’ve made with regards to his wellbeing. While my confidence as a mother has definitely grown over the last 10 months, I am currently facing my biggest challenge yet – trying to balance the ‘mummy me’ with the ‘career-focused me’.

When I headed off on maternity leave last December, I was 80% sure that I wouldn’t be returning to my job. I said my goodbyes with a feeling of finality, wrote a letter to my boss thanking her for her support and was ready to start a new chapter in my life. A year later I am preparing to go back to work three days per week and am wracked with guilt about leaving my precious Moo in childcare, while at the same time feeling increasingly frustrated by my limited career options.


Moo learning to crawl

Most of my reasons for returning to work are practical ones. Alarmingly the money tree we planted in the backyard has failed to fruit and my savings have dwindled down to nearly nothing. Living in Melbourne means we have a mortgage the size of a Rudd’s ego for a house that seems to shrink as the toy box grows. If we are lucky enough to give Max a sibling, Lach and I would have to take up residence in a teepee in the backyard as our second bedroom is the size of a linen closet. And then there’s Moo’s education that we need to start saving for because he’ll be ready for high school before we can blink and dem fees ain’t cheap.

My other reason for returning to work part-time is selfish. I love my job. I love being good at my job. While I’ve adored spending 24/7 watching Moo grow into an inquisitive and entertaining toddler, I do miss the mental stimulation and social interaction of work. My ambition didn’t disappear along with my pert bosoms and flat stomach. I feel incredibly privileged that I get to spend my days singing “Toot toot chugga chugga big red car” and smothering my Moo with smooches, but a part of me is also looking forward to putting on some mascara and immersing myself in something other than trying to wake up narcoleptic Jeff.

My unwillingness to give up on my career aspirations makes me feel guilty, but then I think – why should I feel bad about not wanting to throw away years of study and hard slog to become a professional ironer? I believe that enjoying a stimulating and fulfilling career is essential to my overall happiness and that will make me a better Mum.

But who knows what the right decision is, I certainly don’t. On my first day back at work, I’m sure I’ll be bawling my eyes out in the office bathroom and feeling like the worst mother in the world. But if I stay at home, I think the isolation, cabin fever and monotony will probably make me a less tolerant and imaginative Mum. To clarify, I’m talking about myself here. I don’t think you’re any less inspiring, intelligent and imaginative if you choose not to work. I also don’t believe that you’re a better mother if you decide to stay at home just because you think it’s what you SHOULD do. Life is too full of ‘shoulds’.  Some women are cut out for staying at home indefinitely and some aren’t. My aim is to try and find a happy medium and I’m hoping three days at work and four days at home will be it.

In a lot of ways Australian workplaces are still living in the dark ages when it comes to supporting new mums. I’m lucky enough to have a boss who seems open to me returning to a management position three days per week, but there is still a huge roadblock when it comes to even distribution of parental responsibilities.


Moo and his adoring Dad

My husband is a very devoted and hands-on father. He would love to work four days a week so he could spend one day at home with Moo but as a senior executive for an international organisation, that isn’t an option. The overall sentiment is that Dad brings home the bacon while looking after the bub from Monday to Friday is Mum’s responsibility. So Mum has to either give up her career until the kids go to school or be consumed by guilt and often judged by relatives and friends for going back to work and engaging childcare.

I’d love to see workplaces being more open to Dads spending one day a week at home which would allow more career-flexibility and less guilt for Mum while supporting Dad-child bonding. I know we are making inroads, but we still have a long way to go in recognising women’s value in the workplace post-baby and Dad’s desires to spend more time raising their kids.

As a side note it shits me to tears when I go out on my own and am asked “Is Dad babysitting tonight?”, no one ever asks my husband “Is Mum baby-sitting tonight?” because it’s not friggin’ baby-sitting when it’s YOUR child and spending time looking after your offspring is not baby-sitting just because you’re a bloke, it’s being a parent! Ok, ok, I’ll stop burning the bra now…

I hope in time that mums like me won’t find themselves stuck between a rock and a demotion when it comes to balancing their careers with being loving and nurturing mothers. I also hope that Dads will feel more comfortable broaching the possibility of working part-time so they can share the Mon-Fri parental responsibilities. For now, I guess I’ll just keep lying awake at night trying to find an outcome that benefits the most important thing in my life – my Moo.


Another year older and full of gratitude

WARNING: soppy post ahead…

This week I am turning 33. As someone who is prone to complaining and focusing on the negative, I thought my birthday was a good time to take stock of my life and focus on the positives because in the words of one of my favourite composers, John Bucchino, “grateful, grateful, truly grateful I am”.

Today –

I am grateful for my close friends who invest their time and love into moulding a caring and meaningful relationship with me.

I am grateful for my sense of humour that has turned dark times into memories I can laugh at over a glass of sauv.

I am grateful for all the shitty, tumultuous and sometimes abusive relationships that made me recognise and appreciate a good man.

I am grateful that after seven years I call that good man my husband and that every time I see him tickle our baby boy, I fall more in love with him.

I am grateful for my imperfect body that grew and continues to nurture a beautiful new life.

I am grateful for our often messy home that is filled with warmth, laughter and personality, and for our street full of talkative and supportive neighbours (bar one).

I am grateful to have spent 21 years of my life in the magnificent, vibrant and culturally diverse South Africa and to have witnessed the end of apartheid.

I am grateful for the organic supermarket in Seddon that always has stock of Joe’s Chocolate Ripple ice cream when I’ve had a bad day and for acknowledging my patronage with a 5% discount.

I am grateful that despite being given a 5-10% chance of conceiving naturally, we managed to fall pregnant without the heartache and stress of IVF that so many people we love have had to face.


I am grateful for our ‘defective’ pedigree fluff child Wilbur who loves burrowing into the back of my knees each night to share my love of trashy TV.

I am grateful that I married a man whose family is as loveable as he is.

I am grateful that my biggest financial worry is how I am going to afford a monthly facial, an over-priced maxi dress and our dog’s annual Christmas portrait.

I am grateful for Mondays spent with my mothers group who have alleviated the loneliness of being a stay-at-home mum.

I am grateful to live in a country where I can go for long walks with my baby and never feel unsafe.

I am grateful to have travelled extensively and seen sights that will remain perfect snapshots in my memory, that sunset in Santorini, walking through the villages of Cinque Terre…

I am grateful for a mother who can make me laugh like no other person in the world and who stays up past midnight every year so she can be the first to wish me a happy birthday.

I am grateful for a father whose intelligence, stability and love has created the foundation for my abundant and confident life.

I am grateful for my sister whose marathon Skype chats always remind me that I am a powerful and capable woman and a great Mum, and for my nieces who emanate all that is right with the world.

I am grateful for my son who moves me every day and who has redefined my life in the best possible way.

I am grateful that at (nearly) 33, my life is all that I imagined and hoped it would be.

From Prada to Poo: The joys of being a fat and unfashionable new mum

If you’d asked me 12 months ago to describe myself in ‘elevator talk’ I would’ve said, “I’m a successful communications manager working in the health sector. I love travelling the world, splurging on $260 face cream and pouring myself into a taxi after too many mojitos.” I would happily debate the merits of BB creams vs. foundations, squatted till my glutes screamed to fit into skinny jeans and knew all about my hairdresser’s unfaithful ex. Between my job, social life, studying for my Masters degree and performing in the odd amateur musical, I never sat down and got off on thrill of meeting deadlines and celebrating successes.

Fast forward 12 months, one baby and 17 kilos and my life would take a broken elevator with a tardy repairman to describe.

As a previously fashion conscious compulsive shopper, I’m currently sitting at my computer in a mismatched tracksuit covered in breast milk, saliva and a blob of something that after a quick ‘scratch and sniff’ test is identified as regurgitated pumpkin. I used to fit into a size 28 jeans, now that’s my BMI. The last piece of jewellery I bought was a Baltic amber teething necklace and this Summer I’ll be chaffing in shorts fastened with a hair band thanks to my new tummy that hangs over my c-section scar like a zebra print moonbag. My mascara has coagulated past its use by date and my eyebrow plucker has cashed in its super and commenced an early retirement.

After eight months on maternity leave I don’t know if or when I’ll return to my previously satisfying job. Could I leave my gorgeous baby boy in the care of strangers while I fiddle with marketing plans and Photoshop double chins? I’m not sure. My role has been snapped up by a 20-something year old who is willing and able to spend 60 hours a week tied to her desk at the mercy of the constantly shrinking deadline. Would the executive group want to trade her in for a part-timer who’ll be doing the childcare dash at 4.30pm every afternoon? I doubt it. Search part-time marketing and communications roles on Seek and you don’t even need to scroll, a reduction in work hours brings up a short list of assistant roles paying less than a nugget fryer at Maccas. After years of fighting for promotions and working through weekends, I’ve stepped off the career escalator for a while and my bank balance is currently in debit of 86c.

Late nights socialising with friends and performing in sometimes dodgy theatre productions have become cosy nights in, dreaming up different accents for Mr Rubber Ducky, and singing Wallace the Wondrous Warthog to an audience of one. I go to bed at 8.30pm knowing I’ll be up at 12, 3 and 5 to nurse or cuddle and sometimes swear. My Masters, which I planned to finish at the end of this year, may take another five and I haven’t seen or heard from most of my gay mates as suburban mums with muffin top aren’t the trendiest club companions.

While I’d love to say that I still read three novels a month and am able to come up with witty one-liners and unique cultural observations, my bedside table is now piled with books on sleep training and last week I forgot how to spell “yoghurt”. I haven’t said anything remotely amusing since last November and when I hear myself talk about nappy contents and baby-led weaning, I start to wonder why no one has offered me a job as an aural anaesthetist.

I’m grateful that my husband and I travelled extensively as newlyweds because ever since flying to South Africa with a five-month-old, I’ve been Googling “self lobotomy” to rid my brain of the memory. I know Christmas in New York is lovely, but we’ll be spending the next 18 December’s in either Ballarat, Creswick or Geelong.

Now before the smoke starts rising from the keyboards of mummy trolls, let me say that I wouldn’t change a thing. Sticking my post-coital legs in the air for eights months was the best decision I ever made. My gorgeous little chicken-legged cherub has crept into deepest crevices of my heart and made my life fuller than I ever imagined it could be. Sure I’m fat and unfashionable and I haven’t waxed my legs in eight weeks, my career is in the toilet and a new grey hair just sprung up to say “Hi, you’re old”, but I’m the best goddamn frog impersonator in Melbourne and my little man thinks I’m Miranda Kerr. So if you ask me to describe myself between the Ground Floor and Level 2, I may just say, “I’m a new mum” and leave it at that. Because for now, that’s more than enough.