I still remember the day I found out I was pregnant. It was a Saturday, in Melbourne. I was 37, and had just moved there 2 weeks earlier. I had spent those 2 weeks delighting in the marvels of the bars of Chapel Street. And thinking about how my new combined career in professional recruitment and coaching was going to be amazing in a city like Melbourne.
The pregnancy turned everything on its head. Not that I wasn’t happy to be pregnant. I just wasn’t quite sure what it meant for my career going forward. After all, it was a completely new situation for me to be in.
Almost 4 years on and it’s been a real journey – I studied, took time out, set up my own business, went back to corporate, left corporate and came back to my own business. All the while questioning my every move. Am I doing the right thing for my son? Am I doing the right thing for my career? What about me – can I really juggle a new full-time full-on business development role that involves travel with the demands of a 2 year old???
At times, my brain was mush, and my thinking so unclear you would have needed full strength spectacles to make any sense of it.
Many of my girlfriends were in the same situation. They had high-powered corporate careers they didn’t want to give up. They wanted to be the perfect mother, wife and businesswoman. And they didn’t really know how to make it all work.
No one can fully prepare you for the emotional rollercoaster that is pregnancy and first-time motherhood. It’s an incredible period in a woman’s life, and one I feel eternally grateful to have experienced.
However I am fully aware that the experience of returning to work after children can be extremely distressing and in many cases a negative experience for many professional women. The demands of work and life can be overwhelming, and you need all the assistance you can get to help you navigate this major change in your life and career.
If you are about to embark on a period of maternity leave, here are some tips you might find help you with the transition period.
Communicate your expectations
Out of sight is often out of mind, and a long period of maternity leave means there may be many changes occur in your team and/or company while you are away.
Before you go on maternity leave, have a meeting with your direct manager (and HR) and create a Communications Plan. Be very specific about how you want to be communicated with while you are on leave. For example, if you are in a client-facing role, do you want to be kept up to date on major happenings with your clients while you are away?
If there are changes in the team, do you want to come in for morning tea to meet the new member?
Do you want to come in for professional development seminars to help keep your skills up to date?
Maybe you want zero contact at all for the first 3 months, and then gradually build it up with emails then office visits.
If you let your manager and team know what you want to know and how you want to know it, they will respect that and it will mean you return to work feeling much more on top of what has been happening in your absence.
Expect your expectations to change
While you may fully intend to come back full-time, often women change their mind once the baby is born. If there is an element of uncertainty for you (and you don’t have to go back full-time financially), make sure you explore the flexible working arrangements and consider what options you might have to work part-time, even for an initial period upon your return.
Learn from those who have gone before you
Take every opportunity to meet and speak with women in your company who have taken maternity leave. Ask as many questions as you can about what they learnt, what they would do differently, and what advice they have for you.
This is a good support network for you to have upon your return, and you never know what tips you might pick up about company entitlements and ways to make the most of your career upon your return.
Witnessing the experience of my friends and subsequently many of my clients who were going back to demanding jobs was the reason I developed the Fiona Craig Careers Maternity Coaching programs for individuals and organisations – to help women navigate this period in their life and the ensuing effects on their career – to give the women emotional and practical career support to help them combine their career and new role as a parent successfully.
If you’d like to learn more about how you can take ownership of your career to allow you to create a career you love, be rewarded for what you do and take control of your future, you might want to join me for a LIVE and FREE workshop, where I’ll show you exactly how to do just that. Click here to find out more.