by Judy Sorohan
It’s so hard to even know what to write. To explain all the emotions you go through in the run up to and in the actual moment you return to work. I took 11 and a half months ‘off work’ for my second maternity leave. I already have a little girl who is 4 and a half. I didn’t think I’d wrestle with my return to the office so much. My first time around, I almost burst into song as I walked through the door. I had gone through a very tough year. I was quietly dealing with postnatal depression (PND) and post-traumatic stress disorder following a very traumatic birth (that’s a story for another day). So, when the time came to go back to the working world, I was ready for it. I craved it and my sanity needed it. So did my husband’s.
Fast forward to baba no. 2 and the whole experience has been an entirely different one. I struggle to find the words to explain how different. When I found out I was pregnant with my second I immediately felt an overwhelming sense of panic. Not what you expect to hear. Of course, I wanted to be pregnant and was delighted. We planned it after all. But, I was also terrified. I didn’t know how I was going to go through the first year again. Truth be told that’s why we waited as long as we did to try for a baby. Was it going to be a repeat of the first time? I was fearful of reliving those dark depths of depression. Sitting indoors day after day after day feeling utterly dreadful. It’s the pits.
No, this time had to be different. For all our sakes. So, after some serious talking to myself (over months, there was no overnight epiphany!) and to my husband, I resolved to find a new approach. I was determined to be much more open this time. It was the only way to survive. I began sharing how I felt with those around me, with close friends and people not so close. People who I somehow ended up in conversation with. Anyone who’d listen really. I told them all. I said I was scared, that I was worried. It was therapeutic let me tell you.
I also took the opportunity to warn people to keep an eye out for PND in themselves and in their friends. What to look out for and how good people are at hiding it away beneath a smiling exterior. A lot of people expressed surprise at how completely shit I had felt. Apparently, I didn’t seem unhappy. It’s easier to fake it than to be honest so you become an expert at codding everyone. I don’t know the author of this quote but since seeing it in the ‘Malahide is Cleerely Beautiful’ calendar by Nicky Cleere last year, it has stuck with me.
“Those who suffer from mental illness are stronger than you think. We must fight to go to work, care for our families, be there for our friends and act ‘normal’ while battling this unimaginable pain.”
I couldn’t put it better myself.
This time myself and my husband took the bull by the horns. I spoke at length with my consultant, my GP, my friends, a therapist. We got a doula for postnatal home help. I can’t tell you how much of a game changer this was. When my yummy baba finally arrived 11 days late, I was instantly relieved to feel immense love and happiness. That heart exploding kind of love that we all have for our kiddos. The type of love that can’t be described.
Not fear, not disconnection, not numbness. I was elated. There was no single reason for this success but I definitely think my mental health prep was a huge contributing factor. I had a much easier birth so nature lent a helping hand too. Plus it’s simply not as scary when you’ve done it once before.
My maternity leave was a continuation of this. An amazing experience. I loved it. I adored it. I couldn’t get enough of the squishy love and fat rolls. I was asked to go back to work early when my son was six months old and I burst into tears. I didn’t want to leave my babies. Either of them. So, I didn’t. Best decision ever! I made the most of mat leave with the kids but also for myself and my husband. We made sure to get loads of time alone once we felt ready. I got out of the house every day no matter what. Every day bar one and that evening I felt crap. That old, familiar grey fog. I didn’t stay indoors one day after that.
Now I’m not trivialising things here. I don’t mean to make it sound so simple. It’s not. There were so many things that I/we did differently. There is no one thing that you can do to manage PND but rather a whole host of things you can do and decisions that you can make that will help and that might just be the difference. Try everything. Be prepared.
I still get occasional pangs of guilt that I didn’t have this same positive start with my daughter but these pangs are becoming less frequent. As time goes on, I’m less hard on myself. It also helps that I have the best bunch of mommy friends ever that knock sense into me every time I feel like total pants. You have to be brave and share your fears first for them to reward you with ego boosting mantras but let me tell you – If there is one thing you do for yourself as a new/not-so-new mom, it’s to set up a WhatsApp group with some (encouraging and supportive) mommies. It will change your life. Well my girls did anyway. And, my wonderful husband. He took so much control this time. He did an unimaginable amount of preparation for me. Making sure that I had endless care and help around me.
All of a sudden June was upon me and I was back to the lion’s den, in the car suited and booted on my way to the office. A little uneasy if I’m honest. In the run up to it I thought I was ready but the night before I started to feel sick. Physically sick. I was close to tears all day. To be fair, I went to a gig the day before and drank a bucket load of gin, which we all know is a depressant. Bad move. I was an emotional wreck. Over the past three weeks I have been asked about 50 times how I feel about being back to work. I am yet to figure out how to actually answer this question. The truth is that I don’t know how I feel. Whoever asks me isn’t met with the enthusiastic response that I gave first time around. This time, it’s more of a “meh”.
Yes I like to have a career. Yes I like to earn my own money. Yes I like to further myself. And, yes I love the buzz of being a woman in a typically man’s world but wow do I miss my babies. I can’t seem to get my head in the game 100% yet. Don’t get me wrong a bit of a balance is no bad thing. Before no. 2 came along, I was obsessed with my job. Emails until 11PM and starting at 6AM kind of obsessed. That’s not right either.