A mama less ordinary: What happens when you go back to work?

In a series of columns for Grazia, Fashion Director and Writer Jade Chilton documents her new life as a mum, minus the mumsy. This week, Jade navigates the multifaceted challenges of returning to work after having a baby
A mama less ordinary: What happens when you go back to work?
Starting 'em young

“As you’re a new mother I had to think about whether I should interview you,” said the Editor sitting across the table from me. “But I came to the conclusion you will be a lot more efficient in the role. I know this as a mother myself.”

It was two months after Baby G was born and I was in an office having a job interview. Feeling completely out of focus, the button on my pre-baby high-waisted jeans digging into the soft flesh of my postpartum belly, dry-mouthed and a head full of baby thoughts and not a lot else.

This was not part of the maternity leave that I had envisaged. But I’ve always been of the opinion that, if opportunity comes knocking, you should definitely open the door. As I sat there, and this “dream job” was outlined to me, all I could hear in my head was “No, no, no, no and no.” Never in my life have I been so sure of something. If the interview had taken place 12 months before, I would have snapped this job right out of the Editor’s manicured hands, but here and now, all I could think of was racing home to breastfeed my newborn. I knew instinctively it wasn’t the right moment to open the door.

This wasn’t the first time I’d looked back at my career since becoming a mother. Only one month after giving birth I was writing this Grazia column, pitching feature ideas to publications and attending events with a baby in tow. I had an overwhelming urge that I should clutch on to the strands of my career before they slipped through my hands forever and I was forgotten. It appears I wasn’t the only one. One friend confessed to me, in utter disbelief with herself, that she had sat in her hospital bed, post C-section, with her laptop on her knee and her baby in the bassinet beside her. Another new mum with a two week-old baby told me she was taking meetings with clients.

What came over us to feel the need to strive in our careers at this hugely significant time? Surely this is the one period of our lives when we should allow ourselves to take a break? I use this term loosely - it isn't a ‘break’ - we’ve just birthed a human, our body has been through considerable trauma and we're worried that our career might fall by the wayside?! Someone please pass me the scissors so I can cut us some slack.

It didn’t take me long to realise that my behaviour was bonkers. For my new job as a mother, I was already pulling 14-hour shifts in a physically and mentally demanding role with little reprieve, in addition to the overtime I was putting in through the night. While changing a soiled diaper at 2am isn’t exactly the same as styling an eight-page fashion spread, it sure does take some tenacity to drag yourself out of bed in the pitch black every two hours to deal with the problem at hand. Not forgetting my salary for the job of motherhood is zero – of course, aside from the daily reward of love and gratitude that G brings to my life. I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t last in such a position if it were my career.

So you can understand why it surprises me that working women in the UAE are expected to return to work after 45 days, inclusive of weekends. Breastfeeding mums are still establishing their milk supply, all mums are being woken every two-to-three hours throughout the night and have mind-altering hormones pumping through their bodies, not to mention that the six-week recovery time is a “total fantasy”, according to Dr Julie Wray who complied a report after interviewing women at different post-partum stages. She found it can take mothers up to a year to recover emotionally and physically.

As time goes on and I become more able to be away from Greta for periods longer than 30 minutes, and as I slowly come to terms with the new me, I feel passion for my career start to bloom and I have eased my way back to work. As a freelancer I’ve been lucky that I can attempt to fine-tune the balance between career and baby. With Greta - the cornerstone of every major decision and job I take on - I ask myself before I commit, “Will this job make me happy? Is it worth the time being apart from her?” And when I say ‘worth,’ I don’t mean the monetary value.

I’m writing this column with my right hand while the left holds an electronic breast pump so my baby doesn’t starve while I simultaneously negotiate being a woman with a job and a mother. The juggle, as they say, is real. I naively thought that when I passed Greta over to her temporary caregiver, I would be able to switch off being a mother and pop on my Fashion Director hat. How wrong could I be. I now realise that, not only do I have deadlines to meet, events to attend and clients to respond to, I also have to plan Greta’s meals and nap schedule, not to mention dealing with the onslaught of guilt and worry. A day away from Greta means I receive a barrage of text messages, informing me of the consistency of my baby’s stool, what time she woke up from her last nap (to the minute) and photographs. I now see old and new colleagues who are mothers in a whole new light and have a newfound respect for them. These mothers are throwing themselves into their job, while working their ‘other’ job on the side, most of the time silently and without showing the strain.

Returning to the Editor at my job interview... she was right. I know I’ll be ten times more efficient in my career now I’m a mum. Us mothers don’t do things by halves, you know.

Photos: Jade's own