A long and frustrating day at work. As soon as 17:30 hit, I pelted out the door!
When Wriggles was first born, I was adamant I did not want to give up work. Most women have at least a portion of pregnancy to make lifestyle and financial decisions about what they will do when the baby comes, be it give up work, reduce hours, change jobs or return full time once maternity leave is over. Having not had this luxury, I was signed off for the obligatory month following childbirth. Obviously I was heavily in shock about the events that had just taken place and very worried for the little scrap lying in neonatal. I was also petrified about losing my job. At this point, I had not been able to establish paternal contact, was living in an flatshare that whilst had worked fine as a Singleton was already showing strains and my job could have gone one way or the other. I had not been in work for long, having only graduated a few months previously. I had worked part time throughout my degree and after filling in a rainforest worth of application forms, had landed A Grown Up Job. it wasn't the dream job, but it was one a thousand times better than many alternatives. It was in a sector I was passionate about (the arts) and for a small company I was familiar with and respected. My post would deal with community and education projects as well as administrative tasks. After four years at university studying fine art, a year at art college and two years doing three creative A levels as well as ethics & philosophy, I was well and truly signed up to the arts. As university wore on, I did become more pragmatic and cynical. I still loved the arts and do still firmly believe they add to the notion of "wellbeing" if accessed on a level playing field. However, my misgiving is that sometimes they are taken over by some quite selfish characters who fanny about. This was particularly why I was pleased to have some ties with schools and the community. Arts should be for everyone, not some specialist subject for brainboxes and families who can afford a small fortune to go around museums every weekend. Being able to orchestrate opportunities whether blatant or more complex was exciting. In my first two months I worked promoting a contemporary piece that looked at the family dynamic, the notion of love and to a degree, feminism. I loved it. The day I went into labour I was happily (well, uncomfortably) making props and running after ballerinas.
My new contract detailed nothing about maternity rights, I wasn't entitled to sick pay and some urgent meetings set up with Citizens Advice and Sure Start advisers confirmed I was a grey area. Local offices phoned regional offices who in turn phone head offices. No one could agree what I was entitled too in terms of finances, rights or leave. It looked like I was at the mercy of my boss who could use her discretion. It was looking increasingly likely that if I wanted any length of cobbled together maternity leave, it would be unpaid. It was not certain I would receive any benefits aside from child benefit and I certainly could not afford a year like this. At this point, Wriggles was too fragile to move anywhere fast, my family lived 300 miles away and it would be a complete uproot. I was lucky that my boss was happy to keep me on and we agreed I would return to work on a part time basis. Bonkers-ly I decided, "why wait"? My boss had reservations. Understandably. Something about avoiding the situation...
I won however. So, in weeks 5-9 of SCBU I returned for 20 hours a week. A silly idea; I was all over the place immediately. I think it was a relief for everyone when around week 8 (36 weeks gestation) the increasing apnoeas confirmed that my baby would go home on oxygen and would need a registered full time carer. Me! I was signed off work again and breathed a huge sigh of relief. Shortly after returning to work I had realised that I had to come to terms with the situation, and face on.
Until then I had been in such a state of shock I could not connect with proper rational or the rest of the world and I certainly could not connect with my own emotions. I do regret taking time out of the experience to work; although I spent every waking hour out of work in SCBU, staying until the last train home. But mostly I feel sad. I feel sad that I had so much on my plate, coming to terms with everything and supporting a teeny tiny baby, that I had to sort out work, to account like I have never accounted before to assess if I could manage, try and find a new home (this in the end got delayed slightly), oh yes and bond with my precious child! Having a sick child brings many challenges and one of the worst and least acknowldeged is that life trundles on outside of hospital. It can be a rude shock that life and all the boring bits do not wait for you.
I returned to work properly at around seven months. The oxygen was off and I was equally paranoid about being dismissed the longer I left returning and also managing financially. I desperately wanted to prove as a young-ish single mummy that I could provide at least a sizable chunk of my incomings to support my precious baby. In a perfect world I would have had some more time off; Wriggles was still sensitive to respiratory infections so most weekends were spent in hospital, I was at first still very much in the thick of PTSD and I had finally moved (hooray!). But as I said before, life isn't perfect. I have a good childminder Wriggles adores (well, the cat at least) and although I have days where my once cherished job feels vacuous compared with what I have seen and I just want to be at home, I am also very proud that I can provide a lot of what surrounds me, bringing independence. It is only recently that I am coming round to the idea that I haven't mucked things up. Work does not seem to affect my relationship with my child for the worse, and some of the daytime hours missed in SCBU seem less relevant now. I always wanted to do the thing that would be "for the best" but now I think I have a far clearer idea of what that is.