When you have a baby, you’re plunged into a world you know nothing about.
No amount of reading or trawling the internet or phoning other mums for advice will help. No matter how many supportive friends or family members come to visit, if you have a question at 1 o’clock in the morning, chances are you’ll have to work out the answer for yourself. Ultimately, it’s your call. Terrifying.
The thing is, I wasn’t used to feeling helpless.
I was used to being the confident one in the room. At work, I was bloody good at my job. I worked hard and I knew what I was doing. Considering I was at work more than I was anywhere else, my “work identity” was me.
And then I had a baby.
I felt like I’d gone from hero to zero. I was a “nobody”. Just another mum, pushing a buggy, worrying about breastfeeding and sleep. How dull.
Even though I loved my baby so much it gave me a pain in my stomach, I missed the old “me”. I missed the confident person who put nice clothes on in the morning. And I felt like I was being left behind.
It didn’t help that I was the first amongst my group of friends to have a baby. While I was dealing with dirty nappies they were off being promoted and getting new, exciting jobs.
It wasn’t that I didn’t like being a mum. I loved it. I dreaded the thought of going back to work. I wanted to live in my baby bubble forever. But then there were those constant nagging reminders of who I used to be. The old business card in my wallet. The conversations that started “And what do you do?”. I’d be right there again, in a cloud of doubt, feeling guilty for not being at work, worrying that I’d be left behind.
It’s now thirteen months since I went on maternity leave, fourteen if you count the annual leave at the beginning. And despite planning to take a full year off, it didn’t happen.
I made it to January before I cracked. The worry got me, that need to be “hero” again took over. I started doing the odd radio shift here and there, “to keep my hand in”. Then I started writing the odd article on a freelance basis. Then I set up a blog. Then I did more radio work, more articles and, before I knew it, I’d handed in my notice and decided not to return to the old job. I was officially a freelance journalist.
And now that I’m working again, I look back and kick myself for wasting the last precious months of my maternity leave worrying. It all turned out OK in the end. Balance has been restored. Why couldn’t I just have relaxed and let it play out without trying to chase the end of the story before it was even written?
I’ve come a long way in the last year. I’ve had a baby, furthered my career and will be getting married in just over a month.
Turns out I was never zero. I was a hero all along – I just didn’t know it.