It’s coming to that time of year and I have started to think back about what I was doing this time last year.

I say that like I haven’t been doing that for the whole of the last 12 months!! But, now it feels even more important to think back as we creep up to my son’s first birthday.

I have to say, I was very lucky with my pregnancy. My husband and I found out we were pregnant at 5 weeks (one week after I drank an awful lot of gin at my brother’s wedding!!). I felt very sick in the first few months and mainly lived on a diet of bread, cheese and salt & vinegar crisps (sorry Isaac!), but I didn’t have debilitating ‘morning’ sickness like some. I was tired all the time but I could still go to work. My body was changing but I seemed to be doing ok.

I knew my due date was the 28 March. It was the date ingrained in my brain since my 12 week scan. I knew, since everybody told me, that it was just an estimate. I also knew only 4% of babies were actually born on their due date. But I remember thinking two things. Firstly I had that sneaky feeling I was going to be in that 4%. However much I tried to quash the feeling it kept creeping up. People would say to me “you’re super organised” and “you’re always on time” your baby will definitely be on time. I know they didn’t know anymore than I did but I secretly believed our baby would arrive on his due date. We were also told our baby was big. Perfect, I thought, just what every mum wants to hear! But at the same time I thought if he was big he would be ready to arrive on time. The second thing I remember thinking was that I didn’t mind. I knew he was coming at some point, I knew I wouldn’t go more than 14 days overdue so there was no need getting wound up – he would, as everyone kept reminding me, arrive when he was ready!

My biggest fear when I was pregnant was that I would go into labour at home on my own. It was the thing that played on my mind the most, but the one thing nobody could really reassure me of. I knew it would take my husband about 2 hours to get home from work if I called him; my mum was on hand but even she was an hour away and the friends I had made close to where we now live were new friends and we weren’t quite at the “phone a friend and tell her you are in labour” stage just yet. I finished work 2 weeks before my due date. I wanted some time “off” before the baby arrived and I was pretty certain I didn’t want to go into labour in, or travelling to or from, London. So I figured 2 weeks was a good buffer and, as I had my mind set on giving birth at Lister Hospital, I refused to leave the county in those final few weeks.

What nobody and nothing prepared me for was the 29th March, or the 30th or any day between the 31st and the 8th April. I had had my 2 weeks off work. My hospital bag was packed, I had been through a lot (I mean, a lot) of Greys Anatomy and I was ready. People told me to “make the most of the time” and “save up my sleep”; those people clearly having no idea or recollection of just how uncomfortable sleep is at 40 weeks pregnant or exactly what one can do to make the most of their time when they are constantly exhausted and unable to do anything without someone saying “be careful!” If I am completely honest those last 2 weeks of my pregnancy were the worst. I was desperate for my son to arrive and nobody could say anything to me that made me feel any better. By the end I was so fed up of people telling me what to eat and drink (none of those things work, by the way) and listening to people say “he must just be really happy in there!” I didn’t want to respond to text messages or answer the phone and I snapped at anything my husband said to me. Unless someone could tell me my son was on his way, I did not care what anyone had to say. I cried, daily, at anything! I filled the freezer with home-made meals like people told me to do and when I tried to bake flapjacks (ready-to-eat snacks for when the baby arrived) and they fell tocrumbly pieces, I sobbed! When my husband asked what was wrong and I told him it was the flapjacks, he replied “ok, what’s really wrong?” He didn’t know what to do with me, I didn’t even know what to do with myself! The idea of “knowing” I may have to wait an extra 2 weeks to meet my son was horrendous! The constant thought that I had ‘wasted’ a month of my maternity leave also played on my mind and all of the time my little tiny son was oblivious!

On Friday the 8th April at around half past 2 in the afternoon my waters broke. Knowing how close I was to being induced (the Saturday morning) my husband had stayed at home that day and I was so grateful to have him there! There is then a blur between Friday evening and Sunday morning that I still can’t quite comprehend. The timings of what happened and when are difficult to recall but I can remember clearly that at 7.06 Isaac Frank Thomas came into our lives, and all of the waiting was over. To do this day, almost a year later, I cant think of anything that anyone could have said that would have made those last 13 days more bearable.

And now, a year later, I am counting down those final 2 weeks to Isaac’s birthday and they seem so insignificant now; a year on, and I want these 2 weeks to go as slow as possible!


Part-time lawyer, part-time Mummy.

I have the best of both worlds, don’t I?

I work for part of the week and spend one day and the weekend at home with my son. I have, every week, that 3 day weekend that most of my colleagues wish they had and those Sunday evening and Monday morning feelings are postponed by a day. I have the opportunity to go out to work, continue my career and have that rare time to myself on my half an hour commute. I get adult conversation for 4 days of the week and can chase my son around the living room carpet on all fours on the other 3! My husband will sometimes shout to me “you’re a solicitor” as I pretend to be a lion and chase my son, and I’ll respond “not right now…” and carry on as my son crawls away as fast as he can giggling!

I feel extremely lucky to have a career that allows me to be flexible with the way in which I work. And today, on International Women’s Day, I feel fortunate to be part of a generation where going back to work after having a baby is acceptable. I know there will be many people who will say I shouldn’t have those feelings as this is the way it should be, and I do agree, but women of my age are going through completely different experiences to what most of our mothers did and that shows progress. It is incredibly slow, but it is progress!

It is not easy though. Actually it is much harder than I imagined! I, like so many women, thought part time was the best option when I returned to work. Like I said earlier, I would get the best of both worlds, right? But what about the difficult bits? It’s tough to talk about these. Why should
I complain when I get extra time with my son? What’s so hard about getting a long weekend? I remember the first Monday I had ‘off’. It felt different to the weekend as most other people were back at work and it felt different to my maternity leave as I had the feeling that I had to be back in the office the next day. The pressure on that day, for me, was immense. It was my one day with my son and I wanted to make sure we did lots of fun things. Anybody who has children knows that making (and sticking to) plans with a baby is as difficult as leaving the house in under 30 minutes! And making and sticking to plans with other mums can be just as tough! So my first day, despite the plans, was just me and my son. And it ended with me sobbing on my husband. Huh, I thought, this must be that thing called “mummy guilt” everybody talks about!

I am learning to put less pressure on my Mondays and just enjoy the time with my son, whatever we do. I try to avoid housework and food shopping, although that’s not always possible – food shopping is kind of essential, although housework isn’t!!

Adapting to work is tough too, not just for me, but my colleagues as well. Again, it’s getting easier but flexible working is such a new concept in some organisations that people still find it challenging. Forgetting about my day off, or forgetting about me when I work from home, is not uncommon and it means I have to work harder to remain a part of my team.

The salary sacrifice shouldn’t be forgotten about either. That one day a week wipes 20% of my salary. My bills and outgoings are still the same, and children are expensive little things to run, which means my disposable income (the part of my salary I could spend on new clothes and nice food) is pretty much non-existent!

The thing is, despite the title, I am not really a part-time lawyer and I am definitely not a part-time mum. I am both, all of the time (except maybe when I am crawling around the floor!) Is it harder than I imagined? Yes. Is it worth it? Absolutely.

The gift of time

A few weeks ago my Dad lost his best friend. He was my younger brother’s Godfather and my “adopted” Godfather. He was such a good Godfather to my brother, I adopted him for myself! Since he passed away I have found it difficult to explain to people who didn’t know him, how important he was to our family. We grew up with him, I am closer to him and my “adopted Godmother” than I am most of my aunties and uncles, so describing my him as my ‘brother’s Godfather’ just doesn’t really do our relationship justice.

My Godfather (as I will call him) had a long battle with cancer; one we knew would ultimately defeat him but that doesn’t mean he didn’t give it his best shot. Because of his illness, it meant he had time to write down his thoughts and he asked for these to be read at his funeral. If there is any small (very small) antidote to having to battle such a horrendous disease it is probably the ability to share one’s thoughts with loved ones. One of his closest friends bravely read to all of my Godfather’s friends and family his parting thoughts. There was one that stuck immediately as he said it and that I have thought about a lot since it was said. My Godfather believed that the greatest gift you can give someone is your time. I could have guessed he would have said this from the way in which he spent his life, spending so much time with his friends and family.

And, to me, this seems even more important now that I am a mum. Isaac is now 10 months old and I have become one of those mums who has already started saying that I can’t believe how quickly time goes! I honestly can’t believe how quickly time goes! I do think it feels quicker now that I count our lives in months rather than years – I have never before told anyone how old I am in weeks or months but I now have to keep a close track on how many months my son has been here (I gave up counting weeks when we got to about 20!) just in case someone asks the question. You get very funny looks if you can’t give an instant reply! So I know how precious time is and I am starting to feel just how incredibly quickly it disappears. I also know you shouldn’t take anything for granted. My Godfather was the same age as my Dad and he is the first close person I have lost who is not a grandparent. The loss feels different, he was too young, he should have had more time to enjoy the things he loved doing – spending time with friends, a good beer and good music (although everyone who knew him would say this was a matter of taste!) The number of people that came to his funeral was testament to the emphasis he put on his friendships.

Whilst I sit here and write this I vow to live by his belief; to focus on a better work life balance, look at my phone less, enjoy the simpler things in life and spend more time with friends and family. I know if Isaac could speak and you asked him if he wanted me to go to work or stay at home and play he’d want me to stay. I can see it in his smile when I get home from work. My time, to him, is more precious than anything. But, as with so many of us these days, I have a career that by its nature expects long hours, not always, but more often than not, and a phone that comes home with me each evening and all weekend. I want to succeed in my career as well as be a mum and I know I am not the only new mum who feels like, whilst trying to find that balance, I’m doing neither to the best of my ability!

Now my maternity leave is over I find that my 7 days with Isaac now have to be crammed into 3 and it’s hard. My husband and I are blessed with lots of friends and family who want to see Isaac often and by default that means us too (although I am sure for most it really is just by default!) And now, because of Isaac, it is so much more obvious when we don’t see someone for a while – the gap between visits is emphasised by the fact we know they haven’t seen Isaac since he was x months old, and he couldn’t [insert latest development] then but now he can, and he’s grown so quickly! And because we are part of a generation where our friends and family are scattered around the country and beyond, having been to university and stayed or found a husband / wife or a job which means we live away from where we grew up (we are guilty of this too) a quick cup of tea or lunch easily takes a day or involves a weekend away. We find ourselves torn between wanting to spend time with friends and family and wanting to avoid sitting on the M25 (or any other road that resembles a busy car park) on a Sunday evening!

And then in between work, play, tidying, cleaning, washing (so much washing), cooking, shopping, life admin, commuting (that sacred hour in the day where I can sit by myself and read a book, or the news or (cue gasps) catch up on social media), visiting friends, hosting friends, I sometimes just want to hang out with my husband and Isaac, just the 3 of us for a few hours, a day, a weekend.. To my husband, this is the most important bit. When I told him I was writing this his first response was to remind me not to forget that we both needed to give time to each other too. In between everything else it’s so easy to forget that and he is then left with the grumpy and tired offcuts of me which he usually has to share with the cast of Greys Anatomy!

So, here it is. I completely agree, Uncle Ronnie, time is the greatest gift. You of all people have every absolute right to tell us that. So I will try very very hard, especially for Isaac, to get the balance right because I have learnt from you that friends and family really are invaluable and little else is as important as spending time with them.

Not just mummy.

Some say the first 6 weeks are the hardest, just get through those. Others say the first 12 weeks and some say the first 6 months. Whatever period of time you measure, those first few days, weeks and months are one of the steepest learning curves my husband and I have ever been through. We had to learn how to look after another human being who was, other than having an innate ability to feed, completely helpless.  Neither my husband nor I had any experience with babies and children until our son arrived – we hadn’t even changed a nappy before our first night in hospital! And although there are books (so many books!) and classes and midwives and health visitors, I quickly came to realise there was no one answer to any of the questions I had.  It seemed that most people had a different opinion on what to do for the best and my husband and I just had to figure out which one to rely on, and hope we made the right choice!

The lessons are constant and in those first few months there are new things to learn every single day.  Every time I felt I had figured out one part of parenting, a new challenge arose. I mastered breastfeeding and changing nappies pretty early on, but then there was bathing, sleeping (at night and napping – 2 completely different skills it would seem!), leaving the house and arriving places on time (still learning..), packing a changing bag and keeping it “stocked”, choosing the right toys and right activities to ensure my son is developing well, changing nappies whilst my son wriggled around the bed (a different skill to changing newborn nappies) and then just when I thought I was getting the hang of things, there was weaning!! 

At 9 months we kind of have a routine going on, Isaac is sleeping well (which I am genuinely grateful for every single day) and he eats 3 meals a day. Before going back to work, we would play, see friends, go for walks, eat together and my one aim of the day was to ensure that my son was well fed, happy and learning lots and lots of new things. 

But now my maternity leave has come to an abrupt end (I really don’t think there is a right time to give it all up and go back to work) and I am no longer just a mummy.  To Isaac, that is all I am, but now I have to readjust and learn how to be a solicitor again.  Just when I have started to master the skills of looking after a baby, I now need to root around in the back of my head somewhere and find my lawyer skills too. And then I need to learn to balance the two, carefully, ensuring I am the best mummy I can be but that I am also the lawyer that my employer and my clients expect me to be.  

On top of the practical stuff (like remembering the law, packing the nursery bag, looking presentable before leaving the house) I need to learn to handle the emotional side of it too.  I have to learn to cope with having to drop my son off at nursery with people who are, in essence, strangers to both him and me.  I have to learn to live with the guilt of handing my son over whilst he’s desperately trying to hold on to me and walking out of the room whilst he’s still crying. I need to learn how to balance work life with home life, something so many of us have to do (whether we have children or not) and so many of us seem to get wrong! And as anyone who knows me will tell you, I am a little bit of a perfectionist so I want to get it right, right from the start! And as my husband tells me (almost daily) that’s impossible, we are still learning. So as I start this new phase of parenthood I need to continue to learn; learn how to be a mummy, but not just a mummy.

It’s ok to want to go back…

I’m looking forward to going back to work. I have to keep telling myself that that is ok. It doesn’t make me a bad mum, it doesn’t mean I haven’t absolutely loved (almost) every minute of my maternity leave and it doesn’t mean I won’t be desperately looking forward to the next long weekend or holiday as much as the next person.  I just have to keep telling myself, it is ok to want to go back to work.  It does mean, it would seem, that everybody has an opinion on my choice to go back to work and they are not afraid to tell me!

Whether the person I am talking to is a parent or not, most people I speak to seem to think I am deluded, that I don’t really know what I am talking about, and everybody tells me I will quickly change my mind come the 3rd January (the dreaded date of my return!) These opinions are so common and so forceful that they have led me to change my response to the (now almost daily) question and I find myself qualifying my response and saying “I think I am” or “I’m not really sure how I feel.” But, that’s not true. I do know how I feel. I went to university for 4 years, trained for a 2 further years and have since spent another 6 years building up my career. I enjoy my job, I’m good at what I do and I want to continue to do it. I love my son, more than I honestly thought was possible, but I also whole-heartedly believe I am doing the right thing by going back to work.

And I know it will be hard and I’m sure nothing will really prepare me for that first week back, but I have a fantastic employer that has agreed to trial my suggested flexible working hours and an incredible husband that knows my son’s routine as well as I do and so I am in a very fortunate starting position for January!

And as I start to count off the last few fun things I get to do as a mummy whilst still on maternity leave (today was my last trip to “baby land” courtesy of Baby Beeps) I have at the back of my mind the thought of a hot coffee and a Pret sandwich I can eat in peace..without sharing!