Where I Drew The Line: Choosing My Health Over a Job

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It’s been 11 weeks and 6 days since I left my job and became unemployed.

Yes, I voluntarily quit my job and decided to put my mental and physical health first to be (excuse me for want of a better phrase) a ‘stay-at-home-mother’ (for now!).
So many people often laugh and belittle the title but it hasn’t been without complication and is definitely the hardest decision I’ve made to date, one I absolutely did not take lightly.

Mentally and emotionally, I was admitting complete defeat. Although not difficult for some, personally my previous job wasn’t the easiest to contend with – as with many, over-prescribed and under-appreciated, and despite putting up a fight, it didn’t take much to feel like a total failure 24/7 after many unhappy 10 hour days, 5 days a week.

Financially, feeling this unmotivated and under-appreciated came at the unforgivable cost of £1,200 a month in nursery fees, £50 a week in fuel and many a Great British Pound in forgotten lunch boxes and ‘run away from my desk at lunchtime to survive snacks’ – I’ve now left all that behind in addition to an entire salary… Another ridiculously hard parting for sure. As well as this, my departure prior to what’s known as the ‘qualifying week’ for maternity pay, has also left us rather short-changed.
So when did I decide to put myself above my job, money, and stability I hear you ask? In all honesty, it hit me like a train in slow motion for a few months then the fire started and I burnt out in the blink of an eye.

For months, it started as a series of small interferences with my day-to-day life: things like feeling overwhelmed, regularly crying on my way home from work, not enjoying anything outside of work at the fear of heading back the next day. This quite quickly snowballed after finding out I was pregnant in Easter earlier this year. Emotions running higher and baby brain swallowing me whole, I was tripping at every hurdle and it began to show it all aspects of my life, work being the hardest to go unnoticed. As the pressure mounted, I became a stressed-shell of my former self and found that I couldn’t stand up for myself at the fear of confrontation or worse, dismissal. It was all-consuming and I slowly lost my ability to concentrate, my confidence in decision making and imposter syndrome kicked in HARD. Recently, I read an article (forgive me, I can’t remember where) about how imposter syndrome is actually more about colleagues making you feel inferior and not accepted than you being bad at your job. It was a shocking eye-opener that, yes I could have been getting worse at my job through stress and anxiety but feeling inferior was, in fact, more a part of feeling inadequate. I was jumping through hoops, working away and for many weekends and extended days but it never ever felt like enough.

Now, here’s a bit of advice pregnant mama to pregnant mama – whatever you do, research your rights and make sure your employer follows the guidelines for pregnant women in the workplace. It can make a HUGE difference in how your role and job load is handled and a risk assessment is an absolute necessity, wherever you work. I felt at a disadvantage with this and only wish I’d been more outspoken at the time; this was an unignorable protruding factor on my ‘why I should quit’ list.

As we reached early May, heading towards my 9th week of pregnancy, the downward spiral only got more slippery. The dread of the job took over and I’d lost every ounce of gusto for my job and my home life; my entire life felt unbearable and with that, I sort medical help. Having previously had fairly negative interactions with the NHS and mental health, I was fortunately not ignored and was signed off work with ‘work-related stress’ for two weeks – even that felt like I was letting my job down. I didn’t quite know what to do with my days and regularly lay around feeling unmotivated and generally unwell; the weeks passed quickly and before I knew it I was back to the constant dread. On my return to work, my absence seemed like the elephant in the room. If it wasn’t for the lovely ladies who sat around me reassuring me with ‘are you ok’ and ‘if you need to talk, you know where I am’, I’m really not sure I would have survived the 6 weeks that followed.

As I slumped into my corner desk and tried to plow through the never-ending tasks that seemed to have festered in my absence, I’d never felt so behind or snowed under with jobs where deadlines had passed or were imminently due. With no assistant or colleague to share the load with, I started to crumble all over again. Nothing had changed and almost seemed like my time away had never happened. It was never really discussed beyond a short and sweet meeting where I agreed that I was fit for work again. In no time at all the tasks began piling up and it only got worse – it was then my overall capability was beginning to be questioned.

As I entered my yearly appraisal, I knew I was officially failing. I’d appeared to have stepped into a losing battle with little to no lifelines left to use. After raising many flags about my concerns, there was no mention of my increase in workload, my work quantity being constantly chosen over quality, me being signed off work with stress and certainly not a peep about how my role had changed since becoming pregnant. Needless to say, I was rung out and hung out to dry. My mind began to ponder whether I could survive 5 to 6 months more of this without a. being fired or b. miscarrying – it was at that exact moment, mid-meeting, that I had already made up my mind: to leave was my only option. I spent the following 2 weeks vigorously researching my maternity options and entitlement, spending almost every lunch breaks on the phone speaking to god knows how many people in the Government’s benefits department. Devastatingly falling short for statutory maternity pay, I luckily qualified for maternity allowance but this was going to leave me with an 8-week pay gap which we couldn’t really afford to do, but what choice did I have.

On Monday 24th June, I handed in my notice to an unshocked response. When asked why, my schpiel of ‘my health absolutely has to come first’ came pouring out – this was greeted with even less shock but the deal was done. Feeling oddly free but unnervingly cut off, I began my shut down almost instantly. I took on zero new tasks and wrapped up every piece outstanding in the 4 weeks that followed. I guess, for myself, I still wanted to prove that I could do the work at hand (when it came in reasonable and realistic quantities!). I left with my head held high and my mental and physical health just about intact. I regretted nothing and still don’t.

 

 

We didn’t know how we’d cope with one income but have picked up a few tips for how to save our pennies along the way – we’ve had to:

  • Cut down nursery days – the biggest saver! From 4 to 2 days with the help of Granny Day Care twice a week has been a godsent – plus the added bonus of spending more time with Rory at home has been priceless!
  • Condense our cars to having just one – in order to save the next wedge we condensed to paying for just one car, one tax & one insurance by handing my lease back to the garage and trading in Kyle’s for a bigger, more economical car (hello Kadjar with a humongous boot and space for us all – new baby included!)
  • Stop needlessly buying food (a biggie for us!) – plan, plan, plan! Impulse food buying is a wallet emptier for sure! Now we always check out which days/times supermarkets reduce their meats and have sometimes chosen to batch cook for lunches to help save a few more £££’s!

There is a definite moral to the story guys & gals, and that is never ever take your health for granted and whatever you do, do not hesitate to put yourself first, even if it seems impossible. You only have one you and driving yourself into the ground will not be doing anyone any favours.
It’s been the toughest and weirdest few months of my life so far and to think if I hadn’t have been pregnant I would have moved on to another job has made it a tricky one to swallow. I guess being unemployment has to be my title for now – I know it won’t always be like this and it won’t always be this tough! Just remember, you can never bloom the most beautiful flowers without a little bit of rain!

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Love to y’all, OCM! xx

Mother for a Year: An Open Letter

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As we approach our little Rory’s first birthday I’ve decided to write myself an open letter, a letter to year-ago-me in the first days after giving birth. Things I wished I’d known, the advice I’d give myself and the hope that past-me really would have needed to hear.

I’m not going to waffle on before this, I’m going to let it speak for itself, so here goes nothing…

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Dear New Mama,

How you holding up?

I know you’ve had a difficult few days and you’re exhausted and emotional but your body has been through a lot in such a small amount of time. Bruised and drugged up to the eyeballs, I know you’re not feeling the full effects of your surgery yet but be nice to yourself, you undeniably deserve it.

I know you’re disappointed and upset. Surgery was the last thing you wanted but just remember, you were a fighter right to the bitter end. You were determined to birth your baby unaided and you did everything you could for this during those thirty-six hours. You produced a determination and strength within your body and within your mind that you never knew. You’re feeling damaged and defeated and it’s ok to feel that way – things didn’t go the way you wanted but you must never think of this as a failure. You absolutely did not fail. NEVER, ever, ever stop and think for one minute that you failed in this. You’ll read many articles, comments and blog posts this year about c-sections. You won’t believe how many people have opinions (and some don’t even have a uterus!) but please, don’t listen to all of them. People are always trying to convince women that a c-section was the ‘easy way out’ or that by having one you ‘didn’t really give birth’ but girl, you grew that baby with your body like a mighty warrior! The surgery was imperative to saving both your lives.

It’s ok to feel angry. Angry that you don’t recognise yourself, that your body is scarred and in so much pain. You’re angry that your body is still healing three, six, nine, eleven months later and it’s normal to feel this way. Start by stepping away from triggering social media. It’ll really hurt you. Stop looking at other mothers on Instagram that had a baby last week and lost 3lbs off their pre-baby weight already. Stop obsessing about those with post-baby abs – it’s not going to happen for you sweetie. Don’t beat yourself up about doing exercise. Take it at your own pace and stop looking at those ‘fit-moms’. Despite this, you should have done more of those exercises the physiotherapist gave you to do. Even though they were uncomfortable and make you ache, they were designed to help you even if it doesn’t feel that way but don’t be hard on yourself, it’s justifiable. Don’t worry about running or pushing yourself too hard. You’ll end up finding badminton is your sport and you’ll take up Waterbabies both you’ll really enjoy. It’s all about finding the new normal for you as a mama, not you as the size 10 young twenty-something year old – she has left the building and isn’t coming back. Always remember your body was pushed to the furthest limit; it’s still recovering and it might be for some time yet. You’re still recovering now, a whole year later and you still have appointments and consultations to come. I know this is crushing you and you’re going to take this really hard for a long long time but please be kind to yourself. You’ll try and take care of your body but trust me, those little extra TLC moments will help with your recovery in the long run.

Our little moments…

Really focus on those real mothers out there sharing every drama and every mini-triumph. There are moments when you’ll feel so lonely and isolated; it’s in the many dark moments to come, that these mothers will make you feel grounded and the ones who make you feel like you’re never truly alone. Never feel embarrassed to talk about your mental health. It’s always as important as your physical health. There are loads of resources out there to help you and your health visitor is number one. Don’t shy away like you used to. Remember in the past that this has caused more harm than good. If you want to cry then cry and if you want to be angry then you be angry. It’s ok to feel helpless and on some days for your anxiety to consume you – you’re only human and having a baby has challenged every ounce of you. Don’t hide away, confide more in those you love and they’ll help you step-by-step. Take longer walks; ‘Have baby, will travel’ – bundle little one up and try your best to walk as far as you comfortably can. The fresh air will help clear your mind and you’ll feel so much better for it. I know it’s hard to envisage but in just six months from now, you’ll go on your first family holiday as a three to Holland. It’ll be a fantastic first holiday and you’ll think back on it almost every day. It will bring you the happiest of memories and make you excited for future holidays.

Our first holiday: Holland

Don’t feel like you have to answer everyone’s questions and there will be millions. ‘How was it?’, ‘Are you having visitors?’, ‘Why are you home so soon?’ etc, etc. Don’t hide, if people ask about your birthing experience, own it. Tell them straight up how hard and traumatic it was, that surgery was gruelling and recovery is unimaginably hard. Equally, you don’t owe anyone an answer. ‘Are you thinking about more kids?’ Sure, you’ve always wanted a minivan full but right now: HELL NO! You’re not even going to want to entertain the thought and getting pregnant will truly terrify you from this moment on. You will spend hours thinking about this. It will enter your thoughts and creep into your mind when you least expect it: you’ll be at work, out for a walk or trying to eat. It will keep you up at night, make you feel instant dread and even make you panic. Don’t over think it – you’ll have plenty of time in the future to tackle those fears and right now, in recovery doesn’t have to be that time. Try your best to keep those precious night-time hours aside for sleep because god only knows you need it. You’ll learn to cope better with this as the months go by so if you don’t think you’ll get through it, my dear you will. You’re stronger than you realise.

Breastfeeding will come in time. Persevere and don’t fear the formula, it’ll become a saving grace when you’re feeling like you’ve tried everything. Once it all starts to run smoothly, you’ll feel such a sense of triumph as all your hard work does pay off.  Breastfeed wherever the hell you want! You’ll shy away and feel nervous, you’ll worry about other people looking or telling you not to in public but babe, if a baby has to eat a baby has to eat. You’ll avoid doing things at the fear of these very thoughts but looking back now, you didn’t need to be. This isn’t always how you’ll think, you do eventually get past this fear and realise you literally don’t care. ‘Insta-moms’ will help empower you with this one – #normalisebreastfeeding (normalize if you’re from across the pond!)

Leaving your baby after spending every waking minute together will be hard. Separation anxiety is totally normal, hell it’s part of the postpartum package alongside buckets of tears, body hatred and sleep deprivation. It’s the real frickin’ deal but don’t feel like everyone is trying to take the little man away. It’s ok to hate being away from him and you will feel like no one knows him like you do. You’ll feel like you’re the only one who can comfort him and you’re the one who went through so much to bring his little precious life earth-side that you don’t ever want to be away from him and quite frankly don’t want to share him with a soul. Really though, don’t feel rushed into being without him. Do every step in your own time and at your own pace, after all, no one can tell you exactly what to do and when to do it when it comes to you and your son. You do you and let everyone else fall in line. (By the way, this totally works and you didn’t have to feel bad because you did what was right for you!) You’ll learn how to let other people, family and loved ones, take the reins every once in a while. You’ll find a balance where you’ll go to those mother-baby classes and have some time for yourself too. It’s all about finding the new normal.

Too many shades of beige! 

Now lastly before I say goodbye, my last piece of advice: SOAK. IT. ALL. UP. Every little hour, minute and second because it will fly by. Rory is amazing. He’s smart and happy and the just the bee’s knees. He’s got a smile that’ll make you weak and a laugh that makes your heart burst; he’ll develop this amazing personality and you’ll love his sense of humour Look how perfect your little boy is! You’ll spend hours looking at him, working out who he looks like most, what colour his eyes really are and how on earth his skin is so soft. You’ll cry many, many times just watching him sleep wondering how you made something so perfect and so beautiful. Don’t worry – all mama’s do this, I’m sure of it.

Enjoy every high and low; every long night and rainy day, every cuddle and snuggle, every laugh and cry. Someone once told me ‘The days will feel long but the years will fly by’ and by god weren’t they right!?

Lots of love,
Future Mama xxxx

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I don’t feel like I need to say much more: my life has changed so much in just a mere twelve months. I’ve learned a lot along the way even though there is so much I wish I’d known before. I’ve dealt with things I never thought I would and although it’s been unimaginably tough at times, it’s those moments that have shown me just how rewarding motherhood can be.

Love to all,
One Curious Mother x

PS. No sources for today’s post but here is a list of helpful links!
Postnatal Depression – https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/post-natal-depression/symptoms/
Postpartum Anxiety – https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/anxiety-type/postnatal-anxiety/
Parental Separation Anxiety – https://www.babble.com/parenting/parental-separation-anxiety/
Babies with Separation Anxiety – https://www.nct.org.uk/parenting/separation-anxiety-0
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/postnatal-depression-and-perinatal-mental-health/ptsd-and-birth-trauma/#.WpwE7SOcZ-U
Birth Trauma – http://www.birthtraumaassociation.org.uk/help-support/what-is-birth-trauma
Loneliness – https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-squeaky-wheel/201703/the-unexpected-loneliness-new-mothers
Peanut App – https://www.peanut-app.io