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Navigating maternity leave with bravery and kindness

by Danielle Hill | Oct 24, 2022 | People & Culture

Returning from maternity leave isn’t just a case of stepping back into the workplace on day one, it’s a journey that starts way earlier – and this journey isn’t always easy or spoken about. Halpin Project Manager Danielle Hill shares her experiences and invites others to join her at the March of the Mummies this weekend, which demands reform on childcare, parental leave and flexible working.

When my husband and I began to think about starting a family, there was lots for us to consider, such as finances, job stability, maternity/paternity packages, our support network and how this would affect our careers, particularly mine due to parental leave rights. We questioned whether it was the right time, or if there is ever a right time. Ultimately, we decided to try.

We were extremely fortunate and fell pregnant quickly, which – I was acutely aware – is not the case for all. However, at three months we discovered I had suffered a missed miscarriage and we lost our first baby. Naively, I was unaware of this type of miscarriage but, devastatingly, this is very common and for me personally, resulted in surgery. This experience during the pandemic was traumatising, with no-one by my side to hold my hand.

For me, suffering a miscarriage brought overwhelming emotions, including guilt, loneliness, grief and fear. My line manager at the time was extremely understanding and supported me to take the time needed. However, I know this is not always the case across all organisations and can differ immensely even across departments for those larger institutions. Among people who know they’re pregnant, it’s estimated that about 1 in 8 pregnancies will end in miscarriage. As a result, I would urge employers to put a policy in place that supports those who suffer with complications during pregnancy, to ensure individuals can focus on their wellbeing and family.

Falling pregnant again only two months later was obviously good news, yet it felt tainted with overwhelming worry and anxiety. We decided not to share our news so as not to feel like we were letting people down should the worst happen, but this felt very isolating, and containing this information was difficult. Focusing my mind on work was extremely helpful, but heightened emotions made it difficult to cope with more challenging situations. You never know what someone is dealing with and so it’s always important to be kind.

As well as dealing with this stress and anxiety until our baby’s arrival, I was still going through a pregnancy where your body is changing every day. As well as preparing yourself for maternity leave, ensuring everything is completed and handed over with a nice, neat bow to be continued in your absence and the concerns that come with that, these were a few things that were going through my mind:

  • The feeling that your colleagues will prefer your maternity cover over you (silly, I know).
  • The fear that your cover will change everything you’ve worked so hard to put in place.
  • Preparing your house and your life to welcome a new person into it.
  • Completing the administrative details: the necessary internal HR forms where you need to put your return date (this can be changed with 8 weeks’ notice generally).
  • Reviewing your finances to see how many months of maternity leave you can afford to be with your child.
  • Balancing work with attending midwife appointments, scans and NCT classes.
  • Applying for nurseries with year-long waiting lists, and figuring out how many days you can afford to work upon returning, due to extortionate childcare costs.

You can start to see that maternity leave and when to return is a thought process that begins far in advance, and also how the difficulties along that journey can affect your emotional wellbeing and the decision-making process throughout.

Furthermore, having a husband in the military brought additional challenges, and so flexibility was key for me to continue a career and for us to thrive as a family. As a result, I made the decision to leave my previous position and secured a new role at Halpin.

Halpin absolutely exceeded my expectations and offered flexible remote working, a caring nature and compassion regarding my return to work. They offered a long induction period while I waited for childcare to commence and were understanding as I navigated a new chapter of my life, raising my daughter and starting work. To the point that I got lovely messages from the whole team, including the CEOs, to check I was OK on her first day of nursery (an emotional time for any new parent). Sadly, this is not the case for all new parents returning to work and should not be an exception but the rule for all companies. Although it was challenging joining a new organisation, Halpin made this transition easy and I couldn’t be happier with the decision.

For me personally, my learnings from this experience are:

  • Be brave in your decisions and back yourself; your family comes first. Know your worth!
  • Everyone’s journey is different: complications can arise, so be open and ask for the support you need.
  • Be kind to yourself: you’re navigating new territory, which is hard enough without beating yourself up.
  • Childcare is expensive and parental leave isn’t equal: have an idea about what you need and plan as best you can, while the system catches up!

On that note, I would encourage everyone to join the March of the Mummies which is a national protest to demand Government reform on childcare, parental leave and flexible working. You can find more resources and information on the campaign here.