My experience on returning to agency land after having a bub ...
Over the last 12 months there has been a lot of debate and discussion about gender equality in the advertising industry. I have read on with great interest as we travelled through 2015. As a women in my late 30s who was considering starting a family and who has ‘grown up’ in this industry, the topic had become very relevant to me. I had always believed that you could have it all and hoped that one day, when the time came, I would somehow manage to balance a career in agency land and a family. Earlier this year, that time came and we were blessed with a divine baby girl that has thrown our world upside down in all the good ways people promised me.
The time came for me to see whether we could have it all (whatever that means). We made the decision that I would take four months off and then my husband would stay home with our daughter for six months. This was met with mixed reactions from so many people around me - colleagues, clients, friends and family - “It is too soon”, “I don’t think you should do that”, “Wow that is very modern”, “You are lucky to have such a supportive husband”… the list goes on. Both my husband and my employer were highly supportive. For me, OMD were great from day one. From my first week of maternity leave, they asked how much I wanted to be kept across things and checked in regularly.
The truth is, I missed work when I was home and I missed my baby when I went back to work. I missed the stimulation of the office, the challenges, but mostly I missed the interaction. People tell you about the sleepless nights, but they don’t tell you about the loneliness and isolation that is such a contrast from the busy, humming world we live in. This was the first of many unspoken realisations for me.
As I neared ‘return to work’ day I started to feel nervous, anxious, and if I am honest a little sad. Our little lady had become a sweet, smiling, rolling and discovering ball of joy. I was loving our time together and I was convinced that my husband was really getting the best end of the deal. I had the weeks of endless feeding and crying, and in my mind he now had the weeks of giggles and learning new things.
The first day back felt like my first day of work ever. I had always seen myself as a fairly confident and competent person, but it felt like I was starting work for the first time. This initial loss of confidence was another big surprise for me. It took me longer than I expected to feel myself again and for my old confidence to return. It was like on the outside nothing has changed (except that none of my old clothes fitted), but inside everything had shifted. I spent weeks asking myself, would I be able to do what I had done pre-baby and still be a good mum, a good leader, a good wife, a good friend etc.?
I was lucky I had the opportunity to ease back in, starting at a couple of days and building up over a few weeks. My team, my employer and my clients enabled this to happen, which was the thing that made the world of difference to me. I was able to gradually ease back in, to find my feet at work, while my husband found his at home. I have now been back at work 4 months and I feel we have found our way. I feel I am back into the pace of it, feeling my old self now that the daze of sleep deprivation has eased and I am feeling the old passion, drive and stimulation that I love about working. I have somehow managed to continue to breastfeed, (and I am sorry to all the people I have kicked out of that meeting room so many times over the past few months!), to see my little munchkin and to get back into the swing of work life. It hasn’t all been easy and there have been days I have found tougher than others, but my team has been very supportive and enabled me to make the transition back.
The key for me has been the support around me (both at home and at work). Support comes in many ways, through the critical formal structures, such as maternity leave and part-time work that have been long debated and are key, to the less discussed but important areas, such as places for women to express privately, support to ease back in and flexibility. Ours is an industry with a high propensity of women, we need to support women on their transition back to work, both formally and informally. It doesn’t just stop with supporting women returning to work, but more broadly we need to consider, as more women look to return to the workforce and in senior roles, how we are supporting and encouraging men to take on new roles. As one example, we need to look at our maternity and paternity leave (my husband only got two weeks paid leave of the six months he has taken).
I do believe you can have it all (whatever that looks like for you). I am acutely aware that what has worked for me won’t be everyone’s choice and that I am still in the early days, with many more ups and downs to come. I feel that it’s about defining what ‘having it all’ means to you that is important. For me, having a child has made me more aware of what is needed to support both men and women in making these massive life-changing transitions, whilst still staying in this amazing industry.