I'm right to leave Mabel to return to work, so why's my heart so bruised
This week I sent the email which gave my return-to-work date. My longest, and last, maternity leave is coming to an end.
The peaceful mornings at home spent kissing the back of baby Mabel’s neck to make her laugh, tickling her impressively chubby thighs or blowing the wispy hairs of her ginger top-knot are coming to end.
Our intimate and indulgent maternal love affair is drawing to a close as the outside world claims us both for a new chapter of family life. It’s time to ‘man-up’, as they say, and brace myself for re-entry.
Back to work: Lorraine is upset and confused about the end of her maternity leave (posed by models)
Five weeks to get back into my work trousers, see a man about my roots and make every magical Mabel moment count.
This is my fourth maternity leave, and when I return I will have been away nearly 11 months. My previous maternity leaves were four months, six months and eight months respectively, so I know the drill. But it’s still unsettling, upsetting and confusing.
Before I pressed ‘send’ on that all‑important email, I felt 100 per cent ready to go back — enthused by the thought of returning to the editing career I’ve spent 26 years building (and at work I can go to the loo on my own and have a cup of coffee which hasn’t been warmed up five times in the microwave).
But immediately after I sent it, I was gripped by illogical panic. I looked down at Mabel on the carpet beside me — sitting up all on her own now, playing with her favourite box of keys — and felt guilty. Damn those huge blue eyes which can see into my soul. I didn’t sleep that night, fearful and panicky about my decision. My heart was bruised and sad.
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But I know I’m doing the right thing; I know after a decade of parenting what works for me and my family. And I’m brave enough to admit that part of me feels secretly relieved. There have been days of maternity leave filled with domestic boredom. Sometimes in the eerie silence at home when Mabel takes a nap, I’ve had the shameful ‘Is this it’ thought. Proof I’m not tough enough to take on the challenge that is full-time motherhood.
Over the past three weeks, I’ve canvassed opinion from working and non-working women on the possibility of not returning. You may have seen me pinning mums against the wall at the school gates with the desperate fervour of a woman on a mission.
And do you know what they said, almost all of them ‘Go back!’
Really they did. Nine out of ten of them agreed it was the right thing.
I know you can make a survey say whatever you want it to and bend statistics to your opinion, but it was an overwhelming yes. So I’m taking reassurance from it and tucking the guilt behind my ear for later.
Mabel is bonding with her new nanny, and my other children — aged five, eight and nine — have accepted her, too.
We’ve discussed the new routine (I won’t be able to pick them up from school every day any more) at length. Their opinions and ideas have been put into the suggestion box.
I’m comfortable with my choice (almost), so the countdown has begun. But I will continue my detailed search (which has now reached Sherlock-like proportions) for evidence to make me feel better about going back.
I won’t bore you with facts today (we’ve got lots of time for that), but history shows there have been many periods when men played an equal part in child-rearing, necessity driving them to be stay-at-home dads.
It seems it’s just today that women have become the designated main carers and mother-love is the be-all and end-all of parenting.
Anyway, I won’t deny there is an air of tension at home now that wasn’t there before.
This is to be expected when change is afoot — though, ironically, it feels like it did in the days before Mabel arrived last May.
And I’m facing a series of ‘lasts’ ahead of me, as a friend commented: the last trip to baby swimming; the last impromptu cuddles on the bed with no time pressure and no one else around; the last shared muffin in an empty cafe while the rest of the world is at work.
But then, mothering is a series of ‘lasts’ anyway. I only have to look at my nine-year-old to understand that. Her comment on the whole matter: ‘Go back if you want to. Don’t if you don’t.’
LORRAINE CANDY is editor-in-chief of Elle magazine