MICRO maternity leaveIt's not just Amanda Holden – more and more women are rushing back to work days after giving birth. But many find they bitterly regret it
As I hunched over my computer in the empty office, I glanced nervously at the clock: 3.01am. The countdown to the re-launch of the magazine I was working on was underway and I often worked late.
But as darkness gave way to dawn, my concern was much deeper than how exhausted I’d feel the next day. You see, I was due at the hospital to give birth by elective Caesarean just five hours later.
After writing my handover memo, I finally got to bed. /02/26/article-2106918-023084C200000578-90_468x570.jpg” width=”468″ height=”570″ alt=”Different approach: Tanith Carey now works from home so she has more time for daughters Lily, left, and Clio” class=”blkBorder” />
Different approach: Tanith Carey now works from home so she has more time for daughters Lily, left, and Clio
Then, when my boss visited me in hospital the next day — and broke the news that the person who was due to cover for me had decided not to take the job — I knew I had no choice but to step back into the breach. I felt I couldn’t let the team down.
As soon as I was out of hospital three days later — and I could get out of bed after the operation — I started working from home, eight hours a day. I have a blurred memory of breastfeeding Clio when she was just days old, while typing on my laptop at the same time.
My rapid return meant that at a time when all I wanted to do was cocoon myself away and delight in every movement of Clio’s tiny fingers and toes, I spent my time trying to keep her quiet in a sling while I conducted staff meetings at my house and crashed out memos between feeds.
I was exhausted, overwhelmed and stressed. My husband was furious at me for putting myself under such pressure — and he was right. Six years on, I can see that taking off no time at all after the birth of my second child was bad for baby and for me.
'I mourn those lost baby days more than ever. They were precious moments I will never get back'
Clio needed me, but I was always distracted — and I’m sure she could pick up on my stress. It was just too much.
Now I know I probably won’t have another child means I mourn those lost baby days more than ever. They were precious moments I will never get back.
So, the fact that so-called ‘micro’ maternity leave appears to be becoming something of a trend fills me with despair. You can’t open a newspaper or magazine without reading about a celebrity mother who has gone straight back to work after giving birth as if nothing has happened — Amanda Holden, Victoria Beckham and Beyonce are the latest.
No sooner was Amanda off the critical list — having lost several pints of blood during her Caesarean section to give birth to daughter Hollie — than she was back on the panel of Britain’s Got Talent.
One minute, Beyonce was seen as the picture of contented motherhood, cradling new-born Ivy Blue, the next she was straight back to work on her new album, proclaiming ‘pregnancy is not an illness’ and announcing that wherever she goes, baby comes, too.
Then there is Victoria Beckham, who famously tweeted ‘Maternity leave — what’s that’ before giving birth to her fourth child, Harper.
Precious moments lost: Tanith regrets going back to work so soon after the birth of her daughter
But, worryingly, it’s not just celebrities, with their invisible retinues of nannies and helpers, who are opting to take as little time off as possible. So, too, are a growing number of ordinary women. Just two years after mothers won the unprecedented right to a full year’s leave from work, it seems the pendulum is swinging the other way.
So what is driving the trend Do women need the money or are they frightened in these recessionary times that they will be axed from their jobs the minute they turn their backs
Sue Tumelty, managing director of employment advice company HR Dept, says she’s seeing a growing number of women opting to go back to work early. She says many do so simply for financial reasons, particularly because they are worried about their partner’s job security.
‘Most small businesses don’t offer enhanced maternity pay. So for most of a woman’s maternity leave, there is a big gap between a woman’s normal salary and what they receive.’
For Wendy Newman, from Cheshire, the decision to go straight back to work after the birth of her son Salvador in December 2007 was driven by the fact she did not want her high- flying career as a medical insurance broker to lose momentum.
'I wept when I left Sal at nursery for the first time. He was just three months old'
Wendy, managing director of Reich Health Care, stopped working on a Friday and had her Caesarean section the following Monday. Despite the nurses’ protests, she was back on her BlackBerry as soon as her son took his first nap.
Legally, Wendy knew that she was required to take a minimum of two weeks off, but she didn’t even do that and worked from home almost straightaway.
Within four weeks — with the help of some slimming maternity knickers — she had squeezed herself in a Victoria Beckham-style red pencil dress to turn up to her first client meeting.
She returned to the office full time, three months after the birth.
‘I work in a cut-throat industry,’ she says, ‘and while my clients are loyal, I’m not sure how they’d have reacted if I’d gone off for a whole year.
‘I hired a private nurse for afterwards and I was also fortunate that my husband Paul is a restaurateur and able to work flexible hours, so he was around when I needed to attend meetings and I worked while Sal slept in the first few weeks.
‘Although I’d had a major operation, I was also lucky enough that after the first few weeks, I felt fine. It was business as usual.’
Work before health: Amanda Holden, left, wasted no time returning to the Britain's Got Talent judging panel despite nearly dying in child birth, while Victoria Beckham has looked tired and gaunt from juggling work and baby Harper
Even so, there were moments of heartache. ‘I wept when I left Sal at nursery for the first time. He was just three months old. It broke my heart — and it’s difficult to share those feelings in the workplace.
Wendy had a mixed reaction to her return. ‘There were a couple of times when other women said to me: “I can’t believe you’ve had a baby,” and it sounded like a criticism. I did feel very judged. It made me question if I was doing the right thing.’
But looking back, Wendy believes her son Sal has never suffered. ‘He’s a confident little boy and I believe he has benefited from having lots of people around him,’ she says.
Wendy feels that the positive aspects of ploughing on post-birth are not acknowledged. ‘I know many women who’ve lost confidence about returning to work after a baby. I believe it can be easier to carry on, so I opted to go back to make sure work does not become insurmountable.’
Pioneering headmistress Dr Helen Wright, 41, went into labour one morning in December 2009 and was back at her desk at private school St Mary’s Calne, Wiltshire, by lunchtime next day, with newborn Jessica in tow.
Two years ago, French justice minister Rachida Dati famously returned to work five days after giving birth
Now Jessica is two, mother-of-three Dr Wright believes it’s time we moved beyond the simple equation that a good mother is one who stays at home for as long as possible, and a bad mother is one who goes straight back to work.
‘The day I had Jessica, I went to hospital at 5.45am. I gave birth at 6.30am and was discharged three hours later. I felt absolutely brilliant. When I look back now, I wouldn’t have done anything differently.
‘People assume you go back to work or you stay at home with the baby and that you can only do one or the other. I managed to combine the two things I love deeply — being with my daughter and doing my job — and I was able to make it work.’
Helen concedes she’s lucky enough to live in the school grounds, and that her husband was able to work flexibly. ‘I had lots of meetings with Jessica in the sling. She was with me constantly until she was five months old — the age at which she was ready to go out to activities, like playgroups.
‘Of course, some people thought I should have been at home with my baby. But because my work and home are at the same place, I was at home with my baby. I was also at work with my baby.’
But what about the women who aren’t lucky enough to call the shots Those who return to work too soon because they feel under pressure to
Experts say that how these women feel depends on the quality of the available childcare — and how much they love their careers. Certainly, those who feel wrenched away from their babies seem to suffer a higher risk of depression, according to studies.
The dangers of going back to work too soon have been underlined earlier this month by a Salford University study which found that it takes a year for a woman to fully recover both physically and psychologically from childbirth.
Even Victoria Beckham has just conceded she’s taken on too much saying: ‘It’s been crazy. I was working on my fashion collection and I was straight back to it after having Harper. I took a lot on board. I’m tired,’ she said.
Worth the sacrifice: Becky Goddard-Hill has given up her job to be a full-time mum to Frankie and Annalise
And what of the babies who can’t come to work with their high-flying mothers — and who are looked after in nurseries without the sole, consistent, loving care of a parent
Neuroscientists believe babies’ brains
are hugely affected by how responsive the primary carer is in those
first years, and this affects their entire lives. Studies also found
that under-twos who are cared for in nurseries show a slight increase in
Avril Leimon, director of City management coaching firm White Water
Strategies, is worried about the toll on new mothers: ‘There’s huge
pressure on them to conform to male workplace patterns. We’re trying to
pretend the next generation is being produced by magic.’
Despite the legal protection in place,
Avril, author of Coaching Women To Lead, believes not enough is being
done to assure women that they will be able to pick up their careers
where they left off.
male CEO told me that if anything, he tells female employees to enjoy
their time off and not to dash straight back. He wants them to make the
most of their maternity leave because he hopes they’ll come back happy
and thus stay in the workplace for years afterwards.’
'Women need to give themselves time to get to know their babies — and also get to know themselves now that they are mothers'
For Becky Goddard-Hill, 40, her six months’ maternity leave turned into a six-year career break from her job as child and social care training officer for Nottingham City Council.
Although the door was left open for
her to return, she recently told her employer she had decided not to do
so. This has meant making many sacrifices — but Becky says it is worth
it to be there every step of the way with Frankie, five, and Annalise,
‘It will affect us
financially for years, but that time is precious. We took a mortgage
break and switched to an interest-only deal. The year before I had
Frankie we went on five foreign holidays. Now I haven’t left the
country for eight years. But we learned to adjust and can get by on a
‘Seeing celebrity mothers back at work, looking perfect, gives the false impression that you have a baby and everything goes back to normal. Women need to give themselves time to get to know their babies — and also get to know themselves now that they are mothers.’
With my first child Lily, now ten, I had the luxury of nine months’ leave — the maximum I could take a decade ago. It was the happiest period of my life. With Clio, I constantly felt distracted and divided.
So that I didn’t need to be away from her all the time, I ended up giving up my smart office block on New York’s Park Avenue and returning to the UK to work freelance when Clio was two-and-a-half. But even though I didn’t go back to an office, I kept working from home.
Now Clio is six, I still envy the mums in their idyllic baby bubbles who have no reason to dread the noise of their child stirring — because there’s still a deadline to meet — and who can cuddle their infants without keeping one eye on their incoming emails. That was a state of blissful contentment I never enjoyed.