After I had Ted I was fortunate enough to be able to take a full year’s maternity leave. It was a struggle financially but I didn’t miss a second of his early development. I was there when he rolled over and when he crawled. I took him for his jabs and cuddled him through his first cold. When it was time for me to go back to work what I was most afraid of was missing milestones. I didn’t want to pick him up from nursery to be told he had taken his first steps or what his first word had been. I seriously considered not going back to work at all but luckily I couldn’t afford the financial penalty of having to pay back all of my occupational maternity pay.
I say luckily because, with the help of really supportive employers, I was able to work out a new contract that suited my little family and I discovered – as so many people had predicted – that I enjoyed being back among adults. I realised it wasn’t selfish to need time to be something other than Mummy and that, far from suffering from maternal deprivation, Ted was thriving in nursery.
The guilt still has the power to floor me occasionally and getting a phone call from nursery telling me Ted had come out in an angry rash and just needed his Mummy made me feel like a terrible person, but I also get to see him interacting with other children and clapping as we arrive at the nursery gates. He took his first steps on the one afternoon we spend together with no one else around. That afternoon is my favourite time of the week. BabyDaddy is at work, leaving me and Ted to do whatever we want; I don’t do any housework and the TV stays off. We paint or play or go to the park and my attention is focused exclusively on Ted. Those times are magical and made all the more precious by being impossible to take for granted.
BabyDaddy and I managed to make this routine work by sharing our responsibilities. I worked two and half days and BabyDaddy worked five half days. Ted only had to go to nursery for two mornings a week and the rest of the childcare was shared between us. Financially we were managing (although it showed me that staying at home was not a viable option) and we both got to see him growing up.
Then I took on a second job.
My first job, in a college of Further Education, can be emotionally draining at times but usually entails little in the way of actual pressure. There are exceptions but it’s generally fairly easy to manage. My second job, as a GCSE and A-level teacher in a secondary school, is much more stressful. Obviously it comes with the added demands on my time of marking and planning but there are so many more pressures involved in teaching – progress monitoring, report writing, detention supervision, revision sessions, exam results, league tables, lesson observations, team meetings, departmental meetings, interdepartmental meetings, training…
Suddenly I found myself juggling two jobs, planning lessons, marking homework, raising a toddler and trying to remember how to be a wife. My gym routine stopped and the rare playdates amounting to a social life disappeared. Around this time I also passed some kidney stones and, during routine scans, found that I had a golf-ball-sized growth on my ovary which meant I had to stop taking the pill to slow down the growth. You may have noticed a pattern in contraception use and pregnancy. I’ve spotted it now too.
So now, on top of my jobs-and-toddler balancing act of a life, I’m also growing a baby in my belly. Somehow I still have to do all of those jobs I was struggling to do before, but I also need to be in bed by 7pm to be able to function throughout the next day.
I hadn’t intended to get pregnant while Ted was still so young and I wasn’t really prepared for how much it would affect me, but it’s something women deal with constantly. There are lots of ways in which our employers support us and we’re much more fortunate than women generations ago, but there are also lots of ways in which we still struggle. The demands placed on working Mums are so different of those placed on working Dads. One of the women I work with was head of curriculum when she left to have her babies. She went back to work three years later and it took her another four to get back to her previous level, and another two to get back to her previous salary.
Parenting and pregnancy are wonderful – they’re amazing – but they are also really hard sometimes. I don’t know how often we feel as though we’re allowed to talk honestly about that without feeling as though we’re being somehow disloyal to our families. We roll our eyes and sigh about lack of sleep or grumpy toddlers but then we brush over it and carry on with the relentless list of jobs we have to perform to get through the day. The tea needs cooking and a nappy needs changing and the washing up needs doing and there’s a report to write and your sister’s on the phone and you can’t remember where you put your keys and it’s time for the next dose of Calpol and your husband’s going to be late home and you need to write a shopping list and you’re not sure whether you can afford the gas bill this month and you need to put your work clothes in the wash and there’s no fabric conditioner and it’s another two hours until bedtime.
Last week I honestly felt as though I was going to have a breakdown. It was a Wednesday and I’d been to my college job in the morning before picking Ted up at lunchtime and taking him to his grandparents’ for lunch, as I do most weeks. I was due to meet friends and their babies in the afternoon and I needed Ted to have a nap before we set off, but he had other ideas (as they tend to when you have plans). I was already worrying about going out as I needed to plan three lessons for the following day, none of which had got done at the weekend because we’d had visitors. I was not only feeling tired and pregnant but as though I was coming down with something, and Ted was clearly teething and grumpy. He was also desperate to play with the oven at his grandparents’ house and every time he was told no he would just laugh and try to get back to it. Somewhere along the line I just felt like I couldn’t cope anymore. I took Ted home, put him in his bed and then, to the soundtrack of him singing (and not, you may note, sleeping) I burst into tears. Loud angry frightened tears.
Were there people I could have told I was feeling like that? I’m sure my friends would be heartbroken to think I didn’t feel I could talk to them, but I didn’t. I didn’t feel as though it was okay to say “I’m rubbish at being a Mum and I’m rubbish at being pregnant and I’m rubbish at being a teacher and I don’t want to do any of it anymore.” I felt as though I would just be judged for making the choices that led me to where I am now, and I guess I felt as though those judgements were right.
But this is what we live with every day, us Mums: we work and we parent and we try to remember how to fulfil the various other roles we’re allocated – wife, friend, sister, confidante, and so on and so on. Why do we only ever say we’re struggling when we’re pretending to be joking (“toddler for sale!”) or when we’ve already struggled for so long we just can’t remember what else it is we’re supposed to do to look as though we’re holding it together?
My baby’s due in September and my teaching job finishes in August. I’ve decided not to accept their offer of having my contract renewed, and especially of teaching more subjects, because I know I can’t manage. If I can’t manage now with one child and one subject I certainly won’t manage with two children and three subjects. I will keep my college job because I enjoy it, (I think) I’m fairly good at it, and it provides stability for our little family. But it comes with added pressures, of course.
To keep my job I’ll need to put both children in childcare, and that means I’ll be paying £8.70 an hour. Having felt desperate to stay at home when I had Ted I now find myself panicking at the thought of not being able to provide him and his new sibling with the experience of going to nursery, and of seeing their parents work to support them, but this time I would be financially better off if I didn’t work.
I’m not sure how we’ll manage as our family grows, but I know that we will. We’ve been through dark times and come out smiling. But one thing I know is that I’m going to be more honest and I’m going to ask for help, because if I don’t ask no one knows I need it. There’s no point in being upset that people haven’t noticed or hoping it’s going to blow over. I’d be gutted if the people I love didn’t feel that they could tell me they needed help and I’m sure they feel the same.
This may not have been how I had always envisaged announcing my second pregnancy, but as it has inspired a whole flurry of honesty I hope it can be seen as a good thing.
Underneath all of these pressures and worries and fears is an excited Mummy-to-be who has just acknowledged that it’s okay to find it hard being a pregnant Mum, and that maybe it’s time to start asking for help.