Returning to work after maternity leave during COVID-19 – you got this!

11 August 2020 Ai Iwami

Ai Blog

Returning to work after maternity leave during COVID-19 – you got this!

“You’re on mute” my colleagues said in unison on my first video call after returning from maternity leave. We spent the next half hour talking through the week’s tasks, going through a presentation and commenting on each other’s wall colours (6 years and I still haven’t found my perfect shade of grey paint). So this was the new normal that is 2020. I’ve never been much of a planner - those who know me know I’m very much a “go with the flow” type of person with an ”I got this” mentality. Don’t get me wrong, I like to know what I’m getting myself into, but I had just returned from maternity leave, during COVID-19, and felt I was as prepared as I was ever going to be in that situation… but 2020 so far - could anyone have been prepared for this?!

Flash back to 12 months ago, there I was in all my “going with the flow” glory, packing up my desk preparing to go on maternity leave thinking to myself, “I got this”, and soon enough I found myself sitting on a hospital bed staring in awe at my baby lying next to me, and it was pretty soon after that, that I realised “I got this” was an understatement. Googling things like “How to be a good mum” at 2am became the norm. Passing the 6-month mark, I was finally starting to find my feet and a regular routine, when COVID-19 hit.

I was 7 months into maternity leave when COVID-19 hit and the fear and uncertainty seemed to come from every direction. Everyone seemed to start worrying about absolutely everything - then lockdown happened. My husband was told to work from home indefinitely, friends lost their jobs, borders closed and people started panic buying. I read about families losing loved ones, families separated because of flight restrictions, front line workers isolating away from their own family in order to protect them while protecting us.. and I couldn’t help but feel so out of my depth and my “I got this” mentality was starting to become less and less of a reality. In hindsight, what I should have felt was lucky and thankful as we had a roof over our heads, we had jobs and nobody close to us was taken ill. But the uncertainty seemed to get the better of me!

10 months went by in what felt like half the time and I found myself at home set up on the dining room table logging onto a video call with my work colleagues - who were also all at home. Not quite how I pictured my first day back at work but again, I thought to myself “I got this, I hope!”. I am now into month 3 of working part-time and am grateful that I have a great support network at Parity who have allowed me to take my time with transitioning into work mode.

I feel like I’ve only been a mum for 10 minutes and a part of me feels not worthy of sharing any sort of advice, so instead here are some things I did and experienced while making the transition back to work during Covid:

-Communication is key- with your partner, with your baby’s caregiver and your workplace. I had a number of check-in calls set up with my boss before I officially returned to work, which not only made the process of returning to work less daunting, but it allowed us to set and agree on my work arrangements that work for both of us. This ensured I was 100% comfortable and knew what was expected of me.

-Set (realistic) expectations with yourself, your partner, your colleagues and your boss - because your baby can’t be reasoned with (yet)! You thought it was fine to agree to look over a document on your non-working day? Easy, it should only take 5 minutes. But she/he isn’t going to quite understand your pleas of “give me a second to respond to this email, okay?”. They might even throw a curveball at you and decide to projectile vomit into your open wardrobe. Yep…

-Try to incorporate pre-COVID things into your work day to set you up for “work mode”. Go out and grab a coffee in the morning before settling into work, pop over to a café for lunch to break up your day or maybe organise a Zoom after work drinks hour with your colleagues.

-Be kind to yourself. You brought human life into the world, and now you’re essentially working double time – your regular paid job, and your un-paid and compulsory ‘being a mum’ job. Don’t feel guilty that you aren’t working at the pace of your old self. Celebrate all your wins, no matter how small. On my days at home with baby, sometimes I manage to finish my coffee while it’s still hot – that’s a win too!

-Positive thinking. In the midst of all of the uncertainty, I found it fascinating to watch as companies seamlessly transitioned their full workforce to working from home, while events, schooling and interviews moved online, businesses started relaxing their rigid and structured ways around working remotely and Taylor Swift released a surprise iso-album (not my favourite Tay Tay album, but I’m not complaining).

-Lastly, ask for and listen to the advice from your close network.You aren’t the first person to have a baby and go back to work. If you’re struggling with something, chances are someone else has experienced it too and can share how they dealt with it – and I felt comfort in hearing it from someone I knew.

Are you a parent returning to work? Maybe you know someone who is about to return? Or maybe this situation with COVID-19 has got the best of you. Take the time to check in with yourself and the people around you during this unpredictable time. Research shows that 45% of Australians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime, with more than half not seeking treatment or reaching out for help. There are a lot of great resources out there for those who need it, as well as for those who are looking to understand how to help others in this situation.

Ai is a Specialist Consultant at Parity Consulting, beach lover, wife and mother to cat, Oscar and baby, Sofia – she loves nothing more than to soak up the sun, snacks in one hand and a margarita in the other! She works on roles within Marketing, Communications & Digital in the Wealth Management, Investment Management, Insurance, Banking, Software, FinTech space. Keen to find out more about roles we have on or just want to have a confidential discussion about your career? Contact Ai on +61 2 8068 2016.