Before heading on maternity leave, I had always imagined my soon-to-be-born baby would slip into my life without my career skipping too much of a beat. I would return to the same office, albeit a little lighter, 10 months down the track and tackle the same juggling act my mother did when I was born. It wouldn’t be easy, but that was the name of the game. Waving to colleagues on that last day, a flicker of doubt sparked somewhere inside me for a fraction of a moment, but I hurled it into the “crazy hormones” basket.
As the end of my 10-month stretch drew nearer (propelled by what felt like someone’s finger on the fast-forward button) the pit in my stomach grew wider. I wasn’t ready just yet, so I bought myself another month. And then another. And then another. 18 months on, I still haven’t made it back into the office – in fact, that door is now closed behind me.
American author Jane Sellman’s famous quote, “the phrase 'working mother' is redundant" spun on repeat in my head for some months after giving birth. But for many mums, for various reasons, returning to paid work at some point after is an inescapable reality.
Having been employed virtually nonstop since the age of 15 (with studies and a few overseas trips along the way), the change of pace after my son Louis was born knocked me for six. All that time to look after another human, manage a household (whatever that meant) and… that was it? Some days sped past with a frenetic blink-and-you-forgot-to-eat pace. Others were spent watching the clock more intently.
With a creative writing degree under my belt (what was I thinking?), I’d spent the majority of my adult life penning non-fiction pieces for a range of titles. I couldn’t count the last time I had created anything remotely resembling fiction.
Maybe it was all the fresh air I was suddenly privy to from daily pram-pushes and trips to the park during hours that would otherwise have been spent at my desk. But suddenly, I had a reason to blow dust off my old writing pad. Change was in the air, and I was gulping it down between double-shot long blacks.
For Sydney mum Erica Greenwell, mine was a situation she could relate to.
“While on the first few months of maternity leave, I did have time to reflect, step back and consider what my expression of being a working mum would be,” she tells.
“I saw children as an opportunity to re-train and be a mum while they are young and then hopefully have my own business established as they begin to enter school.”
With a decade’s experience working in the advertising industry, most recently as a creative project leader at North Sydney agency The Works, Erica spent three years overseeing projects for clients including Optus and Tetley Tea. But the job’s demanding deadlines coupled with a shift in priorities after her daughter Georgia was born drove her in a new direction.
“I’m very blessed to have a very supportive husband and family who were beyond encouraging when I suggested I return to university to complete a Bachelor of Health Science (Nutritional Medicine and Dietetics) – a long time passion of mine.”
While the passion had long been within her, it wasn’t until she was pregnant that Erica considered turning it into a tangible reality.
“I came to the realisation that the type of mum I want to be is one that is working, but still at the school gate at 3pm. I felt in my advertising role, this wouldn’t be possible – that if I tried to do both, I’d only be half-hearted at both.
“I feel so lucky to be embarking on my passion – even though, sometimes I think, ‘what the hell am I doing!’ This degree gives me something of my own, something that challenges me mentally, and goals to achieve, while motherhood is teaching me so much in other areas, like how to be patient, how to deal with extreme tiredness, how to share my life with someone and be okay with my loss of independence.”
Claire Muzica spent the last seven years before motherhood working for the Union ‘United Voice’, which most recently saw her drumming up government funding for early childhood educators.
“My mother always said, ‘when you have children, your priorities will change,’ and that was certainly true for me. I was very attached to my daughter Vivian from the moment she was born, and was very content being a stay-at-home mum. I had no real desire to return to work, though financially, I knew it was the responsible thing to do.”
Claire decided to return to her Union role in a part-time capacity, but before long, the job’s unpredictable hours began taking their toll.
“I often felt guilty for not participating, or leaving early. I’m a hard worker by nature, but I felt a desperate need to be able to work on my own terms.”
While on maternity leave, Claire had found herself reflecting on the kind of legacy she wanted to leave her daughter, and also on the one left by her own mum.
“After losing my mother to cancer seven years ago, I have been on a journey of exploring and studying the role of exercise and nutrition on our health and wellbeing. It started as a personal obsession and has developed into my current career in the fitness industry.”
Today, Claire runs her own personal training business through Life Plus Fitness in Sydney’s Maroubra, focusing on resistance training and pre and post natal clients, with business mentor and national powerlifting champion Kelly Gomez.
“My husband also owns his own business, so it has worked well for us to be able to set our own days and hours.”
As well as her fitness career, motherhood has given Claire the opportunity to embrace her love of Latin dance in a bigger way than ever before.
“I am a performer at heart and love the theatrical element of dance. I love being able to work after Vivian has gone to bed so I don’t feel guilty being away from her. Returning to the stage 18 months after giving birth has been a dream, and my team, the Amy Mills Samba Pro, now have our sights held on a World Title this year.”
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