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Embracing the mess: notes on motherhood and returning to work

I had another post planned to mark my return to my professional self here on the blog. And I have worked on it for a few weeks now. Oh, the pressure of the first post back! But then, this week someone advised me that an imperfect post, or a short one was better than no step forward at all. So while that post can remain in draft for now, here I am. I’m back, embracing the messy and imperfect as I return to part-time work as a new mum.

Leaning into motherhood

I made an intentional decision to take a step back from my professional self to more fully engage, be present and immerse myself into my new chapter of being a Mum. And I am proud of that decision because me five or more years ago wouldn’t have been brave enough to make that decision, let alone go through with it.

I needed to take the pressure off myself to do all the things, remove the distractions, because I know from my traveling sabbatical in 2017 that busyness is a coping mechanism and a spectacularly good hiding place for whatever I didn’t want to face. And I needed to face whatever challenges that came my way in those early motherhood days and months (and there have been a few!). The discomfort of living through the challenging times almost became too painful to bear at more than one point along the way. But I’m here. I have made through the first 12 months of motherhood and my active and inquisitive one year old is happy, healthy and a joy to watch grow.

The ‘Mummy self’ and ‘Professional self’ co-existence

Towards the end of my leave I attended a couple of professional events that confirmed to me what a good decision (for me) it was to lean into early motherhood and take 12 months off, but also a not so great one. Life is give and take, right? Two things I noticed at these events. 1. I felt completely overwhelmed by the challenge I had before me in finding a way to have my ‘mummy self’ and ‘professional self’ co-exist. And I don’t only mean the time management aspect of juggling the two. I mean the emotional and intellectual, ‘head is so full of stuff to think about and process’ part. And 2. my networking and conversation skills are a bit rusty, thanks to the self-doubt I had built up while away being a new mum.

How can I be the educator, sleep guide, librarian, entertainer, nutritionist and cook, admin officer, shopper, transport, etc for a little person, and then somehow leave space in my head and schedule to process current and emerging trends, issues and knowledge and put together intelligent sentences to carry a professional conversation?

I know about the ‘it takes a village’ concept of raising a small human, but I guess I tend to take on all the invisible, mental load in ensuring my little boy receives the education, guidance and all the fun times he deserves. My experience is in no way unlike others in merging the two selves. Being a Mum and a professional takes a lot of brain space and energy (understatement of the century).

PD on parental leave

In addition to attending professional events, I also provided input and guidance to co-authored presentations and articles, completed peer reviews, wrote (and published) evidence summaries for the Evidence Based Library and Information Practice journal, completed the ‘Community Engagement’ ALIA course and poked my head in on Twitter every once in a while. You couldn’t keep me away completely. 😉

My newly drafted career development plan is written in crayon and marked up with my one year old’s thoughts with the pen he took from me during one of his ‘drawing’ sessions on the back deck.

I don’t have the solution, answers or steps to work through this transition other than time, presence and patience. And while I have gained a lot of patience over the past 12 months or so, sadly not much improvement on patience with myself.

Returning to work amid COVID crisis

I didn’t expect to return amid a global pandemic. I started back the week after the campus libraries closed and everyone was in the ‘holy crap’ phase of ensuring access to resources and services online. And while it seemed everyone else in the library was saving the world one student or book at a time, there was me trying to work out (all over again) how my unique role fits within the different library functions, pick up the loose ends and pieces to take it forward.

So eager to get started, get stuck in and contribute again to the library, while being mindful that I was returning part time, I had made a few plans and set some goals for my role. Those plans quickly unravelled initially in the lead up to my return, and then in the first few weeks as information came to light about what had changed, what hadn’t, team dynamics and essentially, where the library needs my role not only in ‘normal’ circumstances but also amid the COVID crisis. As I have more and more conversations across the library and I continue to move through this process of re-orienting myself with work and professional life, I’m sure this sense of uncertainty will lessen over time.

A blessing in disguise

In saying all that, there have been a few blessings in this ‘return to work from home’ scenario. For one thing, I have had the pleasure of working alongside my best mate and husband for the first time since we met over 11 years ago (yes, we met at work).

We’ve always had a mutual respect for each other’s work, despite neither of us completely understanding what the other did that provides for our living. I now know more about the new leasing accounting standard (he’s a financial reporting and treasury manager in the private sector) than I ever thought I would, but what has been most interesting is observing how my husband has grown professionally over the years. And hopefully vice versa!

As much as I love my library peeps, it’s been great to have a different person to bounce ideas and thoughts off and let them see me adjust to my return to work, worts and all!

A time for compassion

I was diagnosed with post-natal depression (trigger warning) when my son was seven months old. Since my diagnosis, I have been working hard to better understand and practice compassion in my motherhood journey. Alongside my psychologist when I need her, I have developed self-care strategies such as meditation, yoga and journaling. Yoga in particular, has played a huge role in my recovery. My experience has led to me becoming passionate about perinatal (pre and post) well-being and self-care.

Compassion is certainly a theme of living through this COVID pandemic crisis. These are strange, unprecedented times. Compassion for ourselves, for others, our students, co-workers and those most impacted by the crisis. I think the key to practicing compassion is recognising when it is needed. This is where being present and noticing what is happening within ourselves and others becomes super important. Mindfulness is a powerful tool for both our personal and professional lives. So please remember to be compassionate and take care of yourself.

So there we are. An imperfect, messy first post back from parental leave. No doubt I’ll think of other things to say or amend after I hit publish. But I’m moving forward. I’m back, baby.


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