Being able to take a long maternity leave is an incredible privilege, and definitely one of the perks of being a woman
I love my children, but I must admit that sometimes I don't feel I'm a very good mother. Or at least the kind of mother that stays at home. Until I had a year out of school after my first baby was born, I hadn't realised just how much I was defined by my job, and I wasn't prepared for the incredible feeling of loss when I realised that both my school and my department were managing fine in my absence. Of course I enjoyed lots of aspects of being at home. I could watch hours of afternoon telly, and I never experienced that sinking sensation you get on a Sunday afternoon when you realise the weekend is almost over. Being able to take a long maternity leave is an incredible privilege, and definitely one of the perks of being a woman. But without my job, I found myself grappling to find meaning and purpose to my life. I was proud to be a mother, but I never felt it was the only thing I was destined to be.
I was terribly embarrassed about all this. There's a lot of pressure when you become a mother to be blissfully occupied in feeding and baking and pushing your buggy scenically in the sunshine, and I couldn't admit that it just wasn't working for me. At first, it was a guilty secret that I shared only with the nice man in Tesco, who now says "just go back to work"
whenever I approach him. I couldn't speak honestly to my non-working friends because I didn't want to appear critical of the choices they had made, and I didn't pump my working friends for information because I didn't want them to think that I wasn't enjoying my baby.
So I've been a lot more clear-sighted about this second maternity leave.
I'm trying to give myself a break if I don't always feel blissful, and I'm trying to restrain my propensity to fill time by becoming a one-woman edition of Watchdog. I'm openly admitting that I'll enjoy work again when the time comes. It was only when I shared experiences with my colleagues when I returned to work between babies that I felt fully accepted and understood as a mother. Talking to women who had made similar choices to me for similar reasons made me realise that I had been trying to bash myself, square peg-like, into a circular mother-shaped hole, and I felt an enormous relief that I wasn't the terrible mothering failure I had imagined. My maternity leave for this second baby will be shorter and hopefully less guilt-ridden. I'm realising that there is more than one way to do this whole mothering thing well.
Gemma Warren is on maternity leave from her post as head of inclusion at a London secondary school. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org