My dad – who is of the old school ilk – told me to be careful about having it all.
It was during a conversation I was having with my parents. I was mid-pregnancy, and was telling them about it was affecting my SLT work – mainly I was just really tired.
They asked how it would be when I returned after maternity. I told them it would be no different, that I’d just need to nail a new routine. "Having it all" was, in my Dad’s eyes, being high up in my career while also becoming a mother.
I’d been exposed to a lot of strong female leaders who were also mothers, and knew that this was, in fact, possible. Although it was clear that some sacrifices would be made, I personally felt that you could have it all – and even continue to rise up the ladder.
Fast forward nine months – three months postpartum – and I was called into school with the rest of the staff. I knew that it was serious for me to be disturbed during maternity leave, especially as, up to this point, I hadn’t received so much as a congratulatory message, let alone a bunch of flowers.
I was still breastfeeding and knew that I had two hours before turning into a leaking mess; I had to find somewhere to pump. I hadn’t considered that this was something I’d now need to plan for when going into work.
The SLT were gathered and we were told that there would be a restructuring: the school needed to take steps to overcome their financial deficit. Looking at the new structure, it was very clear that my position had disappeared. I heard nothing else for the rest of the meeting, nor for the whole staff one that followed. I spoke to the governor representative afterwards and my head who both reassured me that they wanted to keep me on the SLT, but in a different capacity.
To cut a long story short, I spent hours googling, "Can I be made redundant on maternity leave?" because the position I was being offered wasn’t one that I wanted to do. I was being woken up every few hours because by my new – slightly smaller – line manager demanding food and attention, and then being kept awake by my old line manager who was casting doubt on my whole career.
The impact on my mental health was horrendous. I couldn’t keep a thought in place, was very teary and spent most of my days thinking that I was a terrible mother and a terrible employee. My health visitor and doctor were flagging me for postnatal depression and keeping a close eye on me. I don’t think this would have been the case if the job I left and came back to was the same.
I can only thank my wonderful union, who became my brain and my voice box for me. I am more than capable of fighting for myself but I was struggling from baby brain. At the best of times, I genuinely forgot actual words – let alone being able to present an articulate and balanced argument without bursting into tears.
Eventually, I decided to take a position that allowed me to try and keep a certain amount of flexibility in my job, and in doing so, I effectively stepped down to middle leadership. Despite this, I will be expected to remain on extended SLT and an assistant headteacher for at least the next three years under protection. At the time, I felt that this was a win-win scenario, but now, I am deflated and angry.
I am still as knowledgeable, capable, diligent, caring and innovative as I was before I went on maternity leave. I worked so hard to get to where I am now prior to becoming a mother – all that’s changed is that I am now a master of one-handed multitasking.
I feel penalised. It feels even harder that although my husband has also just had a baby, in no way has his career trajectory been altered negatively. If anything, he seems to be getting more responsibilities – it’s as if he now appears more sensible. I, on the other hand, have had to take into account childcare, hours and location, which ultimately led me to be encouraged to taking a lesser position.
I have no doubt that my employers had a job to do and that they genuinely would have kept me on SLT. But I feel that they were very aware of the change in my life, and made it incredibly difficult for me to resume my old life.
I was doing a good job before I left – I went up a pay scale owing to a positive performance review, even though when it was confirmed, I was on maternity leave.
I do know this much though: when I return next year, I will get myself back on that SLT capacity that I should be. It’s easy to be out of sight and out of mind, but I think they’ll be hard-pressed to keep me down when I’m back. I’m going back with a fight on my mind.
And to think, things could have been so different.
The writer is a teacher in London