This time last year I was off on Maternity leave and turned up at our mid year conference at The Belfry for one of my “keeping in touch” days. I remember it vividly as at 8am I had a breakfast meeting with the NOE Marketing Director, and at 10am I was in Hagley community hall dressed as an elephant with my 5 month old baby singing “hello to little sunshines.” It was my first encounter of the split roll I would soon lead, and if it felt like chaos then, I had no idea what it would be like in full swing.
Now I’m back at work full time, and playing ‘animals’ happens before work at around 6am. I don’t attend any baby classes anymore because they’re all during the working week, and as my furious emails to David Lloyd have iterated, as working parents we can’t make a 10.30am swim class on a Tuesday and activities for young kids are just not set up for working Mums or Dads. I’ll save that rant for another blog.
At this years mid year conference I presented my brand plans to the company, which means I am back in to the swing of things and my work confidence is back on track, but it also means I couldn’t make it to my son’s first sports day. I made it to the nativity in December to see him as the roundest-bellied angel Baby Jesus had ever seen, and I got to speak to him in the morning to wish him luck via FaceTime, but I couldn’t make the first sports day work because I had a ‘no-miss meeting’. These are the kind of moments that crush me in the first instance and I have to really reason with my own guilty mind to reassure myself that I’m there for everything I can be, and wasting my time feeling guilty is taking up energy I’ll need at 3am when he wakes up because he’s teething and all he wants is a hug. Whilst I might not be able to make everything I’d like to, I will 100% make everything that I need to, and that is enough for me to feel ok.
After the conference last year my maternity life took a bit of a turn. Charlie was admitted to hospital on the Sunday with suspected gastritis, and after the hardest 5 days of not leaving his side, more and more testing and watching him suffer with worsening pain, we were blue-lighted to Birmingham Children’s Hospital where doctors met us off the ambulance and rushed us up to the ward.
He was admitted in a panic in what felt like seconds and before we knew it doctors and surgeons had been brought in on call and they were scanning his bowels for suspected intussusception. (I’d never heard of it either, and I still struggle to spell it.)
Charlie was the calmest loveliest baby In the World, and for 6 days straight he’d been screaming in pain. I cuddled him as tight as I could as they scanned him (trying to keep us both calm) singing “you are my sunshine.” The song still makes me cry.
Words can’t really describe the emotions of a parent with a baby in surgery. You’re responsible, but helpless, and praying with everything you’ve got for the hours that it takes for them to make sure they’re OK. When you go in to the recovery room and see how tiny they really are, you look at the surgeons and doctors and have no idea what to say to them. They’ve saved your baby’s life, but they just see it as their job. I sell men’s moisturiser for a living. It puts everything in to a stark perspective. We owe everything we have to Mr Gee and his team.
Looking at my chaotic toddler 1 year on you’d have absolutely no idea he’s ever been through anything. He shouts “Ready steady go” and asks Alexa to “play baby shark.” He scores “goals,” throws balls, and cons Al and I into both giving him a banana in addition to his daily 2 Weetabix when the other one goes out the room. Al’s taught him that chicks dig scars, and we go to hospital every 6 months just to make sure everything is still ok.
I might not make every sports day, and I probably drop him off less than any other Mum with a child at his nursery, but I know deep down (and would like to think he knows too) that I would always go to the end of the Earth for him, and although my job means I might not be at every day time event, I will always make sure that someone is there to support him at everything he ever does. I have worked hard to make sure he feels the closeness of our friendships and knows there is a long list of family and friends that adore him and would be there in an instant to cheer him on. That helps me feel ok.
Working mum tip(s) no. 19: Do not beat yourself up for the moments that are uncontrollable. When it comes to the crunch absolutely nothing could prise you away from a child who needs you directly by their side, (and you will somehow find the energy to try to make them laugh by blowing raspberries on their face even though you’ve hardly slept for a month and are close to having a meltdown.)
Without always being physically there, for many reasons your child already knows that your love and support is right beside them. (And if that’s not true, please don’t ever tell me. It’s the way I keep myself feeling ok.)
Unrelated bonus tip: If ever you’re in hospital for a long period of time, make sure you invest in good lip balm. Trust me, for some reason, your lips get really dry. I’d recommend NIVEA, but I’m biased.
Also, whenever you see a fundraising bucket for Birmingham Children’s Hospital, please put £1 in for us. It’s hard to really appreciate what they do until you desperately need them. We will always be grateful from the bottom of our hearts and we look forward to seeing his surgeon next week for his 1 year check up so we can thank them again.
(Which without a shadow of a doubt, for both myself and my husband, is a meeting we would never ever consider not being there for, and my diary is well and truly blocked for hours either side.)