Shuffling towards the edge of the platform, artificially awake thanks to trite alarms and instant coffee, I estimated that I had roughly ten hours before I’d be getting off at the other side. Until then I’d paid £7 for the privilege of being squashed into standing in an aisle, far closer to any stranger as I like to get. I rooted in my bag to make sure I had my awful, unflattering ID pass and readied myself for the day ahead.

Yup, as of September our little bubble of maternity leave burst and I had to go back to work. In our flat I could walk into town and back, avoiding the cattle trains and turnstiles. Towards the end of my pregnancy I took the train and hated it. I travelled six minutes into town and back, for two weeks, and that was enough for me. Now I’m a fully fledged commuter… and it sucks. No one looks especially happy to be there. People shove and huff and we all get off at the other end, trudging towards our daily destiny.

There’s no sugar coating it. Going back to work after maternity leave is hard. You spend your first few weeks of parenthood in a daze, forge a new normal for yourselves around every new milestone and wrap your days around making a world for a whole new person. Just when you think you’re getting the hang of the parenting thing, the real world comes calling. Before you know it you’re duty bound by alarms, bills and childcare- if you’re fortunate enough to have it.

I don’t doubt it’d be hard even if I loved my job. Of course it is- and I certainly don’t. Before I finished work I always had the finishing line in sight, I had something to look forward to even on the hardest days. Now it’s like… this is it. There’s no end goal. It’s just day in, day out. For me, though, it’s got to be done. My job search has stalled as I get used to the new daily routine. I spend all day at work, commute home, spend some time with my son and maybe have time for dinner. Even blogging has fallen by the wayside. Going back part time isn’t an option that I can afford. It wasn’t what I wanted, but I’ve ended up going back full time. So what does that make me as a mum?

It’s hard when you’re reluctant about going back. What makes it worse are the sly comments about how you can’t really have it all, the exhalation of SAHM’hood as being a woman’s highest calling, the swathes of Facebook friends with ‘full time mum’ as their occupation. I’m not saying that being a stay at home mum is easy, or even always a choice. Childcare costs can often mean that it’s simply not financially viable to work. When your life revolves around rearing a family it’s hard to ever be yourself. Even in my nine months of it, it was bloody difficult, often stressful and sometimes completely overwhelming. Still, though. The particular choice of ‘title’ can hurt. What, then, does that make me? If I work full time, and say at home mums are ‘full time mums’… am I, then, a part time mum?

The guilt is real when I think about how much I’m missing. The things I didn’t do on maternity leave. The WhatsApp group of mum friends that I don’t have. My son is ten months old, hurtling towards a year, getting more vocal and mobile every day. I know there will be milestones that I’ll miss, and it kills me. But it’s what I have to do for now.

It doesn’t make it any easier when my social media feeds are clogged up with colourful, playful, seemingly non-threatening infographics. You know the type. The ones that play on your guilt, that you could be doing more for your family selling shit from home.

Looking for people to join me on my journey!!!”

Are you a working mum wanting more time at home???!!”

Don’t let other people raise your children for you!!!!111!!111″

Of course when you’re hustling for a place on a crowded platform, anything else seems like a better option. When you have to drop a poorly baby off so you can go to work, the gnawing self-reproach at having to do so can swallow your focus. Going back to work is hard enough. Plying working mums with images of the life they’re not leading- while playing on feelings of maternal inadequacy- isn’t fair.

The truth is, no one has it really sussed. Not that I can see anyway. There are pros and cons of being a working mum and stay at home mum. I long for the endless stretch of days just me and my son, finding fun new things for us to do or having lazy days when it was raining. But I missed adult conversation, having some sort of purpose outside the home and having my own money.

Practically, it’d be selfish of me to stay off work. Ally earns decent money but it’s not enough to support three people. It’s not fair- for us- to let all the finances fall on one person. On a selfish level, I like being able to pick up stuff without worrying too much. I’ve always had my own money. I’d like to keep it that way. Lucas is growing at such a rate of noughts that he needs new clothes all the time. And I can get ’em. Cool.

Some parents are limited in their working choices because they also have to fit in studying around a family.

Some parents just can’t wait to go back to work.

Does that mean they love their children any less? Does it hell.

Just because your child spends more time with someone else doesn’t make you less of a mum. If I leave my son with his grandparents for nine hours a day I’m still his mummy. I’m the one who gets him up in the morning, puts him to bed, takes him to all his appointments. It’s me who takes the hit of his teething grumbles, or drives him to the hospital when he’s got a virus. It’s me that he shouts on and flashes a huge, toothy grin at when I eventually trudge home.

There’s no perfect way of parenting. We’re all just doing the best that we can, with the knowledge and resources that we have. Just like everything fuckin’ else in life, whatever path you’re forging is yours, your family’s, whatever. It doesn’t have to work for other people, if it works for you.

 

This time last year, I was slap bang in the middle of my second trimester. We’d settled into the idea of being parents and life revolved around scans, midwife appointments and shopping for prams. It doesn’t feel like a year, but here we are with an eight month old (I kind of dropped the ball on monthly updates on the blog, huh?). As much fun as it is, I do find myself looking back fondly on the experience of being first-time expectant parents.

Love- or at the very least, lust- is in the air around these parts. It feels like every week brings another pregnancy announcement (seriously people, how much are you having at it?). Every time I see one I get a wee buzz of excitement, even if I don’t know the person. First time parents have so much to look forward to, they don’t even know. Obviously having a baby isn’t the be all and end all. It’s not always immediate cause for celebration. It’s hard bloody work.

If you do choose to have a baby though, for all the hard parts, it’s pretty great. The worst part though? All of the unsolicited advice and intrusive questions. Shortly before my due date, I compiled a list of the most common things I’d been asked during pregnancy. In hindsight, with eight months’ parenting experience under my belt, I’ve put together  a compilation of advice: take it from someone who’s still muddling through, learning on the job. You’re going to be fine.

No one cares about your birth

I mean this in the nicest possible way. If you’ve attended antenatal classes, or discussed a birth plan, you’re probably aware of different birthing options. Whether it’s in a bath, drug-free, hypnobirth, epidural, via caesaerean or getting the ol’ plunger up in there, one thing is the same: whatever gets your baby out safely is what’s natural and normal for you. For me it just feels like another way of heaping pressure on expectant parents. People shoo away the notion of pain relief because they “want to experience as much as possible”. Personally, I opted for diamorphine and had a pretty thorough experience without feeling like I was being punched in the vagina from the inside. If you’re opting for pain relief it’s not wussing out. Giving birth without pain relief doesn’t make you a better parent (although hats off if you did). Giving birth via C-section is still giving birth. Your birth is personal to you, and if people want to judge by their own standards it doesn’t lessen your experience or make theirs any more valid. In the grand scheme of things, as long as parent(s) and baby are happy, no one cares.

Fed is best

Breastfeeding is hard. It takes practise. Considering the UK has the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world, there’s clearly not enough support out there. If you can make it work, and stick with it, that’s awesome. However if, like me, breastfeeding isn’t an option- or hey, if you just choose not to- that’s cool too. Championing one way of feeding at the derision of another isn’t cool. You don’t know someone’s story or circumstance. As long as your baby is happy, healthy and gaining weight, go with what works for you.

Just say no

This is the one piece of advice that I wish I’d take under advisement when Lucas was born. When we came home from hospital, all I wanted was a nice quiet day or so to adjust to our new life as three. This didn’t happen. For the next few weeks, into Christmas and new year, it felt like a constant procession. We never had time alone just to be ourselves. People mean well but, with the onset of baby blues, it can be a bit overwhelming. Don’t be afraid to say no if you’re not up to visits right away. Take your time, enjoy the first few days at home with your baby. Family and friends will still be there when you’re ready.

Take your time

One of the weirdest realisations about having a baby is that life goes on. I remember standing looking out of the window of the maternity ward, looking at the buses and cars going up and down the motorway, going to and from work as if nothing had changed. For us, our whole world had changed, but the world kept turnin’. Coming home felt like our little bubble had burst.

Since then we’ve bought a house, moved twice, I’m doing a phased return to work and looking at nurseries for the little man. I don’t know that the enormity of this year of change quite hit me until recently, until it hit me all at once. Change can be hard to process, and having a baby changes everything. Your lifestyle, relationship, body- everything. If you need some time to adjust, fine. You’re allowed to feel like change is hard to keep up with. Be kind to yourself- you’re doing the best you can.

Comparison is the thief of joy

Once your baby’s born you’re thrust into a myriad of milestones. First time smiling, laughing, rolling over, sleeping through the night, eating solids, cutting a tooth. Some babies roll over within a matter of months. Lucas was about six months before he nailed the ol’ back to front roll. Was I worried? No. It meant I could pop through to the next room without worrying. He still doesn’t have a tooth, but nothing I do is going to make that happen faster. Babies do everything in their own time. Looking at what other babies do- or don’t do- can send you spiralling into a tailspin of parental guilt (if you’re anything like me). Likewise, if another mum snapped back to pre-pregnancy weight, or if their baby latched on to the boob while you had to opt for the bottle. Ask yourself “does this in any way impact me or my child?”. If the answer is no, let it go. Parenting is a minefield of worry and the hardest thing to do is learn to pick your battles.

Enjoy the little things

It’s an old adage but it’s true. Babies are only babies for a short while. Before you know it, they’re actual real, independent, little people. I was guilty of getting caught up in thinking of the next Big Thing and trying to do as much as possible. As soon as I went back to work for a KIT day, it felt as though the last eight months hadn’t happened. Trying to overreach was just stressful. While I still like finding new things to do, it makes me appreciate chilled days more. I went along to a CBT course run by the NHS wellbeing services, which helped massively. If you don’t have the time or inclination to sign up, there are plenty of resources out there. Spending the afternoon in a library, getting some fresh air, not getting dressed til 11am, , writing down one thing I’m grateful for every day, even- gasp- putting my phone down helped massively. As did putting Lucas down for a nap, patching the cleaning and actually having a hot cup of coffee.

Take it in your stride

Like I said, people are only too happy to throw advice at you. Some of it’s helpful and well meaning, some of it isn’t. Most of it will be unsolicited. When it comes to parenting, everyone has an opinion, but only you know what’s best for you. Smile and nod. Very few of us know what we’re doing, but we crack on. You got this.