Returning to work

May 8, 2010

When I found out I was pregnant for the first time my second reaction, once the shock had cleared, was one of relief that I could give up work. Not that I had worked particularly hard over the previous four years. Six months before the revelation that motherhood was on its way I had graduated from university with a history degree as, I should add, a very mature student! So by the time the baby was born I was only one year out of full time education. I had, however, returned to work for those twelve months, but rather as an economic necessity than out of any true commitment to gainful employment! I had thoroughly enjoyed the freedoms of student life while still feeling that something quite life-changing was being achieved.

Thus when the baby was born it felt somewhat as if to become a fully qualified mother you had to spend three years learning how to do it after which time the baby would be returned to your tutor for marking and a degree would be awarded accordingly – or maybe not! Of course the reality is very different and I couldn’t have given her back after three seconds let alone three years, but my mindset then – with a new “project” on the go – was still of a student.

Motherhood was, and remains, a shock and a challenge, in fact the greatest challenge one could have and nothing prepares you for it (perhaps a degree or at least a diploma is not such a stupid idea!). You can’t just turn the baby off or forget to feed it or change its nappy. A mother’s options are well and truly limited especially if you choose, like me, not to return to work.

Whilst I felt relief at not having to get back onto the nine to five treadmill, I did begin to miss the camaraderie of the work place and the day to day banter. By the end of the first year it felt as if my daughter should have been ten, it had all gone so incredibly slowly and without much to show for it, well apart from a gorgeous healthy one year old. I didn’t, of course, take out my frustrations on my beautiful toddler, rather on my husband and after a massive row which culminated in nothing whatsoever being achieved I had a lucky break. Just for the record my husband and I are still together 12 rather shorter years later.

My qualifications as a secretary with a History degree are, let’s face it, pretty limiting especially in the computer age. I had toyed with doing a PGCE but events had overtaken me and anyway I lack that most important of scholarly qualifications a Maths O’Level or GCSE in today’s parlance! So when a friend asked me if I might be interested in helping an elderly man she knew write his memoirs by taking shorthand notes of his recollections of the Second World War I jumped at the chance, and he would pay me! Armed with a small tape recorder I duly turned up at the nursing home where he lived and pressed record; making shorthand like scribbles in my pristine reporter’s notebook I listened attentively as the narrative unfolded.

Meanwhile there was the problem of childcare. My mother-in-law plugged into her network of London-based Columbians (not what it sounds!) and came up trumps with the wonderful Yolanda who agreed to spend a couple of afternoons a week looking after what turned out at first to be my difficult child, but she persevered so that for one afternoon a week I was able to visit my employer and for the second I could type up the fruits of the first or go shopping or meet up with friends. Whatever, this was freedom! My earnings were insufficient to cover Yolanda’s costs, but I didn’t care! She and Rosie got on swimmingly and I got out!

This arrangement lasted for a year. Then pregnant again and desperate to escape the confines of Fulham we moved to the country.

To be continued …