When I went on maternity leave, I went from a busy office to sitting at home with a small baby and wondering if you can actually die from sleep deprivation. It wasn’t easy.

Maternity leave whizzed past,  lots of adventures, not much sleep, I got to know my son and made some great friends.

Maternity leave

Maternity leave Laura Bluebell

Spent a lot of time in baby groups and drinking coffee!

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I returned to work earlier this year and it is high time to look back at what has worked well and what has not. This poor blog has been sorely neglected!

I realised that being a working mother means you will have competing demands, a big challenge for me has been juggling my own expectations about how I should be doing. I miss the days when I had the luxury of staying late to finish a task and not constantly watch the clock.

Our son still does not sleep and sometimes dragging yourself into work when you are shattered is not always very easy.

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Here are some of my top tips to make the return to work after maternity leave a bit easier:

  1. Talk to your partner, who is going to pick up and who is going to drop off your baby with childcare? Have a schedule and plan it out in advance. We are lucky that we both work part-time and can share the load.
  2. Consider a staggered return.  This really helped me. I did three days for three months, combined with my husband taking shared parental leave. I’ve also used holiday to make sure I have the odd Friday so we can have a bit more time together as a family. Easing myself into work gradually made it far easier.
  3. Prepare for the unexpected, sometimes things happen. We had some emergency dashes to A&E and sickness bugs. If you have grandparents who can help out great, if not plan how you will handle these situations.
  4. Work out your boundaries, what are you willing to do. Can you stay late one night a week for an event/later meeting. If you need to leave on time, you should be worried about explaining your working hours.
  5. Pace yourself, you can’t do everything at once, have a think about what is really important to you and prioritise that.
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I asked some working mothers about their top tips and here are what they said:

Be organised

Do as much as you can the night before, even if you’re shattered. Lunch boxes, nappies restocked, set the coffee machine up, lay out clothes for the next day, meal plan for the week dinners and lunches.

Use part of Sunday to get your weeks clothes etc ready so the days can be as straight forward as poss.

One Mum had a runner rail with both her and her daughter’s clothes on for the week including under wear and a pile of spare clothes to top up the nursery bag. Super organised!

One woman recommended getting up before your baby wakes up, if your baby sleeps well, that could be a great idea.

Look the part

Buy whole new work wardrobe so I felt nice and professional. It helped to at least appear as though I could remember what I was doing!

I know building confidence and competence in ‘making it all work’ takes practice. Talking to other working parents is really helpful to learn tips and tricks about how they manage it.

What do you want from your return to work?

Being tactical in managing your career is important, do you want to be promoted, what is essential to get that next promotion? Exposure and networking may be the most important thing, rather than delivery. What do you need to do to make sure your hard work is noticed.

Be kind to yourself

It will be a wrench for a few weeks/months. Enjoy hot coffee and going to the toilet in peace!

Don’t apologise for part time hours, you took the pay cut.

Plan for the unexpected

Have a childcare emergency backup (grandparents/good friends) as kids immune systems take a bashing when they start nursery.

Share the load

Can you divide up the week between yourself and your other half?

Have a serious discussions with your other half about them taking on more around the house and sharing the labour especially at first when you’re trying to get your head back into work mode and as soon as you’re back home you just want to cuddle your baby and not pick up the Hoover.

Lots of people recommend getting a cleaner even if only at first.

Buy a slow cooker and online shop

Slow cooker and meal prep , weekly online shop, lunch boxes get done the night before, washing in an evening, hang out in the morning when needed, majority of cleaning gets done on a weekend.

Return to work induction

Have a return to work induction. Find out what has changed, what has stayed the same, what the success measures are for the job, meet colleagues to catch up and make your career needs and aspirations clear.

Don’t over schedule your weekends

Last Saturday we did not leave our home, it was bliss. Take some time to relax and not have to rush everywhere. Pace yourself.

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Tips from the experts

All roles are different but you can learn strategies and skills for combining parenting with corporate responsibilities, helping you to be more productive, satisfied and efficient in both areas. Here are some tips from coaching organisation, How Do You Do It.

• Talk openly about the issues of being a working mother and share strategies to address those issues

• Build confidence and competence in ‘making it all work’ as well as being more tactical in managing your career

• Frame conversations about flexible working or other forms of agile working so that your organisation and manager can support you and see the business benefits.

Having a supportive manager and employer makes a massive difference.

For further advice on returning to work after maternity leave:

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This blog post does not cover what you should do if things go wrong or you need advice.

Here are some organisations (UK based) who could help.

Pregnant Then Screwed

Working Families

Citizens Advice 

If anyone has any other suggestions, please let me know.

 

Sharing photos online of your children is an emotive topic. Children’s privacy and their digital footprint are often hotly debated and a new report was launched this week by the United Kingdom’s Children’s Commissioner.

Last night I posted about sharing pictures of your children online on my Instagram stories and lots of people said they also debated what the best thing was to do. Some were more private on their public Instagram accounts versus their more private Facebook profiles. There were also some scary stories about photos being misused.

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Changing my mind

I thought about my tendency to overuse social media a lot before our baby was born.  Saying I would not share any pictures of him online. Once he was born I changed my mind and I have posted a few photos on Instagram and Facebook. It is lovely sharing pictures and updates with friends and family and reading all the comments and feedback. To be honest the pictures of the baby get the most likes! I have tried to space it out with pictures of flowers and views.

Staying in touch

There are a few reasons why I changed my mind. Being on maternity leave can make you feel a bit cut off and sometimes a bit lonely. When you share photos of your baby and give updates on their progress it helps you feel a bit more connected. Plus I have made some new friends with babies the same age. It is a good way of staying in touch and get advice from other parents. But I know that not everyone feels the same way.

I am also a big fan of lots of bloggers who share funny stories from their day to day lives with their children.

What could happen to your pictures?

What does worry me is that once you post a picture – you no longer have complete control over what happens to them. I know lots of people have similar concerns and choose not to publish their children’s faces or making sure they don’t include locations of where they are. One of the stats that jumped out from today’s digital footprint report share 79 photos and 21 videos a year of their children.

Ways to protect your child online

Should we publish so much about our children online? Is publishing photos of the baby the wrong thing to do? Will it be a lasting legacy for my child, a permanent digital footprint? Will he turn round one day and ask me to take them down?

Children’s charities have urged parents to think twice about posting photographs of their children on social media. Here is some further guidance from the NSPCC.

We have already seen someone take their parents to court for sharing intimate photographs of their childhood. Could posting pictures online leave your child open to bullies who track down their childhood photos and use it as ammunition?

It is something that I will continue to think about as the baby grows up.

Family photo albums

When I was little baby photos were preserved inside precious family albums and things have definitely moved on.

Perhaps I  should go back to photo albums and sharing with close friends and family.

What do you think about this? What is the best way to protect our children online?

 

I was really looking forward to reading The Lido when I found out about it last year. It is set in Brixton where I live and features the Brockwell Lido, which is a beautiful outdoor swimming pool which I love. A place I hope to spend more time in now I am on maternity leave this summer (perhaps wishful thinking).

The book tells the story of Kate, a 26 year old, who is struggling to settle into London, who is living in a miserable flatshare. She is lonely and has a rather unsatisfactory job at a local paper.

Rosemary is 86 years old and mourning the death of her husband George. The book reflects on her war years, courtship and marriage with George. Rosemary is also lonely although far more connected to the local community, compared to Kate.  I really enjoyed the descriptions of cups of tea with her friend Hope in Brixton Village and shopping trips down Electric Avenue. Brixton is a really friendly place and Libby Page captures that feeling.

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Rosemary and Hope share cups of tea in Brixton Village, also known as Granville Arcade in the Lido.

However, there are some extremely sad scenes, which includes a heartbreaking scene when she revisits her husband George’s grocery store, now a hipster cocktail bar.

The local lido, where she swims every day, remains a constant reminder, Kate sees this is a chance for her to shine. Rosemary and Kate are thrown together and the story of their blossoming friendship is uplifting.

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Beautiful Brockwell Lido, where a campaign to save the outdoor pool brings together Rosemary and Kate.

The Lido is an uplifting novel about the importance of friendship, the value of community, and how ordinary people can protect the things they love.

With the battles over the Field Day festival in Brockwell Park this summer and the community battling against Lambeth Council to protect the beloved park, it is very relevant. It is also a beautiful portrayal of intergenerational friendship and a telling portrait of a young person feeling adrift in a large city.

I listened to Libby Page on BBC Radio Four’s Women’s Hour this week talking about uplifting fiction, alongside Gail Honeyman, who wrote ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ and she said something that resonated with me. There is a lot of good in society and it was lovely to read a book that reflects that. It is a brilliant debut and I can’t wait to see what she writes next.

You can read more about Libby Page here and follow her on Twitter.

Yesterday we gathered at the beautiful  Houzz 2018 pop up, at 19 Greek Street in Soho. We were greeted with coffee and a warm welcome from Lou Archell, who had organised the wonderful Sisterhood Camp event to see out the end of a very long January.

Who wouldn’t want to beat the January blues learning about flower arranging and eating delicious food in a beautiful building. I love flowers and eating and it sounded like the perfect day.

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We sat at long tables and learned about Ikebana from the serene and talented florist, Erin Allison Clare.

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She told us about the background to Ichiban floristy, about consideration and balance. It is important to look at all aspects of a flower as well as considering incorporating dried plants. Look at the beautiful array of flowers we had to choose from.

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We started constructing our displays, using beautiful ceramics from Rebecca Proctor, a ceramicist based in Cornwall. You use florist tape to attach a floral pin holder and then fill a vessel with water.

The pastime of viewing plants and appreciating flowers throughout the four seasons was established in Japan early on by the aristocracy. We learned that ikebana pays attention to the overall line and form of all plant material used. We were told to consider each plant and think about minimalism and asymmetry.

Ikebana also pays attention to  the sacred relationship between humans and nature with the flower arrangement usually practiced in a silent and meditative state. Luckily we were allowed to talk.

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Ikebana pays attention to the overall line and form of all plant material used and emphasizes minimalism and asymmetry. Ikebana also reveres the sacred relationship between man and nature with the flower arrangement usually practiced in a silent and meditative state.

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You attach a floral frog to the base of the shallow vessel and fill it with water. Erin had brought along a couple of Hellabores plants, which were really beautiful. My inner gardener felt terrible cutting them up.

Here was my final arrangement and I was really proud of what I made.

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Whilst Lou and her team set up the room for lunch we went off to explore the Houzz pop up and as it was so sunny outside, I went for a wander around Soho.

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We came back to see the room set up for lunch and it looked rather lovely.

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We sat down at long tables in the cafe for a delicious lunch cooked by chef and food writer, Claire Thomson. She had created a beautiful three course menu using fresh, seasonal ingredients. I was amazed when I saw the size of the kitchen she cooked it in, it was tiny. It was great to hear about her new book – The Art of the Larder.  It was a real treat to eat such delicious food and Clare was really lovely. You can follow her on instagram at 5oclockapron.

I took a photo of the delicious starter and pudding. Plus my customised mocktail, thanks for the addition of the lemon and camomile, it makes all the difference when you can’t drink alcohol.

What was so great about Sisterhood event was meeting interesting and friendly women, I was really lucky to chat to the warm and inspiring Erin Trezise-Wallace, as well as the talented Ariana Ruth and her fascinating mother, Fiona. It was also lovely to meet Natalie Bourne who designs beautiful homes and gave me lots of brilliant parenting advice.

It was a great day, a beautiful space, interesting people and I really enjoyed learning about a new way of flowering arranging.

Thanks Lou and Sisterhood!

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Life lately

It is a cold and wet day in London, I have lit some candles and I am listening to First Aid Kit’s beautiful new album, Ruins. Buying candles is one of the luxuries I have allowed myself in the run up to maternity leave.

I am nearing the six month pregnancy mark and the time has passed really quickly. I am no longer able to disguise that I am pregnant with baggy clothes. Although my love for the fashion label, Cos, has grown greater as their dresses are perfect for pregnancy.

I am conscious that my life as I know it is about to completely change.

I spent this weekend with a dear friend who has a 10 and 6 year old. She is very organised, an excellent cook and a brilliant mother. Someone who I aspire to be like once we start being parents. I am trying to see all my friends before I go into hibernation. I have a weekend in York planned with my uni mates and lots of dinners and catch up. J and I are going to Ghent, because we love Belgium and Rye in Sussex because we had one drink at the Standard Inn over New Year and decided we wanted to come back and stay.

Baby preparation, baby clothes on a line. Being pregnant.

Baby preparation, 26 weeks pregnant

Preparing

Last week I bought my first thing for the baby, four gro-bags from a lady who lives down the road, through the local parents Facebook group (a great source of free/cheap baby stuff). I am trying to not get carried away with all the beautiful clothes and accessories you can buy.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about buggies this week. Checking out the ones I see out and about in London and asking my friends with babies millions of questions. I have been offered a second hand one, which is very kind. But I am really tempted to get a new one. I met a lovely lady at pregnancy yoga, who recommended a Babyzen Yoyo as you can squeeze into cafes and it is really light. However, once they reach six months they face away from you, apparently that is not a good thing! We are visiting John Lewis this week to be talked through the options, my other half is really into his bikes and hopefully this expertise on one kind of wheels will help with this fairly substantial purchase. They are expensive!

On all the other baby stuff, we are really lucky to be loaned lots of things, a moses basket, a Baby Bjorn bouncer, a snuzpod (a cot that slots next to your bed), a baby car seat and a cot. We have been given lots of lovely baby clothes and baby books. Last weekend we picked up a travel cot and a carrier from a family friend. I am lucky to have really kind friends and family.

Reading

When I spotted someone giving away a pile of books on pregnancy and parenting on our local Facebook parents group I jumped at them. I have been dipping into them and my favourite is What To Expect When You’re Expecting and The Rough Guide to Pregnancy and Birth, which is very funny. I have been warned that you should take them with a pinch of salt as every baby is different. This Guardian article says that reading pregnancy advice books can make you a bit miserable and so I will try to not take them too much to heart.

Nursery preparation

Our spare room is currently full of all of J’s records, books and clothes, we need to make some space for all the baby’s stuff. Creating that Instagram nursery of dreams may have to wait a while. We either need to get some storage or move when the baby needs to move into his own room. Storage may be more straightforward.

Scandinavian nursery. Preparing for baby, A hundred days to go.

Scandinavian nursery of dreams.

Pregnancy yoga

I went along to a session last weekend and it was brilliant, I met some really lovely people and it was great to have a proper stretch. It was also incredibly relaxing. I slept incredibly well afterwards. I am going to try and fit in some more sessions in the weeks ahead.

Sleeping, the joys of pregnancy insomnia

Sleeping has been interesting, some nights are fine, others I wake up in the early hours and struggle to get back asleep. The baby likes to wake up about 4am and have a bit of a dance or perform some kung-fu moves. How well you sleep does depend on how stressful work is and how late we eat. Apparently you need to cut back on the caffeine (although I am only drinking one or two cups a day) and everything will be OK.

Mum friends.

I am conscious that I will be leaving my lovely colleagues behind for a while. J only has three weeks parental leave (we are lucky to have an extra week than most UK employers). In order to have some people to hang out with after he is back at work, I’ve made some efforts to make some Mum friends. I put out a request through a local Facebook group and I am having a coffee with someone who lives down the road this week. I’ve had an introduction through a lovely friend to someone else due at the same time who lives five minutes away and I met some nice people at pregnancy yoga, I am sure it will work out. Another bonus of having a baby on board badge is I met two lovely people who were pregnant on the tube last week.

Next week we start our NCT classes, I have another midwife appointment and more planning… We may even decide what buggy to get. I am open to all advice and so if you have any top tips, please let me know. What do you wish you had known before you had your baby?

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