She may have said ‘au revoir’ to work for now, just don’t ask Martha Alexander if she’s going back…
I have bought a swimsuit. I look exactly like Humpty Dumpty’s wife would, if he had one.
I bought it for my final weeks of work which were in the south of France – and yes, I had a doctor’s note so I could fly. And yes, I was worried about giving birth in a French hospital given that the only French I know is stuff like, “What time does the train to Paris leave?” and “I’d like three grapefruits, please.” And yes, on my days off I strode around on the beaches, as chic Audrey Tautou lookalikes watched on in amazement. I was past caring: my feet ballooned to resemble raw chicken breasts oozing out of my Birkenstocks, I lost all spatial awareness and my bump would take out anything in its path – bottles of wine, computer monitors, colleague’s heads. But I did have croissants for breakfast every day and lived in a lovely apartment just a stone’s throw from the sea.
Now, I am officially WFB – that’s Waiting For Baby (also known as maternity leave). I had thought it would be a delightful sabbatical of reading all the books I have never had the time to read, long lunches with other expectant mums, non-aerobic exercise and sunbathing.
However, given I’m freelance and I work contract to contract, the ‘leave’ part is pretty literal: less a leave of absence, more an actual leaving the world of work for an indeterminate length of time with no guarantee that anyone will employ me for anything ever again.
This intrusive thought, teamed with intimidating forms for my Maternity Allowance and the inability to feel comfortable in any position at all for longer than three minutes has somewhat killed the buzz.
Like most people, my job is a huge part of my identity, and how my work is received has the ability to make or break my self-esteem. I imagine younger, better versions of myself getting ahead, while I’m changing sulphurous nappies 12 times a day and panicking that no one wants to employ mums anyway.
I know I’m being ridiculous. So many of my friends are successful working mums and yet somehow, in the wee hours when the fidgeting stranger wakes me up with her incessant wriggling, I worry about the future.
People keep asking me about my work plans. This, by the way, is another area where unsolicited advice comes thick and fast when really it should be approached with extreme caution.
“Will you go back to work?” is, I feel, an incredibly insulting thing to ask. To me, it’s akin to telling a woman that her career was just a frilly experimental phase, a project of no massive significance which filled a meaningless stretch of time. Maybe women who don’t intend to go back to work hate being asked, “When will you go back to work?”. Perhaps I am being oversensitive, but I can’t think of a tactful way for people to ask pregnant women about the future of their careers.
Of course, I’m not missing getting up at unpleasant hours, cramming myself onto train carriages or other features of the objectionable underbelly of working in London. But this sense of purpose has been the lynchpin of my life for more than 10 years. I’m not
good at doing nothing.
But at the end of all the ‘doing nothing’ that characterises maternity leave, I’ll be doing something pretty major. I am now in the same month as my due date. I have also had my final appointment with Dionne, unless I need to have a membrane sweep (the less said about that, the better – but come on, this is me: I’ll be having all three sweeps and the induction).
My hospital bag is packed. It is burgeoning with tiny nappies, Tracker bars and babygrows. My husband went bonkers online, turning into the Gok Wan of the infant world, and little packages from Jojo Maman Bébé and The Little White Company started turning up.
“This is her leaving-hospital outfit,” he will say, showing me the smallest garment ever made, with a flourish. “And this is a sleepsuit for her first night’s sleep. And this is a cotton hat that matches all outfits. And these are some muslin squares in neutral tones…”
Everything is ready, I’m just WFB. It could be weeks, but I have my swimsuit. OK, Willesden Sports Centre is hardly the Côte d’Azur, but in the water I’m light, I don’t need to wee and as yet I haven’t bumped into anyone who wants to know if I’ll ever work again.