I gave birth to Romy in December 2017, and I'm currently seven months into a nine-month period of parental leave.
So, how have I used my time, what are the challenges you face as the mother of a young baby away from work, and how have I tackled them?
The challenges of being at work
I’ve thought of myself as a member of two minority groups for quite some time - a woman and a member of the LGBT community.
When I started work at GDS I began to realise that parents are also a diverse group who need particular support from managers and the workplace - in our case so that we can juggle everything that is required of us.
The challenges of being away from work
I’ve always had a job of some sort since doing a paper round at the age of 13. I’ve found it tough being at home and away from the workplace.
I think work is a big part of my identity. And your identity is something you think about a lot when you have a baby or young children.
When you become a parent you have to figure out how to stay 'you' when your new little human beings need you to constantly de-prioritise yourself.
Wanting to keep in touch
Rather than thinking of maternity leave as a year away from work, I wanted to combine it with staying in touch throughout, to keep my brain in gear and help me stay feeling like me, even if I did have a small person under my arm or dangling off my front in a baby carrier.
I wouldn't advocate doing work emails from the postnatal ward like Sheryl Sandberg. But I was inspired by her book Lean in to not feel guilty about wanting to still focus on my career whilst on maternity leave.
How I’ve kept in touch
Talking things through with my manager in advance
Because every baby is different, until I got to know Romy a bit it was hard to predict exactly how I would keep in touch. But it was really helpful to talk things through with my manager and come up with a rough plan.
Staying in touch through social channels
For me this has meant Twitter and the GDS blog - reading articles and blogs about content design and related areas to help me stay connected. My Slack login was deactivated for a while but I wish I'd managed to reactivate it sooner so I could dip into things that way, too.
This is a great way of using your brain and working on your skills when you only have a discrete amount of time.
Finding ways to practise my skills
I took part in a Content Campus workshop where I had to give feedback to people on the course about their projects and presentations.
This was a great way to keep my hand in with content design and presentation knowledge and it showed me that I hadn't really forgotten that much - I was able to contribute in exactly the same way as the other people giving feedback.
It was a real confidence boost for my eventual return to work, because it made me realise it won't feel like a brand new job: I will still be the same content designer, and I’ll still have the same skills and knowledge despite having a far lower sleep average than before!
A lot of preparation went into being away from a three-month-old breastfed baby for four hours, but it's definitely doable. My mum came to the office with me and looked after Romy behind the scenes - I wouldn't have been able to do the workshop without her there.
Using voice recognition technology
I have developed De Quervain's, a type of wrist tendonitis that's common in mothers of young children. it's also known as "smartphone thumb". So I've started using voice recognition technology a lot.
I'm usually online on my phone while also holding my baby or pushing her round in the buggy, but I need to limit how much I use my thumbs. I've worked on accessibility content a lot at work and it's been really interesting to become an assistive technology user myself. I did the first draft of this blog by dictating into my phone.
Using the mothers' room
At GDS we have a "mothers' room" for pregnant and nursing mothers to rest, feed or express milk. I'm really grateful it's there so that Romy and I have somewhere to go if I need to feed or change her. It would be difficult to spend time in the office with her without that dedicated space.
If you want to know more about maternity and paternity arrangements where you work, take a look at the advice on your departmental intranet site. You might also be interested in this blog on shared parental leave