Monday 28 January 2013

Mary Berry, Maternity Leave & My Big Decision

You know Mary Berry? The judge from The Great British Bake Off? No, that’s Paul Hollywood. The other one, yeah, her. She’s really good at baking. Well, I think she is. I’m guessing that’s how she came to be judge on a baking programme. And anyway, when her and Paul bake for each other, he always seems really impressed with whatever she’s made. She is a real life star baker. Baking, and all things baking related, are her area of expertise. You could ask her anything about baking, and she’d be able to answer from her wealth of knowledge and experience.

Or, she might start talking about how these pesky women are causing headaches for their employers because of this bloody nonsense maternity leave. Mary, you see, only took five weeks off when she had her babies, and then she was straight back to work. Five weeks!

Ebony at five weeks

I’m pretty sure when Ebony was five weeks, I was struggling to form sentences because I was so tired. Around that time, I cried because we had the wrong type of washing up sponge. There was no way I would have been able to function in a work environment. I would have been asleep at my desk, snapping at colleagues, crying into my tea and producing copy rife with spelling mistakes. I was a lactating, hormonal zombie mess.

In the Sunday Times article, Mary said about returning to work so soon; “I thought, well, if I leave my job I'll never get it back again.” It’s exactly this type of fear that maternity law aims to prevent. Mothers should feel able to stay home with their babies without having to worry about losing their job. Mary’s comments read like a hark back to the good old days.

Ah the good old days, when it was ok to make women redundant simply because they were pregnant. Or when you could legally discriminate against women simply for having the plumbing to one day produce offspring. Those days rocked.

Now, you can’t do that. And while it may seem, to people like Mary Berry, that it’s too cushy for parents these days. Britain is actually lagging behind on maternity law. I’m not saying we have it toughest, the US has pretty terrible maternity rights, actually. But, lots of countries are offering much better support to new families in the form of maternity pay, paternity leave and parental leave.

Mary Berry’s comments compare Britain now to Britain then, but what we should actually be doing is comparing Britain now to the rest of the world now. And most importantly, we should be looking at how we can improve our employment laws to offer new families much needed support.

There is a lot of guilt surrounding parenting, most likely because it is the important task we undertake in our life, and there is a lot at stake, so we fret that we are doing it wrong. Some women feel guilty, as Mary Berry says she did, for returning to work too soon, or at all. Others feel guilty for staying at home to raise a child.

My daughter turned one a couple of weeks ago. Before I went on maternity leave, I discussed with my employer that I would return to work in January. But, as my maternity leave progressed, I realised I wasn’t yet ready to leave my baby. I asked for some extra time off, unpaid, which was granted. I thought that if Ebony was a little older when I left, then I would feel more comfortable with it. As even more time passed though, it became glaringly obvious that I was still not ready to leave her.

I’m not making sweeping statements about other families, I’m just talking about mine, but I just felt that Ebony would benefit from me staying at home with her longer. I don’t want to go through the crying fits as I walk out of the door for work, I don’t want someone else to tell me what my child has been doing that day, and I don’t want to miss out on all of her firsts. I want her to know, without doubt, that I am always here if she needs me. I can’t do that if I’m sat at a desk an hour and a half away.

I will leave her, when she’s ready. When she’s at an age where I can explain to her that I’m going to work and will be back at the end of the day, and she will understand this, then I’ll start working again. For now, my work is here, at home, teaching Ebony about the world.

This has been a really difficult decision, and something I lost many hours sleep over. I didn’t just have a job, I had my dream job. And, because of what I do and where I live, resigning from this particular job was essentially closing the door on the job I’ve always wanted. I am worried that in the future, when I start looking for work again, and realise how rubbish all other jobs are, I will look back on this decision and feel sad. I hope that I don’t. I hope that instead, I look at Ebony, and realise how lucky I was to have the extra time with her. As my wise husband pointed out, you can’t predict the future, you have to make decisions based on what you know now. And what I know now is that Ebony will thrive best if we stay together a little longer.

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