Returning from maternity leave

Working parents face many challenges throughout their careers and I think this is relatable to a large swathe of the population, but this is my own perspective of that journey as a female engineer, now mum to an 8 month old. 

The specific hurdles that my partner and I would face weren’t immediately apparent when we decided to start a family; it took time to work through them to get where we are now. For instance, I had to make the decision to let my manager and HR business partner know about my pregnancy much earlier than required by law, and even before I told family and friends. Every employer should undertake a risk assessment for pregnant employees but in the environment I work in I was aware that there were several risk factors which I needed to consider early on - chemicals, strong electro-magnetic fields, heavy lifting; all things which had different safe limits in pregnancy. My employer was very supportive and throughout my pregnancy I was essentially on desk work. This wasn’t the most exciting for me but luckily a lot of my work is desk based and I know it was best for my baby. This meant the rest of my team picking up on-site duties that I would previously have undertaken. 

During my first pregnancy I suffered a miscarriage whilst I was working approximately 400 miles from home (which is common in my role). I returned home and took a short leave period after this but I didn’t tell everyone at work what had happened until some time after. It did concern me at the time how this sudden unexplained leave might affect how people treated me at work but I don’t think it had a long term effect. I work in a predominantly male environment and I think this affected who I felt I was able to talk to about what had happened. I am sure that I have some of the best colleagues it’s possible to have though, so I found some great support there when the time came.

Happily, this period was soon followed by a successful pregnancy. However, by the time my daughter was born I had been off my normal duties for over a year. I decided to take 6 months of maternity leave as my partner is self-employed and has very flexible hours, and I was really keen to get back to doing the job I love. 

We had a big project kicking off the day I returned to full time duties, that I had been involved in planning before my maternity leave started. I was desperate to get on-site again so I dragged the family with me when my daughter was only 7 months old (for which I need to thank both my partner and my employer for supporting) and was delighted to spend time with my team again (let’s not forget this also all happened during Covid!). It was fantastic to be able to see something I had spent so long planning come to life. Throughout my return to work I was also breastfeeding my daughter, so I also faced the challenge of pumping three times at work and an increase in feeds in the evening and overnight. Again, my employer was great here too and provided me with a private room I could use for this when required. Unfortunately they couldn’t stop my daughter from waking up 3-4 times per night! I was working 10 out of 11 days during this period, which is normal for short intense project work, so I missed my daughter terribly, but it is a magical feeling to return home after a long day to big smiles and squirmy legs.
I’ve often discussed with friends how we are told that we can be mothers and career women. In my experience it took a lot of support to make this happen (from my partner, my colleagues, my employer, the local breastfeeding support team), and a degree of luck. Throughout my own experience I have learned to adjust my expectations. I know there are many more challenges to come, as my girl grows up and I want to progress my career in parallel, but I feel prepared to take them on and I hope my experience helps any other women who might be considering a similar journey.

Katherine Asvegren, VPI

INWED 2021 - Wednesday