Maternity leave and why it’s not just about the money for a mum over 40

Before I gave birth to Cyrus in July, I was determined to return to work full-time by January 2017. It seemed like the right thing to do as a mum over 40 who had known little else for such a long time.

A few months of caring for my new baby was all it took to drastically change my view and what I’ve come to realise is that no amount of Maternity leave is ever going to be enough for me as a new mum.

Maternity leave is in the news at the moment following an analysis by the TUC, which reveals that statutory maternity pay for UK mums is among the worst in Europe.

Meanwhile I am currently in my eighth month off work and being in the UK, I feel lucky to have be entitled to Statutory Maternity pay for nine months. It’s certainly better than nothing after all, so I’m not going to get caught up in this debate.

Disregarding the money issue during leave, what I have found stressful while trying to ‘enjoy the moment’ has been the uncertainty of a nursery place for Cyrus. Maternity leave has been no ‘holiday’ as some people refer to it.

Being an older mum-to-be I had everything planned out before he was ever born. I was keen to return to work in January with the support of a nursery or childminder.

There was one issue. We were moving and didn’t know where to until I was in my final weeks of pregnancy. Click here to read more.

I started trying to figure everything out in the first few weeks after we moved home, while still recovering from a rather physically taxing labour.

I’m glad we had SMP to fall back on at this time because I couldn’t imagine having had to return to work in those first few weeks.

Now everyone’s experience is different, but for me, I had prepared an extensive checklist before calling around the nurseries. It was a big decision and I had to get it right.

I had all the basics covered. Cost, location, proximity to nearby primary school and home, opening hours and flexibility. I’d created a shortlist of those I wanted to visit and also received recommendations from other working mums.

I thought I had it all covered until I called them. One by one, the staff apologised saying they didn’t have space for Cyrus in January. In fact many of them couldn’t guarantee him a place until September.

It was difficult for me to hear because I wanted a sense of routine again. I needed adult company on a daily basis again and some mental stimulation – hence the blog which began in January.

In the first month off, it was hard enough to just to eat, shower and sleep, never mind worry about whether I’d get a nursery place or not. I hadn’t imagined that babies-to-be would be given places ahead of Cyrus.

It has taken eight months of leave for Cyrus to finally be offered a nursery place that I’m happy with and now I feel guilty about returning to work full-time.

I know he will probably love going and it’s a great way for him to bond with other children…but I worry that we won’t be as close.

There are times when I fear that something will go wrong while he’s there and I won’t be there for him, like I am now. I know it’s irrational thinking, but having had eight months of bonding, I now feel like I can’t let go.

Maternity leave doesn’t last forever and even if I’d had another two months of paid leave or even more money during my leave, I’d still feel guilty for going back to work. It’s natural.

My only hope is that everything goes smoothly, I don’t cry on my first day when I drop him off and I don’t miss out on too many ‘firsts’.

Everyone’s life circumstances are different and you can only ever do your best by living within your means (wise words from my gran).

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