Social Media Manager Helen Downing-Johnson opens up about her experiences returning to the agency world after maternity leave.
I love my role as social media manager at MYC. Having been on maternity leave twice, I’ve always looked forward to coming back to work here – catching up with clients and colleagues, and getting stuck in with exciting projects.
Of course, juggling childcare and copywriting isn’t without its challenges. But the flexible nature of my job has allowed me to strike a balance between mum and social media management duties.
Here’s how I’ve adjusted to my new, dual role.
The maternity bubble
From the moment that I first found out I was pregnant, I knew that going back to work was something that I wanted – even though it terrified me.
Maternity leave is a bubble. Your days are filled with baby classes and meeting mums for coffee, and your mind is preoccupied with everything relating to your new child. Sure, it’s an incredible time (the sleepless nights and confusion are all worth it when you see their first smile, watch their first steps and hear their first word), but it’s unlike anything else that you’ll ever be faced with. I can hold my hands up and say that, more than once, I was out of my comfort zone.
And just as you think you’ve got this ‘new parent’ thing under control, you realise that your maternity leave is coming to an end. If you thought having a new baby was daunting, wait until you have to think about returning to the real world and going back to work!
Returning to the agency world
After finishing maternity leave with my first daughter Harriet in 2018, I settled her into childcare and slotted myself back into employment, relieved at having the opportunity to use my brain again. MYC offered me a flexible, part-time role, and I managed to find a great work/life balance – which isn’t always easy for working parents.
Of course, there was a little ‘mum guilt’ over not being there for every single moment. And there were challenges, such as when Harriet felt sick and only wanted me. But the beauty of a flexible role is that I was able to work core office hours, and pick and choose the rest of the time. I was also able to work from anywhere – be it the office, home, or my parents’ house in a different city.
Adjusting to the ‘new normal’
Coming back from maternity leave the second time was a whole other ball game! After two years and another 10 months on maternity leave with Eliza, my second daughter, my return to work coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic.
I’d done some ‘keeping in touch days’ and felt excited about working with both the team and clients again. Eliza had started her settling-in sessions at childcare with her older sister, and I was looking forward to getting back to work. But with the country on lockdown, it was going to be a very different experience.
I’m used to working from home, but throw into the mix my husband (still working full-time), two kids and the cat… well, you can imagine the chaos! Fortunately, my hours enable us to fit work around each other. Although it can be hard on occasion, I’m so grateful for the time we’ve been able to have as a family.
Workwise, we’ve adapted as a team with virtual catch-ups in the morning, which I try to join as much as possible – successful breakfast permitting! We keep in touch throughout the day on Slack too, and have a dedicated ‘you okay’ channel for some water-cooler chit-chat. It’s been fantastic to be able to have these daily communications, and it’s helped me ease back into office life and feel part of a connected team again.
All in all, I’ve loved getting back to work and can’t wait until lockdown is lifted so that I can return to the office. Transitioning to employment after having a baby is a big deal, it’s a very emotional time – global pandemic or not. Having an understanding employer is so important, and I couldn’t feel any more supported than I do.
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