I moved to London six years ago on my first “OE”, also known as an Overseas Experience. The move to the UK is something that is ingrained in New Zealand culture, having ancestral ties to Britain and a chance for us to see the world before too many big life commitments. Off I went, halfway across the globe, with my one 20kg suitcase, basically I couldn’t be moving anywhere further away from my home. Keen and eager to see as much of Europe as possible, get a cool job in “Shoreditch”, save my pounds, do my two-year working visa and move home again. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that London would be the place I would meet my future husband and five years later we would have our own little family here in London.
When I got pregnant, it all happened pretty quickly. We hadn’t given it too much thought, we both just knew we wanted to start a family. Each of us having strong ties with our parents and siblings, we were completely aligned when it came to core family values. We had enjoyed our twenties being selfish, seeing the world, focusing on our careers and living avid social lives so we came to the conclusion our thirties were a good time to give back.
When I first announced the news to some of our closest friends, they often reacted by asking if we would move home? I was shocked. If anything, the thought of moving halfway across the world with a protruding belly was more daunting than the labour. Packing up everything up, leaving our friends (who had become like our family) and qualifying for no maternity leave was most certainly out of the question. We were staying.
At the time I was working at a creative digital agency and for any one that’s worked agency side will know the hours can sometimes be a little unpredictable. The agency was small and intimate, it was hard to hide the fatigue. I was a religious prosecco drinker, loved my morning coffee and a late night pitch session, then all of a sudden, I was saying “no” to the stuff. When I was finally able to announce my happy news, I was surprised to learn that most of my staff already knew.
At the agency I was the first ever female to take maternity leave, there had been two men who had taken Paternity leave, so I felt like a bit of a guinea pig and worried profusely I was going to end up with a crappy deal. Thankfully my boss was super understanding, having two kids of his own, and kindly offered an industry standard enhanced maternity leave package.
My biggest struggles:
The daily hangover — yep the pain is real. It’s not just morning sickness, it’s all day, every day sickness, or better still 24/7 sickness. Basically, feeling seedy becomes the norm up until about sixteen weeks. I feel completely utterly envious of anyone who claims they didn’t get sick during their first trimester. I’m not going to lie, it really can be a cruel time! Advice: eat something every morning as soon as you get up, such as dry toast, strangely this did wonders! Oh, and wear the badge, even though you may not be showing, you will need that seat by the door.
Fatigue — this word will take a whole new meaning. You think you’ve been tired before? I remember going to bed at 8pm most nights, waking at 7am and feeling like I could sleep all day. Slow down as much as you can, it’s hard work growing a tiny human!
Socialising — The general rule of pregnancy is that you should wait past the 12 week mark before you break the news. This is because there is a still a relatively high chance of miscarriage, so they recommend at least waiting until your first scan to get the all clear. Hiding your pregnancy until then can be a real challenge socially. In a way, I became a bit of a recluse, last minute declining Facebook events, attending client lunches where I’d have sneak into the toilets to tip my prosecco down the sink, this can be a really challenging time if you’re used to being social. Advice: Fake it till you make it, Becks Blue, sparkling grape juice and mocktails are great substitutes. Also, if you can I would advise telling your boss as soon as possible, if anything it will work in your favour!
Cravings — Yes, this is a thing, well it was for me! Every morning when I’d come out of the tube station, I’d get this uncontrollable urge to eat a Croissant. I also became obsessed with Pret Pickle and cheese sandwiches, beer and biltong (two things I usually don’t like) and I completely despised coffee. My Advice: Always carry snacks, no one likes a HANGRY pregnant lady!
What to wear? — Thankfully I quite like oversized style clothing anyway, so a lot of things I managed to wear right the way throughout my pregnancy, however some things were not really work appropriate. Thankfully for ASOS, Topshop and H&M maternity ranges, I could jump online and buy in bulk, I recommend a couple of outfits that you can put on rotate!
Crazy Hormones — By this stage in my design career I had learnt not to be precious about my design work, criticism was only constructive and design changes part of agile / iterative ways of working. Pregnancy hormones told me otherwise! I remember being asked by my Project Manager to change the background image on a website I’d only spent a day on, and I almost lost the plot. I was so angry! Be prepared for mood swings, those hormones can be totally crazy.
Baby brain — Be aware of forgetfulness. I left my gym bag on the tube twice, the first time I was lucky it was handed in at the end of the district line, the second time, I was not so lucky. My husband found this hilarious. I also had an incident at work where I thought I’d clean up the files on my desktop, and when emptying my trash can, somehow managed to delete half the files on the work shared google drive. It was a very stressful few days to say the least.
The working desk — By this stage your bump is becoming rather round and large, sometimes sitting quite high. I worked right up to my due date and found the desk situation in the final few weeks very difficult, especially while working on pixel perfect designs. Surely other women have experienced this before. Here is a quick solution!
London Commuting — you’ve all heard about the woman that gave birth in an Uber? With out a car in London, and a 60-minute door to door commute each day, my biggest fear was my water breaking on the northern line! To combat this, I requested to work from home every Friday in my last trimester, and the whole week before I was due. Mobility becomes quite hard by this stage, so every little bit of working flexibility can make a huge difference. Oh, and keep wearing the badge!
Fear/Sudden Insecurity — According to the Guardian 70% of women fear taking a career break when going on maternity leave. Admittedly, I was one of them. Throughout my pregnancy, but particularly in my last trimester I began to worry that my replacement designer would out shine me. I often had nightmares that they would be so good that perhaps my boss would ask them to permanently take my role. I know I was in a senior role, but I still had this strange fear (my competitiveness and the pregnancy hormones probably didn’t help here).
My advice would be to stop worrying — your design/code or whatever skillset you have won’t vanish into thin air when you go and have a baby. You are qualified and if you need peace of mind do some side projects on maternity leave. I found myself building wedding websites and designing invitations, logos — even baby birth posters and quotes over this period. I would highly recommend, if you can, reaching a senior position before you decide to have a baby this is mainly so that when you come back you won’t have to start all over again. You have experience and credibility, you know how to juggle and delegate, and your company should trust you to work flexibly.
Finding Community — Neither my husband nor I have any parents here, just siblings, so we decided it was important to find our own little community. We joined an antenatal group in Wimbledon called NCT and have made some lovely friends! London also has lots of other great groups.
On May 15th 2017 we were graced with our beautiful baby boy, Harvey. From then on it was five months, one of which I shared with my husband, learning about our baby. Adrenaline and a whole new kind of love mixed with no sleep makes it a bit of a rollercoaster but overall my maternity leave was a really lovely time. Harvey consumed me. I switched off from work (most of time) and wanted to learn everything about this little guy. We lived in the parks, pubs and even took Harvey to the Amalfi coast in Italy, at a mere 3 months.
Returning to work
I returned to work when Harvey five months old. Many people ask if this was hard, and I guess it was looking back, but I didn’t know any different. That was our plan and we stuck to it. It was a big adjustment initially, clothes felt a bit tight, I missed Harvey, arrived at work with milk vomit on my top, or Sophie the giraffe in my handbag. I was still breastfeeding, taking three micro breaks during the working day to go and express milk in the office meeting room (boy that didn’t feel weird) and at the end of my day literally running from the station because my milk was about to explode. It was a tricky time.
However, there was a silver lining…
I learnt to savour those moments I used to take for granted, such as going to get a coffee with some peace and quiet on my own for 10 minutes, catching up with girl friends for lunch that don’t have kids and got back into some exercise.
I had a new motivation to drive and succeed. I felt proud that I had something to do alongside being a Mum, I had a sense of self, a job that was for me and my interests. I also learnt to delegate, ask for help and be more organised — thank the lord for my Amazon Prime and Ocado subscriptions. This is a must for any London work mum to get their monthly supply of nappies and wipes!
Time for a change
After a few months back at work, I realised the agency had changed quite a lot, new people, and I felt ready for something new. One of my fellow colleagues had made the move to Compare the Market, and I missed him, so I basically followed him! Also the unpredictable working hours of agency life wasn’t going to work for my new parenting routine and I required a lot more flexibility. So, I made the move in house to Compare the Market.
Here I start work a bit later so I can do the nursery drop off, and always make sure I’m home for dinner and Harvey’s bath time. But I do open the laptop after he is in bed if I need to. I have been very fortunate to work from home two days a week, one in which I take Harvey to a specialist group communications class. There are still days from time to time when I feel out of comfort zone. Harvey might wake up in the night because he’s growing a new tooth, or he’s struck with chicken pox. So be prepared for it and just roll with it! It’s part of the wild ride of parenthood.
Overall if there was one key piece of advice I would share with new or expectant parents, it’s to remember:
1. You don’t have to give up your work life for parenthood.
2. You shouldn’t apologise for being a mum/dad AND having a career.
3. You can combine the two, and we are very fortunate to be in a career such as tech that you can!
Some good sources for new parents:
My favourite book
I’m not fat I’m pregnant — Jacqui Brown