What’s it like to return to the office from maternity leave without an office to return to? This is a question I’d foolishly hoped I wouldn’t have to answer. After all, I gave birth back in the first wave, and surely the world would be back on track by January 2021?
Like all “Covid mums”, I experienced moments of deep joy this year, but spent much of it pacing the streets, exhausted, alone with a newborn baby and nowhere to feed or change him apart from a park bench. Now I find myself trying to manage another rite of passage refracted through a Covid lens: the transition from full-time childcare to work.
I’m lucky to have spent my career surrounded by incredible working mums, and to have been raised by one. Working motherhood looked hard, but it was also something I aspired to.
On the first working day after Christmas, I ascended the stairs to shut myself in the attic, feeling a little like a modern update on Mrs Rochester.Jess Brammar
“Going back to work was when I really started to enjoy motherhood,” a friend told me once. “You have less time,” said another, “but you become so much more efficient.”
One colleague returned from her second maternity leave with the best work wardrobe in the building, and confided that she lines up all her work clothes in the spare room every Sunday night. I love my son’s company but I too imagined myself selecting an outfit unsuitable for grubby fingers and baby vomit, then standing on a packed commuter train feeling the strange levity of not being attached to a pram.
Then Covid happened. Still, the optimists were out in force. My partner is taking a couple of months of shared parental leave, meaning he will be looking after our son at home while I work here. People told me how much I’d enjoy cuddling the baby in between meetings. Others suggested I could carry on breastfeeding during the working day. Anyone who has done work calls with the laptop camera tilted up to hide the small human feeding in her...