Today I met with my lovely friend from Mother’s Group, Sarah Drew. Sarah has a heart of gold and is always the one to organise our regular group catch ups.
Sarah lives with her parent’s and her little boy, Stanley. Sarah decided to return to the family home so she could fulfil her dream of becoming a mother. Today is her day off from work. She and Stanley had spent the morning at a local play centre and he is now exhausted. As we sit at her parent’s kitchen table we can hear Stanley, crying for his mummy from his bedroom as his Granny tries to settle him for his day time sleep. Sarah puts the kettle on, explains that this is all part of his procrastination to fight sleep. Something I know too well! We quickly become engrossed in conversation about the challenges of still having a non sleeper at two and half and motherhood…
Here is Sarah’s journey…..
When did you know that you wanted to become a Mum?
I have always known that I wanted to be Mum. As a single woman, I started looking into how I could make my dream a reality about five years before I officially began the process.
Thankfully for me, the laws in Australia changed in 2010. Previously, only married couples were allowed to access to donor sperm. In 2010, the changed laws allowed for lesbian couples and single women to also access donor sperm. This made it so much easier for me as I didn’t have to leave the country.
How long did the process take?
From when I started researching my options, it took many years! Firstly, I had to undertake a lot of research and make sure that I had enough money to fund the process. I wanted to ensure that I was debt free and could enjoy my maternity leave when the time came. This meant, moving back home to my parent’s so I could save the money that I required. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to claim any of the expenses through Medicare. Medicare classified me as “socially infertile” which meant I didn’t qualify for any rebates, making it a very expensive process.
Once I had the money to do so, I contacted a fertility specialist. I met with five fertility specialist before I found the right one for me. From there, I had multiple tests and was referred to Melbourne IVF. I continued to have a number of other appointments. I met with nurses, patient liaison consultants, counsellors and donor nurses. I then had to complete a police check and working with children check. Once everything came back clear, I was eligible to go on the waiting list for a donor.
This process took about 5 months and then a further 6 weeks on the waiting list before I reached the top. When you get to the top of the list you are able to choose which donor you would prefer, from those available. I only had the option of one donor. I could either accept him or decline and wait for another to become available. Fortunately for me, the donor available was perfect. He had also written a beautiful letter to the children that made me cry. I knew instantly that this was the right donor for me.
I started my first cycle as soon as I could. To my surprise, I was pregnant the first time! I couldn’t believe it. It was meant to be!!
Tell me a little bit about your family
I am a single Mum. I have a two and half year old boy called Stanley and a little dog. We live with my Mum and Dad or as Stanley calls them Granny and Grumps. Then we have our extended family, Aunts, Uncles and cousins, who are often at Mum & Dad’s. The house is always bustling!
Tell me about your lifestyle and career before becoming a Mum
I was a workaholic! My life revolved around work. I was always striving to climb the ladder.
I was at the same workplace for fourteen years before I left. The business provided hospitality supplies and tourism publications. I was their Office Manager. Over the years, I worked in various positions across the organisation. I started as an Accounts Assistant. I then managed the Customer Service team. From there I moved into Purchasing before I became the Office Manager.
The environment was very fast paced, high pressured and stressful. However, the team was amazing and we kept each other sane amongst the chaos.
In regards to my lifestyle, I really enjoyed travelling. I travelled to Thailand, Nepal, India and Fiji. If there was a concert or show on in Melbourne, I had tickets! I loved going to restaurants. I was always out and about doing things. I was very rarely at home. It’s the complete opposite now!
When did you know you were ready to return to work? How old was Stanley?
I was originally supposed to return to work when Stanley was about 11 months old. However, I wasn’t ready and requested to extend my leave until after his first birthday. In the process of going back to work, I was made redundant from my position. My employer couldn’t offer me a suitable alternative so I decided not to go back. This process took a number of months and didn’t go anywhere for a long time which was extremely frustrating and difficult at the time.
I was then left with the decision of writing my resume (which I hadn’t done for fifteen years!) and entering the job market or spending some more time with Stanley. I didn’t have any financial burdens that required me to go back to work immediately so I decided to enjoy the extra time with my son whilst I could.
How long did it take you to find suitable employment?
I was extremely lucky. I had a chance conversation with my girlfriend in September 2015. She was planning on finishing her role at the end of the year and suggested that I apply. She removed herself from the process and I sent in my resume. I completed two interviews and I was offered the role. It was meant to be! The timing was perfect.
Tell me about your job and what you do
I am the Office Manager for an Occupational Therapist. I am the first point of contact for new clients. I look after all the administration and make sure that everything runs smoothly from the back end. I started the role in November 2015. I have been there now for about 9 months.
My new workplace is the complete opposite from my previous employer. It’s not stressful at all. My manager is a mother of three so she understands completely about the necessity of creating a balance between work and home life.
Was your employer accommodating and understanding to your new situation?
Very accommodating! I work four days per week. Five hours a day. My hours are 9:30am – 2:30pm. If I need to work extra hours to complete additional work, my Manager is very happy for me to do so. If I need to swap days or take time off for Stanley, she is very flexible. I certainly think this is because she is a working Mum herself.
Your biggest concerns and worries about going back to work were…..
I think because I had been with my previous employer so long, I was worried that everything I knew was related to that particular organisation. I was concerned that my skills weren’t going to be transferable and that I was possibly going to need to retrain myself.
At my previous employer, I was the go to for everything IT related. I was very IT savvy. However, they operated a Mac environment. My new employer is set up with PC’s. I was initially really worried as to whether my technical ability would transfer to a PC environment.
My concerns weren’t needed. I very quickly adapted to using a PC and my office administration skills transferred with ease.
How do you feel emotionally when you are work?
I felt really guilty in the beginning. I felt guilty that I was leaving Stanley in Mum and Dad’s care four days a week. I raised the option of putting him in childcare however it wasn’t met very well.
In the end, I think having Mum and Dad look after Stanley made my return to work transition a lot easier. I knew that he was going to be at home, in the same environment, with the same people and in the same routine. I therefore wasn’t anxious about leaving him. I think it’s so wonderful that Stanley is able to spend this time with his grandparents. He has such a special bond with both of them.
It’s also really nice to go to work and have conversations with other adults and to have returned to the work environment in general.
How long did it take you to get into the “groove” of your new routine?
It didn’t take long at all. I started at the end of November. I had a one week handover with my predecessor and then three weeks later the office closed for Christmas. My Manager was very accommodating. As I was taking on additional work as well as catching up on all the back log before the new year began, she closed the office for an additional week. I was therefore able to came in and work away without having to worry about the usual day to day administration.
How do you juggle work and motherhood?
Reasonably easily at the moment with the support that I have living at home. My working hours being 9:30am – 2:30pm are also a huge help. They will be very handy down the track for school pick-ups and drop offs. My hours also mean that I’m not contending with too much traffic. It takes me less than 20 minutes to get to work. I feel extremely fortunate.
What support structures do you have in place to help you throughout your week?
My Mum and Dad are the key to my survival. They are my go to in every possible way. Mum helps me with Stanley in the morning. She happily gets him dressed and gives him breakfast so I can get ready for work.
What childcare arrangements do you have in place?
For the first 8.5 months Mum and Dad looked after Stanley whilst I was at work. As of last week, he has just started childcare two days a week. I decided about four months ago that he needed to start having greater interaction with other children. I didn’t want him to start kinder next year without doing so. I had his name down at three centres and we couldn’t get into any of them.
By chance, my friend from Mother’s Group and I were talking about kinder options for next year and she mentioned a brand new childcare centre/kindergarten that was opening up around the corner. I called them straight away. I had a tour the following day and put down a deposit straight away. The centre was perfect. It had such great feeling.
What do you do if your child is sick on one of your work days?
Mum and Dad will look after him but if he is really sick and just needs me then I organise to stay home from work. My employer is really accommodating.
How do you cope with sleepless nights when you have work the following day?
You just do it! Sleepless nights are a normal night’s sleep for us. Stanley has never been a good sleeper. In order for both us to get more sleep, I gave in and he now sleeps in my bed. This way, I’m not spending an hour trying to settle him in his room. To then go back to my room for 20 minutes before he wakes and I have to start the resettling process again.
What aspects of being a Mum do you find challenging?
My levels of patience! Stanley is generally wonderful and well behaved for everybody except me. Somehow, from a very early age he has learnt how to push all my buttons! He is always challenging me.
I find that on the back of our sleepless nights my patience at home can be very low. There are times when I have to walk away and Granny comes and takes over. It’s a bit like good cop / bad cop and I’m usually the bad cop!
I also find discipline very challenge. How do you discipline a 2.5 year old, particularly when they argue with you about everything! We have recently introduced a naughty chair. He hates it! He has only been on it a couple of times, and he has balled his eyes out. We aim for about two minutes on the chair and then we have a talk about what he has done and why is on the naughty chair.
I have started to notice that he now role plays with his toys and puts them on the naughty chair. The other day, his toy crocodile was on the naughty chair for biting Mum. At least it looks like he is getting the idea!
What time management secrets do you have up your sleeve?
If you need to go shopping, don’t take you child! It seriously does take three time as long with a toddler in tow! If I need to get things done, I do them on the way home from work. I know that as soon as I walk in the door, it’s impossible to get out again.
What skills or behaviours has motherhood taught you that you have been able to utilise back in the workforce?
I probably do have more patience in this workplace. I don’t know whether it’s a side effect for motherhood, the environment or because I am more conscious of it now. It’s funny, I have less patience at home but more at work, something I clearly need to work on!
I do find that I forget things more easily now so I write down everything. I always have multiple note pads and I’m constantly writing lists as I’m juggling so many things.
If you look back at your working self before you became a Mum and compare yourself to the person you are today, do you think you have changed? If so, how and why?
The only thing I would say is that I am less concerned about money. I’m sure that sounds strange as I am now supporting a little person. I have now learnt to live within my means. You don’t need all of life’s luxuries. For one, you don’t have time!
I am also less stressed. I never think about work at home. I make sure that work stays at work. When I am work I am 100% focussed on work and when I am at home I’m 100% focussed on being a Mum. I know that Stanley is well looked after and happy when I am working. I now live for my little man and not for work!
What do you enjoy most about being a working Mum?
I am still waiting for the day when I walk in the door at home and I receive a big welcome home from Stanley. I get greeted like that on childcare days but not at home. He is having too much fun with Granny and Grumps.
I love going to work for the conversations and to be able to utilise my skills, but I really enjoy my day off during the week. Stanley and I spend the day together. I just have to make a conscious effort to not book in all my appointments on this day so we get to enjoy quality time.
Night time in your household looks like…….
Chaos!!! Lots of stalling! We all eat dinner together. I do the cooking when I get home. If Stanley is really tired, we all eat early. Dinner can be anywhere from 5:30-7:00pm. He then has some playtime with Grumps. He always wants to watch TV but he isn’t allowed. His bath or shower can be in the morning or a night, it just depends on the plan for the day. We then start the process of teeth and pyjamas but this seems to take forever! Granny reads him a story. It’s usually Granny, Stanley, the dog and I all in his room for story time. Granny then leaves and I start the going to sleep process. He is usually asleep by 9pm. It doesn’t matter what time I start bedtime. It always results in 9pm.
Mornings in your household look like…….
Mornings start anytime from around 6am. Stanley wakes and decides that it’s time for everyone to get up. I usually try and keep him contained so the whole house isn’t woken up but as soon as he knows Granny is awake, nothing holds him back! I’m usually up with him too but sometimes I try and sneak in an extra 30 minutes in bed, if I can. The three of us have breakfast together. I then start getting ready for work and Granny looks after Stanley. She will finish giving Stanley his breakfast and will get him dressed. He is usually playing happily with his cars or reading stories with Granny by the time I’m walking out the door.
The best advice you have been given about motherhood is……..
I actually don’t take on much advice. Throughout my pregnancy, I didn’t read any books or online information.
My Mum looked after children when we were little and I have watched a lot of my friends with children. I soon realised that every child is different. It doesn’t matter what a book tells you, they are going to do their own thing. I have certainly listened to friends and family but Stanley and I tend to work things out together.
What has your own mother taught you about life and motherhood?
Everything! You now appreciate and understand what they went through when they raised us.
Mum had four children plus all the ring ins! Mum run a family daycare from home when we were growing up and before she had us, she worked in childcare. Our house was always full. I don’t know how she did it!
We have named her the GRANDmother. Whenever something needs to be known, GRANDmother will always have the answer.
How do you treat yourself?
If I have anytime to myself at home, I like to crochet. I used to really enjoy reading. Sadly, I haven’t picked up a book for a very long time. Actually, I don’t think I can even remember the last time I picked up a book. I also used to love going to the movies or watching a film at home, another past time that is now so rare.
What approach do you take to your own health and wellbeing…?
I really struggle with it. I do have a membership to the pool. However, I now always feel guilty about taking the time for myself to exercise. Especially because Mum and Dad look after Stanley during the day. I don’t feel that it’s fair to ask them to do additional hours so I can exercise.
Before I had Stanley, I would go to the gym and do the fun run walks. Unfortunately, at the moment, I find that it’s in the too hard basket. It’s my work in progress shall we say…
Your child has taught you…….
That I don’t have anywhere as much patience as I need.
Life as a working mother is…….
Interesting! There is always something going on but there is never enough time.
What do you think being a working Mum teaches your children?
Reality! The reality of life. Stanley often says, “I don’t want you to go to work.”
I explain that I have to go to work to get money so we can do things together.
What advice would you give to Mums who are about to start the return to work journey?
Take it daily! You’ll feel guilty, you’ll feel great. You’ll be up and down like a roller coaster.
If you’re thinking about returning to work, do get in touch. I would love to help you return to work with confidence, to start achieving your career goals!