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Simone Weilgus writes about her experience of pregnancy, a complicated childbirth and returning to work.
Having a child is one of the most life-changing experiences you can go through as a person, a couple (now a family) and believe it or not, as a professional. And yes, I had to read that last part again too.
The (short) background is that my partner and I planned to have a baby last year and were lucky enough to both be in good jobs (he was in insurance and I worked as a solicitor). We weren’t fabulously rich, but were well off in terms of expendable income. We both wanted to have children before we were 30. I told him I was pregnant on 4th July 2015. With work, I had to tell them earlier than I would have liked (at eight weeks) as I struggled with morning sickness. We had wanted to wait until the 12-week period had elapsed, but there was no hiding it.
The reason why I am writing this blog is that while the birth of a child is a wonderful gift, I saw small changes in the attitude of my work colleagues towards me (and a change in my own attitude) as a result of becoming pregnant. Some positive, some negative. I was taken off cases that I was able to do with one hand tied behind my back. At the time, I was a bit confused as to why this was happening. Was I being penalised for being pregnant? Didn’t they trust I could do the job any more? It got to the point where I was being massively overpaid for what I was doing.
I had a meeting with my boss and it was obvious that the pregnancy had affected my mindset. They were simply slowing down and reducing my workload in preparation for my maternity leave. I hadn’t been told this early enough, but after a meeting about my maternity leave it was fantastic to hear. In hindsight, I must have looked like an idiot marching in there complaining about not having enough work…
With my child’s birth, there were complications. Adriana Weilgus weighed in at 7lbs, but she endured injuries at birth. Adriana arrived with Neonatal Brachial Plexus Palsy (NBPP) (which, in short, means that there is loss of movement in the arm and/or damaged nerves; Adriana had the latter). This was deemed to have happened when the birth became complicated with ‘Shoulder Dystocia’ (when an infant’s head and shoulders get trapped behind the mother’s pelvic bone during delivery). We were said to be in the ‘unlucky 1%’. But apparently, in my case we were ‘lucky’ there wasn’t more damage.
I think it’s fair to say that panic set in. And, while Adriana made a full recovery, the seven months following her birth were heart-wrenching. Not knowing if your child will have full use of their arm keeps you up at night. I can’t even begin to imagine what parents of children with disabilities go through in comparison.
Being a solicitor, I had already told my workplace of the problems and, in strict confidentiality, they gave me advice about the support available and about compensation I could claim, if I thought it appropriate, to support Adriana in her recovery. I’d never been one to follow up these things, especially given my line of work, but, in this instance, I saw how it could help and, as a mother, there were different things to think about – it wasn’t a case of ‘ambulance chasing’, the common term used for people who pursue compensation claims.
For once I was the client, not the solicitor and to see it from the other side really opened my eyes. They train you to try to spot this sort of stuff, but you can never really prepare yourself. I even found myself looking on various websites about medical negligence to find out more information as it wasn’t my field. I’m glad to say we won and the payment was enough for my other half to take time off work to care for Adriana which is fantastic news as he was getting jealous of all the time off I’d had, although he wouldn’t admit it.
I couldn’t have asked for work to be better in terms of support, but I found it was me who was the problem. I wanted to get back to work and for it to be ‘business as usual’. My boss was superb, calling me into the office now and again to check up on me, but I was fairly stubborn about not wanting to be checked up on. I was back at work, that was it.
As for other employees, I got asked how my baby was, what she looked like (obviously taking after her mother rather than her father) and why I hadn’t brought her into work yet. So many questions that I just didn’t think I’d get asked. There was a part of me that wanted to tell everyone about the struggle we’d had at birth, but other parts of me that didn’t want the sympathy. I found myself bonding with employees who had previously had children a lot more than before I was pregnant and had a child – so much advice was given to me that it was hard to take it all in. Even people I had never spoken to were congratulating me and wishing the family well. It was a bit surreal.
Easing back in
The only problem we had with work was that they had hired someone to take on my role while I was off. Rather than advertising it as maternity cover, they got someone in on a full-time basis. After a couple of weeks back at work I’ll admit that things were a struggle and I did get pulled into the office to discuss if I was OK to come back to work. It felt like I was being compared to my ‘cover’, but once I had picked up all my work and settled back in, within a couple of months everything was fine – he was kept on and I was back to my original role. I think it was the shock of being off for so long and trying to get back to the level I was at straight away that was the mistake – as I was eased out, I should have eased myself back in and maybe doing three days a week for a couple of months would have suited me better.
Going back to work after birth is a challenge and the thing I’ve learnt and would advise others is to take that time off, ease back into work and use the support channels you have available. I think I did it the hard way and there were so many more options out there for us.