Guest blog

Blog – Maternity Leave Priorities

Blog from Emily Spencer

Reading Time: 5 minutes

“So, what do you do all day?” Perhaps an innocuous question, but one I’ve had to respond to relatively frequently over the past few months while on maternity leave. It is a firm favourite of friends of mine who don’t yet have children, whereas those who do seem to have slightly more fixed expectations about how I would spend my time. In this post, the latest in my series on new parenthood and academia, I’ll attempt to justify my use of time to myself, and to you.

Rather than being limited to nappy changes, naps and feeding, there are seemingly infinite ways to spend time with your baby – many of them at a cost. WhatsApp groups I’m part of are awash with invites to baby sensory classes, baby swim classes, baby massage, ‘Mozart and me’. I can’t say any of these opportunities particularly appeal, but on one occasion I was convinced to attend a baby music class. A couple of friends of mine go – who, like me, are musicians – so I figured it couldn’t be that bad. My first mistake was following through even after a particularly poor night’s sleep. My second was not checking whether my friends were actually going to be there. I turned up at the advertised time, quickly learned that things didn’t really kick off for another half hour, and that my baby was way younger than any of the others. Given that at the time he spent most of his life asleep, he wasn’t really able to engage. I got up for a minute just before the class started and some over-zealous grandparents swooped in on the sofa I had been occupying. I spent the rest of the session sitting at the back, before making the hastiest exit I could, never to return. Out of sheer exhaustion, which had exacerbated the anxiety I often feel in social situations, I cried my way home. It’s safe to say that those sorts of classes aren’t really my thing.

That’s not to say that I don’t have any regular activities scheduled in. Every Tuesday morning I can be happily found at my local independent cinema! I am a massive cinephile, and the idea of barely being able to go to the cinema (possibly ever again!) was horrifically depressing. So I was delighted to learn that a lot of cinemas do parent and baby screenings, through which the two of us have been able to tick off Poor Things, American Fiction and All of Us Strangers, to name but a few. Those two or three hours of relative relaxation and/or chaos are often the highlight of my week. I’ve also recently started attending a ‘buggy bootcamp’ – a weekly outdoor fitness class to which you bring your baby, which has been such a good way to start getting my fitness back.

That being said, when people ask about how I’ve been spending my time I do feel the slightest twinge of guilt. Partly because I sometimes feel like I should be doing all these classes, but just can’t bring myself to do it, but partly because in reality, with my time off, I have done an awful lot of work.

In a previous blog post I talked about the pressure of completing work before going on leave. I mentioned that in my last week of work I managed to submit one article to a journal, and finish the first draft of another. Those pieces of work were far from complete, however. I was aware that the second article needed a lot of work, so in January set myself the task of completely rewriting the discussion. I met up with a colleague to talk about the changes, and then given my baby had fallen asleep in his pram, decided to take advantage by parking him in the corner of our office and getting the bulk of the changes done then and there. I should emphasise, doing this work was my decision – another member of my team would happily have taken the article on, given I’m on leave. To me, though, it was so important that I saw it through to the point of submission. I wanted to finish what I had started.

In February the article had finally come together! I circulated the draft to my coauthors, incorporated feedback, and managed to submit to our journal of choice before my self-imposed deadline. I felt good about the article – surely it would be an immediate success??

Alas, no. Rather than the immediate success I had envisaged, it was quite the opposite. The journal came back with an almost embarrassingly prompt rejection. Where two weeks before I had felt so accomplished and like I was achieving so much with my maternity leave, all of a sudden I was questioning what on earth I was doing. The point of parental leave, funnily enough, isn’t to complete extra work off the clock, unpaid. Had I been sacrificing precious time with my child in a vain attempt to further my career? Had I been wasting my time? Being even slightly tired can throw everything out of whack, so I obviously started questioning whether I should even be doing a PhD (not that this work was even related to my studies). Was that year and a half of my life also wasted??

A week down the line, I’ve realised that it’s not the end of the world. We’ll make some tweaks, resubmit elsewhere, and I’m sure someone will be delighted to publish the fruits of our collective labour. But for me it has also been a helpful learning experience; using nap times to do a little work here and there is fine, so long as I’m keeping the main thing the main thing. It’s okay to lower my expectations for myself for the next few months! And on that note, the little guy has just woken up from his nap, so I am happily back to the day job.


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Emily Spencer

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Emily Spencer is a PhD Student at University College London looking at improving how GPs communicate with people with dementia and their family carers about their future care. Emily previous had a 5 year career break to pursue a career as a musician, and has previously undertaken research on improving the care people with dementia receive from their GP practice, as well as end-of-life and palliative care provision in the community. Emily is also a new mum and will be writing about her experiences navigating motherhood and a research career.

 

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Emily Spencer

Emily Spencer is a PhD Student at University College London looking at improving how GPs communicate with people with dementia and their family carers about their future care. Emily previous had a 5 year career break to pursue a career as a muscian, and has previously undertaken research on improving the care people with dementia receive from their GP practice, as well as end-of-life and palliative care provision in the community. Emily is also a new mum and will be writing about her experiences navigating motherhood and a research career.

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