This morning I was late for work.
I’m sure we’ve all been there; you’ve slept through your alarm or it’s not gone off for some reason, there’s been an accident on the motorway or your bus didn’t stop despite you frantically trying to flag it down. People who say they’ve never, ever been late are either fibbing or should be made to fib so that the rest of us feel a tiny little bit better about ourselves and our unintentional, occasional tardiness.
This morning, not only did both the Northern One and I both manage to sleep through my alarm but Squidge decided to have a lie-in this morning instead of waking at some unearthly hour to start shouting for his pre-breakfast milk. So when I did eventually wake up and blearily reached for my phone to check what time it was, it quickly became apparent that my shift was about to start and I was still in bed.
After a mad dash of showering, putting my make up on (there was no way I was leaving the house without it) and accidentally leaving my lunch in the fridge, I made it to work in record time AND I still managed to find a parking space, but only because it was early on Saturday. I ran up the corridor, threw my bag into the staff room and dashed into the intensive care nursery apologising profusely and hoping that I’d not made myself too unpopular with my colleagues who’d been covering for me for the last hour.
I truly hate being late; it has me feeling completely frazzled before the day has even started, I feel guilty for not being at work on time, I worry that it makes me look really unprofessional and I spend the day feeling as though I’ve forgotten to do something vitally important.
As far as today was concerned, my timing couldn’t have been an awful lot worse. After having 14 months off work due to pregnancy-related illness and maternity leave, five months back at work and then three months sick leave with depression and medication changes Occupational Health decided that it was in everyone’s best interests for me to have a ‘staged return’ this time around. After three weeks of being even more part-time than usual, this week was the first time I’d worked my full part-time hours since I was signed off sick by my eternally helpful and understanding GP.
The first shift this week went without a hitch, apart from me feeling so tired at one slow point in the afternoon that I briefly considered whether I’d fit in the incubator with a particularly snuggly looking baby. The second shift however, was on Saturday, now otherwise known as ‘late day’.
After the morning rush settled down I was summoned into the Sister’s office with the panic-inducing words ‘Have you got five minutes?’ I followed her down the corridor with wobbly knees and shaking hands, knowing that I was in trouble and that in all honestly it was entirely justified. I was vaguely aware that I could hear the ringing sound you get when you stand up too quickly and you know that if you don’t sit down quickly your body is going to take matters into its own hands.
Her first (and entirely justified) point was that I hadn’t yet been to apologise to her for being late. I’d asked the Northern One to phone work (while I dashed about the house and tried not to mix up my deodorant and hairspray) so they did know where I was and what was happening. Once I actually got to work everyone (including the Sister) was busy and in my embarrassment I just wanted to start my day and catch up as quickly as possible. Of course this doesn’t change the fact that I didn’t go and apologise and I like to think that I’m old enough to not try and make excuses but I honestly thought it was better if I just got on with things.
Her second point was that my sleeping through my alarm and subsequently being late showed her that I wasn’t ready to be back at work.
Apart from one day when I got my shifts mixed up (one of the perils of shift work) and didn’t realise I was supposed to be at work I have never been late. I may not always find it that easy to get up in the morning but one my alarm goes off for work I’m up (no pressing the snooze button) and out of the house within half an hour. At the risk of sounding overly keen, I am the person stood in front of the handover board before anyone else, learning the names of the babies and mentally preparing myself for the day ahead. My interpretation of this one-off situation, therefore, was that I needed a more obnoxious-sounding alarm on my phone, not that I wasn’t fit to be in work.
I left the office feeling physically sick; not because I’d essentially been told off (although who enjoys that) but because the Sister had successfully tapped into almost every single one of my misgivings about returning to work, being a working mum and being a nurse full stop.
I am not the same nurse now that I was before I found out I was pregnant. Over the past two years I have been off work for a total of 17 months, over which time I have had a baby, fought an almost constant battle with my mental health and become a very different person. In terms of being a nurse I’ve generally become deskilled and out of practice; my knowledge is rusty and it feels like I’m learning some things all over again. During these same two years, colleagues who I considered myself equal to in terms of competency have become increasingly more skilled. several have been promoted and who I am now miles behind.
In the great scheme of things it may not feel like something I should be upset about; I have a beautiful son, a wonderful husband, a stable home and a job that I love but honestly it really does get to me. I truly do love my job; it’s a big part of how I am, how I perceive myself and how I measure my self worth. Before my combined sick/maternity leave I prided myself on being someone who could be trusted to properly care for the absolute sickest babies and I spent almost every shift in Intensive Care, looking after babies with complex needs but since I’ve returned to work that’s no longer the case.
On several occasions, when my mental health has been at its lowest ebb I have honestly felt as though depression has taken almost everything from me. It’s also been all too easy to associate, and therefore blame being pregnant for the dramatic downward spiral that my mental health took. I love Squidge so very, very much and I would not change him for the world but equally I’m very aware that my life now can’t be the same as it was before; be it work life, social life or home life. I know this and yet it is still difficult to accept how much things have changed (and will continue to change), especially when it comes my career.
It took me most of the day, but by the end of my shift I decided that I wasn’t going to go home and announce to the Northern One that I was a useless nurse and that I was giving up work to be a stay-at-home mum. While I could have picked a far better day to be late for the first time in three years, it didn’t mean that my career is over. Being the mum of a small child has taught me many things but one of the most important (apart from never leaving the house without baby wipes and an emergency biscuit) is the ability to not blow minor events out of proportion, or ‘catastrophising.’ This is something that I’m still far too good at but I’m working on it, along with plenty of other things,
I know I’m no longer one of the most competent nurses on the unit, in fact I’m probably somewhere below average but I also know that it doesn’t have to stay that way. I may never feel as though I’ve ‘caught up’ with some colleagues but all the knowledge and skills I had before are still there, I just need to give them time to come back. I also need to remember that I have done something hugely valuable with my time away from work; I’ve managed to grow, safely deliver and begin to raise a gorgeous, clever, cheeky little boy.
Also, clearly I need to change the alarm on my phone to something far louder and more obnoxious, but that’s already been taken care of.
Louise is a full time mum and a part time neonatal nurse who has battled depression for many years but particularly during her pregnancy. She lives with her husband (the Northern One) their little boy (Squidge) and their three guinea pigs who live in the kitchen.
Louise blogs at 23weeksocks (http://23weeksocks.com) about lots of different (and seemingly unconnected) topics that she’s passionate about, including mental health, antenatal depression, neonatal care and baby loss.
In 2015 she was shortlisted in the ‘Fresh Voice’ category for the BIB (Brilliance in Blogging) Awards and the ‘Bereavement Worker’ category for the Butterfly Awards. She was also one of the keynote speakers at BritMums Live reading’Twinkle Twinkle’ which was her account of caring for a premature baby on the day that he died.