Last week, like many other parents, I fretted, worried and shed a few tears as my child went off on an exciting new adventure. Although Squidge was going to a new nursery as opposed to starting at a new school I spent most of the day worrying about him and then raced home from work, barely making it through the door before I started bombarding the Northern One with questions about how Squidge’s first day had been.
Squidge has been going to nursery for over a year now and I took him for his first nursery visit when he was three months old. When he was six month old, because I was climbing the walls with boredom and lack of adults to talk to, I went back to work part-time, meaning that Squidge went to nursery two days per week. When he was a year old we increased his nursery days from two to three so that no matter what days I worked during the week I always got at least one day at home by myself, which turned out to be crucial in keeping my mental health on the straight and narrow.
Due to my working ‘long days’ (a shift pattern where the working day lasts thirteen hours) Squidge can’t go to nursery in the town where I work. Equally, he can’t go to nursery in the village where we live because nowhere opens early enough for either me or the Northern One to drop him off before we go to work so Squidge goes to nursery near the hospital where the Northern One works.
For the first year of Squidge being in nursery this arrangement worked really well. Due to it’s proximity to the hospital the nursery manager understood things like shift patterns and the possibility of their being some sort of emergency at the hospital, meaning that the Northern One might sometimes be a bit late picking Squidge up. The nursery itself was fantastic and Squidge absolutely loved going; practically throwing himself out of the Northern One’s arms each morning so that he could go any play. There were never any tears or not wanting to be left and he always came home tired, dirty and happy from playing in the garden, doing arts and crafts and learning exciting new things.
A few months ago however, the Northern One discovered that he’d been assigned to work at a different hospital and, as a result, Squidge would have to go to a new nursery. Unless, that is, I looked for a job at the hospital where the Northern One already worked. For about a week this seemed like the best plan; Squidge would be able to stay at the same nursery and I would be able to make a fresh start on a new unit which was also less intensive than the unit I already worked at. This plan hit it’s first hurdle when I checked NHS jobs and realised that particular neonatal unit wasn’t recruiting staff of any grade but undeterred I emailed the matron to ask whether I could arrange to meet her to discuss the possibility of working there.
My plan to enable Squidge to keep attending the same nursery completely collapsed however when I realised that, as much as I wanted Squidge to stay where he was, I wanted to stay where I was as well.
It has not been easy going back to work and there have been several occasions where I’ve honestly considered just giving up work all together because I truly felt as though I just couldn’t balance being the best mum, the best wife and the best nurse. But, despite the difficulties I really love my job and I know that without it my life would be much emptier and would have much less meaning and that being a neonatal nurse is part of who I am. Not only that but I also love where I work; the intensity and complexity of the job, caring for babies clinging to the very fringes of life and having opportunities available to me that just don’t exist in most other neonatal units.
I spent a long time talking to the Northern One and we both came to the conclusion that it would be better for all three of us if I stayed at my current job and Squidge went to a new nursery. I found a lovely nursery that seemed to have all the best bits of Squidge’s old nursery and who were very excited at the prospect of him starting with them. They were also more than happy to facilitate a change over period and so, over two months I took Squidge to visit the new nursery for a couple of hours a week whilst still going to his old nursery.
I spoke to lots of different people about what would be best for Squidge and with one exception, everyone agreed that I should keep my (very good) job and that a new nursery would be a wonderful adventure for Squidge. At 18 months old he’s very adaptable and while the change might be a bit difficult at first, it would be somewhere new and exciting for him with new children to make friends with and would help to teach him the valuable life skills of embracing change.
Satisfied that I’d made the right decision, I shelved all ideas of changing jobs until I came home from work after Squidge’s second day at his new nursery and the Northern One told me that Squidge had cried when he’d dropped him off that morning. This may not sound like a big deal but up until that day Squidge had never cried at nursery drop off and had only very occasionally been upset at home time because he was worn out after a busy day.
In that moment, all the insecurities and guilt I had about wanting to stay in my job more than I wanted Squidge to stay at his old nursery came flooding back. Refusing the Northern One’s offer of a cuddle I instead grabbed the laptop, opened up the NHS jobs website and promptly burst into tears. The weight of the guilt I felt was crushing but at the same time there was a small part of me shouting that, just because I was a mother and that I would sometimes need to make sacrifices, I didn’t have to sacrifice everything for my child.
Although it may not seem like it, I feel as though I have sacrificed a lot for Squidge. My mental has been through the wringer and is only now beginning to stablise, my physical health has been affected by my pregnancy and I am painfully aware that, due to many months off sick, my abilities as a nurse have suffered and that it will take a lot of work to regain the skills that have become very rusty.
I have accepted these changes as unfortunates consequences of the direction my life has taken and I know I am blessed to have my happy, healthy little boy. Yet it doesn’t mean that I don’t miss the way certain aspects of my life were or sometimes look back at the person I used to be with something akin to longing. Equally, just because I have made some sacrifices to try and be a good mother it doesn’t mean that I have to sacrifice everything in order to be the best mother I can be.
So to all the mothers out there who are feeling guilty about working or not working or for wanting to retain even the smallest part of their lives just for themselves;
You are doing your best and your best truly is good enough.
You are a wonderful mother even if you don’t feel as though you are.
Guilt is a horrible emotion and, if you can, try not to let it colour too many aspects of your life.
And finally; you have already made so many sacrifices for your children and will continue to do so for the rest of their lives so think carefully, consider your options and please don’t feel guilty if, just this once, you do something for yourself.
Louise is a full time mum, a part time neonatal nurse and award nominated blogger who has battled depression for many years but was particularly ill 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. She’s also involved in #MatExp (https://www.facebook.com/groups/MatExp/); an online maternity experience campaign that was formed to help improve maternity services in the UK. As part of this she hosts the #MatExpHour Twitter chat every Friday and would love to see you there.