Returning to work after any significant amount of time off is difficult. You worry about what you may have forgotten. Do I still remember my password to log on? Did those new procedures come in? Can I even remember how to do my job?

I think these are all normal questions. Whether you’re returning from maternity leave or long term sick leave it’s daunting going back to the office. I was no different and ended up in floods of tears on my third full day back in the office.

What happened?

I was due to go back to work in May and knew that I really wasn’t ready. My little boy was still needing regular hospital visits and he had only been home a few months. Me and my husband decided that we would cope with the huge pay cut and I would stay off until September. My relief at this decision came as such a surprise to me, I didn’t realise quite how much returning to work had been weighing on my mind at the time. September was coming round more quickly than I wanted though and I knew that I needed help. I went to my GP and discussed my options. I could be put on medication, I could try talking therapy or a combination of the two. Talking therapy felt like the best option to me.

Doctor caring for patient. Photography credit: Arvin Chingcuangco
Doctor caring for patient. Photography credit: Arvin Chingcuangco

I was given a number to ring. It actually took me a few weeks to pluck up the courage to call. The confidence I had built up to go and see my GP seemed to temporarily leave me. I called and explained that my GP had given me this number to discuss going ahead with talking therapy. I went on to give them a little bit of background about what had happened since my little boy’s birth so they knew where I would be best placed.

I met with a lovely therapist who clearly laid out the rules and conducted a questionnaire assessment. She then explained which therapy she thought was the best and asked if I would be open to try Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). I was open to give anything she suggested a go!  Over the next few months I worked really hard.

The day came and I had to return to work.

I had done a few practice sessions with the childminder. So although it felt strange and uncomfortable at least I had done it before. I drove to work and really forgot how much I despise the rush hour traffic. The slow moving traffic gave me too much time to think and by the time I parked I was an anxious mess. I don’t remember actually walking the short walk to my office but I must have because suddenly I was being greeted by colleagues.

It was lovely to see so many familiar faces but at the same time I really didn’t want to be there. Still I got a new password allocated and eventually managed to log on. I’d a mountain of emails most of which needed deleting as my team had been put onto new work so a lot of earlier emails became irrelevant. I then had to get some mandatory training up to date and was told to look at the new work and get a feel for what it was. I went home completely drained. There was so much to process and colleagues had a lot of questions about my little boy!

Me and my little boy. Photography credit: Photography by Vivienne Guy
Me and my little boy. Photography credit: Photography by Vivienne Guy

I thought my therapy had got me to a point where I was ok but I really wasn’t!

On my third full day my manager asked how I felt returning to work was going and I burst into tears. I let it all out. Telling her hated leaving my little boy. I was feeling on edge all day. All of my colleagues are lovely but they all came to see me at different times and asked me the same questions about my son, his birth and his ongoing health conditions. The work was completely different and there was talk of the team spending nights away for parts of the job.

Phased return to work

She then asked “why didn’t you take the phased return to work?” I cried “what offer of a phased return?” My management chain had changed during my maternity leave and there had been a miscommunication about the offer of a phased return to work. I had a therapy session that afternoon so my manager told me to go and get to that on time and we would sort out next steps tomorrow.

I explained to my therapist what had happened and she asked what was the maximum period of a phased return to work could be. After the hour we had a plan in place and she wrote a letter to my employer supporting any measures that could be put in place.

The next day my manager had me get in touch with occupational health for an assessment and fill out something called a carer’s passport. I went down to a 3 hour day and gradually built up my hours. My advice to anyone about to return to work is ask about keep in touch days and phased return policies.

Person working on paperwork. Photography credit: Green Chameleon
Person working on paperwork. Photography credit: Green Chameleon

Two years on

Returning to work is so hard but I promise it does get easier especially if measures can be put in place that put you at ease. I finished therapy after 23 sessions and I can honestly say I am so glad that I went to them and put in the work. As for travel with work I’ve started to make small trips and I’m definitely not comfortable with these yet but I’m sure I will be in time. It’s great when you have patient colleagues who at least try to understand what you’ve been through. Don’t get me wrong not all will be understanding and some think there is a time limit attached.

I’m aware that compared to some stories I’ve heard that my employer is flexible and been really good to me, others haven’t been this lucky. Could they be even more flexible? Of course they could! I came across mother_pukka on Instagram who is behind the Flex Appeal, she’s fighting for employers to be more flexible towards parents. The statistics to support the positive change this would be are staggering! I think this is an appeal that a preemie parent can fully get behind.

If you like this blog about returning to work then you might also like my blog on tips to surviving a stay on the children’s ward.