I feel guilty about getting pregnant right before returning from maternity leave

It can be daunting to tell your employers that you’re pregnant. 

From a legal standpoint, being on maternity leave does not break your employment contract as women have the same right to take maternal leave and receive pay for their second (or third, or fourth) pregnancy as with their first.

However, I’ve been dealing with work guilt after discovering that I’m expecting my second child and will need to take time off once again.

When I fell pregnant with my first daughter, Blake, it was planned to a tee – so much so that I was having sex when an app told me to (talk about efficiency!).

But the second time around, with conception happening just three days after Blake’s first birthday, and two days before my work return, it’s a different story entirely. 

While a second baby – this second baby – is very much wanted, the timing is not. Pregnancy in a global pandemic was not high on my to-do list and neither was turning my out of office back on nine months after switching it off.  

As I peed on that pregnancy test and it came back with a big fat pregnant, the thought of having two infant children instantly popped into my head and I felt guilty for not being completely overjoyed at the prospect of another baby. In fact, I was quite overwhelmed.

This was soon followed by the feeling that I was letting my bosses down, and leaving my team in the lurch. We’re a tiny team and these thoughts are only compounded by the fact that my deputy is on maternity until June 2021.  

Clearly, this is not something a bloke will ever experience or empathise with, as evidenced by my husband’s reaction, who just shook his head, shrugged his shoulders and asked what exactly I had to feel guilty about.

I get where he’s coming from, I do, and would say the same to someone else. But how would he, as a manager, feel if one of his female employees got pregnant with her second before she even came back from being off with her first?

It feels almost like the improper thing to do, unprofessional, and very much like I’m living up to a stereotype of women of a childbearing age.

When I talk to friends, I’m met with ‘It’s not your problem, it’s theirs’. But to me, it is my problem. I may not be responsible for staffing issues during my time away, but the absurd guilt I’m experiencing is all on me.  

It feels as though it’s a new manifestation of mum guilt, which is a strange thing. I’ve had bouts of it over the last 16 months, asking myself questions like ‘should I be cooking more varied foods?’, ‘does she watch too much TV?’ or ‘have I made a rod for my own back by cuddling her to sleep because I love those sleepy cuddles so much?’.

As your baby grows, so does your confidence, and while I no longer second guess myself about those things – she’s fed, she’s happy – now suddenly I’m worried about the lack of money coming in again and that I’m failing both babies on the providing front.

And then, further down the line, the extra strain it puts on finances having two children in childcare. I pay for the childminder, but will sending two while I go back to work ultimately be a vanity project on my salary?

I love work; even working from home during this never-ending pandemic and having no face-to-face contact (or beers) with my lovely colleagues.  

I enjoyed my career pre-Blake, but going back post-baby makes me feel like me again. It keeps my brain sharp and means my day doesn’t just revolve around nap times, meal times and bath time.

I had none of the feelings of dread or the sleepless nights reported by my mum friends before returning to my role after a year off. In fact, I was looking forward to it. 

To help alleviate my feelings of shame, I researched my employee rights and Googled extensively about just how common surprise second pregnancies are, with findings from the third National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal) claiming one in six pregnancies in the UK are unintended. 

But the only thing that really quietened the annoying and irrational voice in my head was talking to superiors at work.  

They, of course, congratulated me and reminded me it was happy news when I basically (and I hate myself for this) apologised. I hadn’t planned to say sorry – women do not need to apologise for getting pregnant – it just slipped out.

It does feel like a weight has been lifted though and I realise now that the guilt was just feeding into itself – without talking to anyone from my office, I had made the problem bigger in my head. But in reality, this happens and the company’s not going to go under because of my pregnancy – I’m not the glue holding things together! There is such thing as maternity cover, which for some reason my baby brain seems to have ignored.

In all honesty, I can’t say I’m looking forward to earning a reduced wage so soon after getting a salary back. But I’m finally relishing being pregnant. 

After the long slog of the first trimester, and now that my work guilt has eased, I’m going to enjoy this special time.  

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s just how crazy– and precious – life is. As the saying goes: Man makes plans and God laughs. 

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