I’m coming back. In fact... I’m coming back better than before. I’m a mother now. I’ve had some time out of the business, I've done some soul searching. I’ve gained a different perspective.
All of the above statements were running through my head as I started coming back to work 4 months after my first baby. But in truth, things were very different, I was not better than before. As soon as I sat down in my first meeting that confidence faded away and was replaced by fog. Foggy memory, foggy opinion, and foggy direction. Frustrating to say the least and all I could think was the old me would have been better, and done better. Had I changed?
Since returning to work I have been fascinated by this topic. Exploring the feelings and emotions of coming back after having a baby. Does your mind go through chemical changes? Has my memory gone or gotten worse? What causes this? Or do I just remember myself differently? And lastly, is this change a bad thing?
I’m lucky enough to have the support of three forward thinking and supportive (male) business partners who made me feel very missed and feel very valued. So when I returned these anxieties were of my own creation. If they saw a change they certainly did not say anything.
First, things first. The facts. Does having a baby actually change your brain?
So, surprisingly, there is not a huge amount of research on this subject, but what we do know is that the brain does in many instances re-model its matter. (source: Scientific American).
Elseline Hoekzema a senior neuroscientist thinks it may be because mothers brains are becoming more specialised in ways that will help them adapt to motherhood and respond to the needs of their babies.
“You have different priorities, you have different tasks you're going to be doing, and so your brain changes.” Rutherford
So it’s like your brain is basically re-prioritising for you. Both structurally and functionally.
The Cut elaborates on this saying this remodelling involves some women actually losing grey matter. What’s more, the volume loss persisted for at least two years after childbirth. While losing grey matter might seem detrimental, the effect may be quite the opposite.
“Everybody always thinks of volume loss as something negative, as a loss of function,” says Hoekzema. But volume loss can also represent a “fine-tuning of connections. (brainfacts.org)
Briefly, let's hone in on “Baby brain”. Again, is this a real thing?
It seems chemically, no. Science doesn’t support the notion that a woman’s brain becomes somehow impaired or weakened by giving birth; in fact, the research seems to show the opposite (The Cut) Forgetting things may be the result of stress-induced changes all new parents experience. In other words, that’s normal.
“It is important to stress that our findings do not suggest any link to changes in general cognitive abilities or intelligence,” said Hoekezema. (brainfacts.org)
I know I am not the only one who felt different. Speaking about this to Isabel Soden from Reuben Feels she said “I felt rewired, creatively I felt like another world had opened up, but in the early return stage, show me a spreadsheet and I drew a blank”.
In order to help with coming back, and managing this change in your life, here are some tips:
Gradual reintroduction. Having time off on maternity leave and then going back to full 5 days a week can seem incredibly daunting. Talk to your employer about a phased in approach, giving yourself, your brain, and your baby time to adjust.
Be patient with yourself. So when you go back to work and add another lot of “jobs” in the mix, it must be natural for tasks in your brain to have a battle for the top. Your brain has naturally prioritised focusing on the new baby - but the old you still wants to smash work jobs out of the park. You need to find that equilibrium at the top of your brain for both jobs..It’ll get there, it just takes time.
Be productive. It’s even more important than ever to manage your default diary properly in order to make the biggest impact. You can do this, as research suggests that mothers are more productive as a group than childless women. (Forbes.com) and we use our time better. An Ernst and Young study found that this was true because women wasted only 11% of their time compared to 14.5% for the rest of the workforce.
A bolder a week. It’s so tempting to do some smaller tasks to ease in and feel like you are doing stuff but what’s much more effective is to set one bolder task for the few days you are in. Deliver that, and your return will be so much more impactful.
Be 100% present in each role. Remember, the company ran well without you whilst you were on maternity leave and so at the end of the day, leave work in the office and focus on home.
Remember what you represent. By going back to work it’s one way to provide a strong female role model for your children to follow by being dynamic and following your career objectives. You are also helping pave the way for equality. Worth remembering on a tough day when juggling the two.
Use these new found emotions ;) Being a mother brings out all the empathy and nurturing needed in human relationships and that is so useful at work. Networking, collaboration and teamwork all demand these qualities and working mothers have them in abundance.
In truth the old me would not believe I was writing an article about this. I might have cringed thinking it yet another new-mother-returning-to-work story but hopefully my bitesize research helps one new mother understand the changes that can go on in the brain and that a) it’s normal and b) everything does return to a new normal.
Lastly, to you employers remember that a full 45% of women want to become senior management, leaders or CEOs but for many, they won’t be able to achieve that without some flexing on your part. How we do this at Marble LDN? We’ll wait for the next feature.
Read Emily-Rose’s Meet the WoMos interview here