Motherhood and Career - A Coach's Perspective

Back in 2013 I was approached by a national broadcaster to support them in a new initiative which fell as part of their Diversity and Inclusion strategy.  Maternity coaching – supporting professional women in their transition out of the workplace, into motherhood and back as a working mother.

“Will you be one of our maternity coaches and help us with our trial?” they asked.  So my journey into formal maternity coaching began. 

In 2013 I was the ‘already-pregnant-again working mother of a 6 month old baby boy’. Being self-employed, I’d returned to work part time when he was just over 6 weeks old. 

I’d worked as a professional coach for practically a decade before this, and had on many occasions coached professional pregnant women and new mothers beforehand. However this was – for me – a first. A coaching offer specifically focused on professional women during one of life’s most significant transitional periods. 

Of course I was up for it – in fact more than that, I was well and truly into it. 

Over the years I’ve had many experiences of working as a maternity coach across different industries and in a wide range of organisations. I’ve worked with women in this transitional phase who are in senior level positions, women who are at early stages of their careers, self-employed, part time - the list goes on. I’ve also had my own personal experience and followed, watched and tracked the experiences of my friends and those in my community. 

6 years in, I feel like I’ve got some sense of the overall experience which is now worth sharing. Please know, I’m not saying this is the same for every woman, but it certainly appears that there are pretty reliable trends for many working mothers. 

There appears to be three distinct phases the mother will go through. They are: 

Phase 1: The Take Off 

Phase 2: The Niggle 

Phase 3: The Pull 

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Phase 1: The Take Off

Women tell me all the time that although they’ve ‘known’ they were pregnant, the reality only begins to kick in once the infamous ‘due date’ is on the horizon. You know the point when the antenatal classes start kicking in, hospital appointments increase and people start automatically touching your tummy? 

Yes, that’s what I mean by The Take Off. 

In this early phase (which is typically anything from 8 – 12 weeks before due date), not only does the baby and all the things associated with it become real, but work is still VERY real too. 

The work that you’ve put so much time and effort into, the work that carries a really significant part of your identity, the work that provides the income for the life you are wanting to live. The work that will pay for this costly life change you are imminently undertaking.

This work is still demanding, this work is still challenging – there are projects to be delivered, ‘to do’ lists to (never) complete, and teams to manage. And then there’s the killer – finding the ‘replacement’… the person you are handing your work baby to while you go and get yourself another one to have at home as well. 

So, during this first phase we see people feeling quite squeezed – for the first time handling two big areas of life, with lots of unknowns and uncertainties attached to each of them. 

 From a coaching perspective, the areas women typically ask for help with in this phase are:

·      Help with their confidence 

·      Support to enable them to feel more in control 

·      Guidance on how to reduce their levels of anxiety and stress 

·      Someone to listen, reassure and guide them as they handover their role 

There are variations and related topics too, but these are predictably the big concerns. So coaching once a month in the 2 – 3 months before the professional woman leaves to have her baby can offer targeted and significant support in these areas. 

Then it all goes quiet. At least for the maternity coach anyway, and the woman we’ve been working with enters ‘The Niggle…’

Phase 2: The Niggle 

If anyone reading this has had a baby (irrespective of whether they have given birth to it or not) they will know the intensity of the early parts of parenthood. 

The blurring lines between light and dark, the point where the oxygen surrounding you can feel more like cement, and the ‘who are you?’ thought that goes through your mind when you look at the reflection starting back at you in the mirror. If you remember this, you may also remember that somehow, sometime, there was a moment, when you had a teeny amount of space in your head and your work thoughts started creeping back in again.  

This is the point we like to call The Niggle. 

In this middle phase, which seems to us to be anything from the baby being around 12 – 16 weeks old, but in some cases earlier, we find ourselves talking to women who are beginning to think about work again. 

Sometimes it’s a gentle wondering – how are things, people, I’ll do a KIT day soon… 

Sometimes it’s a craving for ‘normality’ – I really want to get out of this house and go somewhere where I feel more like me, I can’t do only sing along classes, I need to find the ‘work-me’… 

Sometimes it’s a voice of fear – I don’t want to leave my baby; how on earth can I work like I used to and be a good parent too; I can’t bear the thought of not being good at either work or home; maybe I’ll need to leave or change the type of work I do; how am I going to juggle it all? 

So during this phase, we can see women feeling quite conflicted, trying to work through what their priorities are, identify how things might work and how they are going to feel about things when they return to work. 

From a coaching perspective, the types of areas women typically ask for help with in this phase are: 

·     Help working through their concerns, stresses and anxieties 

·     Support in understanding what matters to them in the short and long term; their goals, motivations, ambitions 

·     Guidance on how to find answers to practical challenges like negotiating return to work agreements, flexible hours, childcare 

·      Someone to listen, reassure and guide them as they prepare to take on a dual role 

Once again, there are variations and related topics too, but these are predictably the big concerns. So allowing a mother to reach out in her maternity when she reaches this phase can offer targeted and significant support. 

Then it often goes quiet again while she finishes her maternity period, and we pick up when she returns to work. 

Phase 3: The Pull 

I’ve often witnessed women transition ‘gently’ back into the dual role of working professional and new parent. Sometimes through using up accrued holiday, through renegotiated working hours and so on. 

Typically women initially report that ‘all is well’ although there are classic apprehensions about what will have changed while they have been away; can I still do the job, was my replacement worse than me and will have left a mess for me to pick up or – more fearfully – were they better than me, and people will be gutted I’m coming back. 

This phase we call The Pull. 

In this final coaching phase of the maternity transition, our overwhelming observation is that it’s easy for the woman to be viewed as ‘returning from maternity leave’, and to presume that the same woman is returning to the same role in the same business. 

If we think about it sensibly, we all know that in reality NOTHING is the same. 

The professional woman has been profoundly impacted by the experiences of motherhood. Businesses do not stay still from one period to the next. Role and teams within businesses are constantly moving parts. 

So in essence instead of a woman returning from maternity leave, we have a new starter, joining a new business and taking up a new role. And this new starter is rarely offered any sort of onboarding luxury. 

And as can be typical with new starters, we have an individual who feels like she has a smaller voice than she had when she left a business. Women often tell me that they feel like they gave up the ‘rights’ to their opinion on the strategy, team, business etc. when they took time ‘off’ to have their child. And so the period of The Pull takes hold. 

During this phase we see an individual pulled; between her roles, priorities, relationships at both work and home. We see the woman at the centre of these seemingly incompatible demands getting more stretched as she tries to do what she believes is ‘the right thing’. Knowing that the right thing may be leaving a meeting hurriedly while she gets to the nursery before being in trouble for being late (again). Or knowing that the right thing for her is to do the work she so wants to do, but her little internal voice tells her she hasn’t got it in her anymore. 

So during this phase, we often see women feeling quite pulled, working out their role, their responsibilities, their motivations and goals both at work and at home. 

From a coaching perspective, the areas women typically ask for help with in this phase are: 

·     Help working through the stretches on their time, managing their workloads (both in and out of work)

·     Support in reconnecting with their identity; their purpose, their meaning and selfcare 

·     Guidance on how to navigate difficult conversations, rebuild relationships, assert their needs whilst respecting those of others and their businesses too  

·      Someone to listen, reassure and guide them as they live life in a variety of important roles 

Once again, there are variations and related topics too, but these are predictably some of the big concerns. 

Having worked now with so many women in this transition, I have no doubt at all in my mind, that if organisations want professional women to transition from motherhood back into the workplace effectively then coaching has a significant support role to play. 

Thank you to each and every woman who has trusted me to help you during one of the most significant life transitions. If you’re reading this, you will know who you are. It’s been a privilege. 

Written by Rachel Morris, Coach and Co-Founder of Motion Learning

Blog first published on Motion Learning website here