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My maternity leave adventures: Maternity job-share

My maternity leave adventures (Part 2)

Lisa, Vanessa ansd all the boys

by Lisa Gallagher, FFWS co-Programme Director

Obviously I’m a big fan of the job share concept, co-running Family Friendly Working Scotland with the fabulous Nikki Slowey. As mums to a total of six young boys, a job share enables us to retain a senior role while balancing our busy family commitments. It also works well for the organisation, as together we are more productive, creative, energised, loyal and happy. When the partnership is right, I can’t champion the virtues of job sharing enough – both for organisations and individuals.

So I guess in a way it should come as no surprise that I’ve ended up with a kind of maternity leave ‘job share partner’ (in crime).

Let me introduce you to Vanessa. She’s an air traffic controller and also mum to three-year-old Miller and four-month old Cooper. We first met three years ago at an antenatal class; eight couples learning about the birthing process and how to care for newborns. I knew we were going to get on, when during our first class I made an inappropriate joke and she laughed out loud. As a group of mums (and more on these beauties another time!) we all bonded incredibly well. These women have been and continue to be, an invaluable source of support, good fun and friendship. We are a great team.

Amongst all these wonderful girls, Vanessa found ourselves forming a kind of ‘mummy partnership’ over the course of our two periods of maternity/shared parental leave.

Vanessa and my older boys Miller and Alfie, were born one month apart and our second (and third) boys were born three days apart. Vanessa and I even managed to bag neighbouring rooms in the hospital this time around (me recovering from a c-section, her pacing the corridors during an induction). Coincidentally, exactly 9 months earlier, our families had been on a lovely, relaxing holiday together in Rhodes… We joke that we have grown our very own five a side football team.

Vanessa and I have different but complementary personalities; she is hugely practical, decisive, pragmatic and strong on logistics. The woman loves to build Ikea furniture for fun. She is also a warm, kind and caring. I, on the other hand, am emotional, gushy and talkative and come out in hives when looking at a detailed set of furniture instructions. But, we bonded over our shared love of a good plan and loyal friendship.

During both sets of our leave, we have kept each other company while working out how to feed our babies, walked off our baby weight, attended baby classes, shared baby clothes, discussed work problems, borrowed breast pumps, lent prams, de-cluttered houses, listened when things got tough, planned play dates, scheduled parties, organised holidays. The list goes on. She has enriched my maternity leave experiences.

When I asked Vanessa what she thought of our past and current maternity leave experiences, she said: ‘It’s great to have a friend to share this experience with. To have someone who is there going through the same thing as you, to share both the good and bad times with. You have helped to keep me sane.’ I feel the same about her – as I do about all my NCT girls. Our complementary personalities and skills, as with my official work job share partner, have helped and enhanced our experience.

This partnership has also stretched to something additionally special for me. This next bit is pretty personal and may even make some people feel uncomfortable, but for anyone who has either struggled to exclusively breast feed their baby, or who has been around someone for whom this has been important, it’ll make sense. For me, giving my two premature babies as much breast milk as possible, has been really important but for various reasons, I’ve had to supplement with formula milk. This made me pretty sad in the early days. So one day, when a well meaning visitor accidentally threw out some of my valuable stash of expressed breast milk, I called Vanessa in tears of hormonal frustration. The next thing I knew, she appeared at my door – dealing with a newborn baby of her own- with a donation of her expressed breast milk. She instinctively knew how much that would mean to me. A kind, thoughtful, selfless act and for me at that moment, an ultimate symbol of our shared maternity experience and friendship. I hope she knows how grateful I was and how much that meant to me.

I have heard that for some people being on maternity leave can be lonely. I can understand that must be difficult and I am so thankful that this not been my experience.

So my advice would be to anyone – men and women- off on parental leave is to find your buddy, your gang, your partner or partners in crime. It enriches your experience and your life.

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