When you have a baby, your life is turned on its head.
Maternity leave, whether you’ve taken the full 52 weeks, 26 or barely any, is a strange adjustment period, with your tiny baby your constant concern and the focus of all your attention. At some stage though, you will approach the question of your return to work. No matter how much or how little time you’ve had out, it’s a wrench, and one you really need to be prepared for.
From the moment the thought of returning to work crossed my mind for the first time, I knew I needed a soft re-entry. There was as there so often is, a measure of guilt and separation anxiety. God knows I started to feel the walls close in after that long stretch on leave; I needed my life outside the home too. But that didn’t mean I felt ready to cut suddenly away for full weeks away from my baby.
So, at first, I felt that three days in the office was all that I could manage whilst I found my feet. When I shakily first requested this working week structure, my request was immediately approved. For me, this is what made all the difference. This understanding alleviated my concerns, without which I would have really struggled to leave my young son for the first time.
Then there were the childcare arrangements. Expensive, logistically-nightmarish and guilt ridden, nearly all parents face this minefield at some point. I was very lucky. My partner was able to take on a lot, my family were incredible in offering help, and I believe uniquely, my firm subsidises childcare costs for senior employees. I tried to make this all work for my son’s benefit as early as I could and nail our routine. It took military-grade organisation but we got there.
So I began that steady shift to regaining independence. I convinced myself that I was just popping out of the house three days a week. At this stage knowing that I would still have more days with him at home than I would without, really made the difference.
Once I was back in the office, I grew more and more confident that I could master the work-life balance, again I increased what I could do at work and my productivity boomed. I moved slowly, and at my own pace, from three days in the office, to four, back to three when it seemed too much and without any pressure to do so.
It took a bit of trial and error to get it completely right. On one occasion I had to take an urgent conference call with baby balanced on hip. After leading counsel commented on the gurgling down the phone-line, I realised I might need a touch more help. Now I have additional childcare, with help from my firm, to support me on the afternoons that I’m working from home so that I do not compromise both aspects of my life.
The return to work is a difficult and a personal thing. There is a cost-benefit equation to be made: your personal needs, the needs of your child and being the best, you can be at work.
Through it all, what was vital, was the confidence and trust my firm continued to place in me to manage my return back without pressure. I gave up time with my son yes, but in return was able to move forward with my career without being mummy-tracked and make my time with him even more special.
I was running divorce cases where there were hundreds of millions of pounds involved before my son was born and now I have increased my team from 6 up to 16 people and am running billion-pound cases and I remain as dedicated to my clients as ever.
There remain some dinosaurs out there who think that mothers go soft with talcum powder and baby oil and can’t be serious players any more. And old habits die hard. But I can now see the future that if firms trust and invest in women who have something to prove to themselves and to their children they will never look back.
My family and my firm supported me in my return to work and I’ve never been more driven to make a success of it.
About the author
Georgina Hamblin is a top divorce solicitor, at Vardags. She has particular expertise in high-value multi-jurisdictional divorce cases and jurisdictional disputes as well as cases involving family trusts and pre-acquired wealth. Since qualification, she has regularly represented high-profile business men and women, entrepreneurs, art and antique dealers and other high net worth individuals.
Georgina was instrumental in helping to lead former beauty queen, Pauline Chai to victory against her Laura Ashley and Corus Hotels tycoon husband in her jurisdictional battle spanning two hemispheres, in the extraordinary case of Chai v Khoo.