Laptop and coffee on desk

Covid gatecrashed my maternity leave


Posted by Lindsay Climson

This is Sam!

Sam was just over 6 weeks old when lockdown was officially announced in the UK on 23rd March, barely two months into my maternity leave.

I knew taking such a sustained break from work meant that when I returned in September things would have changed. But I never realised how substantial that change would be. The entire world has taken a seismic shift as we reacted and settled into a pandemic – from the way we shop (anyone still have leftovers from their toilet roll hoard?), to how we communicate with friends and family (Teams pub quiz anyone?). But one of the biggest changes has been in how we work. Having worked in technology for the last nine years, I am more used than most to working anywhere and everywhere. From cafes and hotel rooms, and even from the back of a car, and although the benefits of working remotely are substantial when properly planned for, many organisations were not ready, either in a technical capacity or culturally (or both). But as with everything, we adapted, and it is no coincidence that many memes of late have used the fateful words ‘You’re on mute!’

But back to myself and Sam and what it means to experience parenthood for the first time effectively shut off from the rest of the world. I knew parenthood would be an adventure, but I could not have imagined that the first few months would take place during a pandemic, leaving us very much in our own little bubble – another word that has taken on a whole new meaning. Typical maternity leave days are filled with baby classes, coffee dates, swimming and making new friends, which is vitally important as in many ways you are shut off from the friends and workmates you previously spent most of your time with. Like many others it is easy to see that new parents have lost something special during the Covid-19 pandemic. It can be and probably did cause isolation, stress and no small amount of worry being so removed from not only friends but your vital support network. But this isn’t a tale of doom and gloom as what I got instead was better in so many ways – extra time with just Sam and I, with nowhere to be except the couch for cuddles, no expectation of visiting a long list of people or entertaining an equally long list. With no expectation to join classes and fill our days with a million different things, we had the chance to really get to know each other.

Sam’s Dad has also been working from home since March, which gave him the chance to bond that many second parents do not get. We have been able to spend lunch hours with him, no commute has meant extra cuddles with Dad in the morning and less frazzled heads after a night of broken sleep. We have tackled night feeds, bath times, bedtimes and weaning together as a team with both of us at home all the time which has strengthened our relationship immensely.

Normal day to day life was very different. As the founder and Commercial Director of an exciting new tech company, my days were used to being nonstop meetings, travel and invariably very long days with little sleep.  Having a baby – not that much different! Even though we had no control of what was happening externally I started to build a routine for Sam and I, bottles (for Sam), naps (for both of us), pram walks, more bottles, online gym classes, a daily visit from my parents to see us through the patio window and of course more bottles. And naps.

We did have some hit and misses. We tried baby sensory over Zoom for a few weeks, but it was a bit of a disaster. I was conscious that Sam’s world had also suddenly shrunk; Even as a young baby who thankfully won’t remember anything about this time, I worried about his socialisation and development being confined to the same four walls every day and just myself and Paul for human interaction.  But as the world started to open and he got to meet his extended family, I realised I needn’t have worried. A smiley sociable baby, he loves cuddles from his Gran, Papa, Granny L and multitude of aunts and uncles and is even now thriving in nursery.

Being a director in my own company, I was lucky to be able to take as much time off as I wanted, and even extend my time when I realised how much of an impact Covid would have on my time with Sam, and as September came closer it was time for me to start to move into that world of work again. Even in the best of circumstances, going back to work can be challenging for most women. Having to find some sort of new routine at home that still allows you to cook, clean, sleep, work and shower as well as see your baby, is a difficult transition. I can also appreciate how many women might find their confidence dipping when they go back to work – when someone else has been covering your work for the last seven months, it could be difficult to know where and how to fit back in. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by a supportive leadership team and in many respects, it feels as though I never left and was able to slot back in quite fluidly.

But returning to work in 2020 has been very strange – as I mentioned, my role used to have a big focus on travel, events, face to face meetings with customers, Partners and Microsoft, and socialising. In the time that I’ve been off, Teams usage has jumped 70% to 75 million daily active users! We opened up our office to a hybrid model the day before my return. But even in the office most of my day is now spent on Teams meetings.

Online meeting etiquette has changed so much for the better, I’ve noticed so many more people are comfortable using their video, and meetings are much more focused, concise and productive – and there is a very welcome more casual acceptance of children or pets running around in the background, which is helpful as the mother of a loud and energetic child who sometimes wants to join Mummy’s meetings.

It is an unwritten rule that every child who starts at nursery will pick up an infection of some kind in the first few weeks. Having just started back 7 days earlier, right on cue, Sam caught a tummy bug and had to stay off nursery. Luckily, there were no awkward discussions about having time off so soon after starting back, I simply juggled my day around his naps and picked up tasks later that night after he had gone to bed – a dynamic made so much easier with new world of remote working. I’m fortunate to be part of an organisation who puts wellbeing at the forefront, it’s a lot less of a struggle to balance all of the emotional, and logistical challenges that motherhood brings and I’ve really benefited from our flexible working approach. But then that is why we created Akari, a company that focuses on the individual.

Work life balance is a term that’s been thrown around the last few years, but it now has a whole new meaning. It can be very easy to get distracted by work outside of work when those working hours are not the traditional 9-5, but I’ve become much better at switching off Akari Lindsay and focusing on my family when I need to, and switching off Mummy Lindsay when I’m in the office or working from home, despite any stories you might hear from my colleagues about me singing Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Every. Single. Morning.

I’m looking forward to what the next twelve months brings, although I know there will be bumps and challenges in establishing a new routine both as a mum and post/during Covid; Sam will start walking sometime in the next six months, he’ll go to nursery an extra day when I go back to five days a week rather than four and we can only hope that some sort of normality resumes at some point and we will be able to travel freely again.

There is nothing quite like a fast paced and high-pressure environment for building confidence and resilience and I know that whatever the new normal looks like, for both myself and #TeamAkari that it is an adventure that I’m more than capable of handling.

After all, I survived maternity leave with a newborn, no pubs, no gym, a reduced network and a worldwide shortage of toilet roll. Everything else is a piece of cake.