I didn’t think that I would ever be ready to return to work after losing Benjamin. After he died everything just seemed so pointless. I had no motivation to do anything. The thought of actually caring whether I reached a made-up deadline at work seemed ridiculous. The thought of facing all the looks of pity from my colleagues was even worse. The girl who was always so in control was now completely out of control and I didn’t want an audience to witness it.
I had worked so hard coming up to my maternity leave. Long hours and endless stress had taken their toll and to be honest I was pretty fed up. Fed up with being taken for granted and constantly pushed to do more. And it wasn’t just in the run-up to my maternity leave, it has been the last 10 years of my working life. Looking back now I wish I had stood up for myself. I wish I had said enough is enough. I wish I had just said no.
Every time I said yes to something it wasn’t just me I was saying yes for, it was also my team. I locked us all into long hours because I didn’t have the strength to say no, even when heavily pregnant. In my head, I would complain to myself and say how ridiculous it was that I was still being put under so much pressure so late in my pregnancy. But still, I never verbalised it.
After all, women can do it all and have it all, right? Wrong. It’s impossible. It’s impossible to grow a little human inside of you and still do everything that you used to do. Something has to give. But yet again society and glossy magazines tell us that you can. They paint a perfect, unattainable life that puts unnecessary pressure on women (and men for that matter). I was so busy trying to prove that having a child wasn’t going to change anything that I let myself get worked into oblivion.
I am not saying that I think any of this contributed to Benjamin’s death because I simply don’t think that it did. It is, however, to try and give you some understanding of where I’ve come from and why I enter into this next chapter of my journey with such trepidation.
You see I truly believe that Benjamin’s gift to us has been to make us slow down and smell the roses, to give us a better understanding of what is truly important. I am so scared that I will go back to work and fall into the same routine of overtime and deadlines and STRESS. I am so scared that I will let him down and that his death will have been for nothing.
Many people have told me how strong I am. I have never believed that. I have always believed that I have had no choice. No choice but to live, whatever that looked like. But now I believe I need strength. I need strength to make the right decisions, to stand up for myself and most importantly to prioritise my family.
During my return to work discussions, there have been mentions of the difficulties for those returning from maternity leave with young babies. I agree. I think that there are many challenges for parents returning to work under those circumstances and they should be supported and given flexible working options. However, I would also like people to think about the challenges faced by those returning from maternity leave with no baby. The difficulties that they will face coming back to a world where everything should be different but it is painfully the same. Where their status as a parent has vanished and instead they are the childless ones who, in the eyes of others, can still work overtime because they have no family to return to. I would like you to think of those same parents whose child’s existence is ignored and never spoken of because it is just too awkward. Those parents also require support and flexibility but often do not receive it.
So it is now 2 weeks and counting until I return to work. I have been crying a lot these days and it has confused me. I am not being pushed into going back. I feel ready and have made the decision myself but yet my heart is still so heavy. I am prepared for the people who will ignore Benjamin’s existence and say silly and insensitive things. That is not what is upsetting me. I think it is the finality of it all. While this is a very positive step forward on my journey it is one step further away from Benjamin. It is a reaffirmation of the fact that he is gone and is never coming back. It is a confirmation that we will have to live the rest of our lives without him. Life is moving on, there is no choice in that. But the aching in my heart for my son will never move on. Yet again, I must learn to take the next step without him, no matter how hard it feels.