Jaynehowarth’s Weblog

Journalist and writer

Woman returns to work seven hours after giving birth – but is that a good example for us?

with 12 comments

There have been innumerable studies over the past few years about women returning to work after having a baby.

Some focus on the guilt that many women with babies feel when they have to leave their precious bundle for the first time; others look at the support they receive in the workplace.

Then there are the surveys that examine the adequacy or otherwise of maternity/paternity leave; the issue of parental leave and parent-friendly hours when the babies start school.

So, how did it make you feel when you read that the headmistress of private school St Mary’s Calne School, Wiltshire, returned to her desk just SEVEN hours after she had given birth to her third child?

Dr Helen Wright tells The Daily Mail (February 7, 2010) that she believed she was setting a good example by taking her hours-old daughter Jessica to the office with her.

“Most mothers want their daughters to have the exhilarating excitement of a career they love and the joy of a family,” she tells the paper.

“I have that and I want to show the girls at St Mary’s that that is not an impossible dream.”

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”false” link=”term=newborn+baby+and+mother&iid=847135″ src=”2/b/5/d/FILE_Changes_Announced_f45f.jpg?adImageId=9999322&imageId=847135″ width=”234″ height=”326″ /]

But what example has she actually shown the girls, by returning to work so soon?

I have to admit to reading the report with a heavy heart, especially when she makes the remark: “Why can’t there be a third way – taking your baby to work with you?”

Now, I appreciate Dr Wright is cosseted in the world of private education, but is she honestly advocating that we all turn up to work with our babies, nappy bags and a truckload of toys?

I wouldn’t even dare ask the CBI, the Federation of Small Businesses, Chambers of Commerce – or the HSE for that matter – for their opinion on this nugget of wishful thinking.

Women have a difficult enough time anyway when it comes to returning to work after a few months’ away from the office.

A survey by The National Childbirth Trust in November last year revealed that 39 per cent of those questioned admitted they found going back to work after having a baby “difficult” or “very difficult”; 31 per cent claimed their relationship with their manager had deteriorated once their pregnancy had become known.

There is a raft of legislation and policies that protect women back into the workplace, but many of the 1,500 mothers who were surveyed said they still did not receive the support they needed.

There is no easy solution to this: many women are happy to return to work full-time after having a child, while others may want to reduce their office hours or become a stay-at-home mother.

But Dr Wright has done nothing for women who are wracked with guilt over returning to work. We can’t all be super mums. Many of us are torn daily as we drop off our children at the schoolgate or nursery as we troop off to work, relying on others to pick them up at 3pm.

We might want our careers, but many of us (me included) have realised we cannot have it all. Something has to give for a while.

Written by CommonPeople

February 7, 2010 at 5:08 pm

12 Responses

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  1. Couldn’t agree more – I have added comments to the mail online – shocking

    MuddynoSugar

    February 7, 2010 at 5:40 pm

  2. The Mail doesn’t tell the whole story, Dr Wright has the support of an amazing stay at home husband. I suspect may business men have dashed back into work after seeing their wife give birth; other less fortunate women have given birth alone (my greatest fear as the wife of Dr serving with the Marines). Within 12 hours of my giving birth to No2 my husband was called to the opposite end of the country to work with the SBS, nothing the matter with that then?

    Glenland Ladybird

    February 7, 2010 at 6:29 pm

  3. Thanks for commenting Glenland Ladybird. You are correct that many men dash back to work, but their bodies haven’t gone through the trauma (medically-speaking) of having had a baby.
    Legally, women should not return to the workplace for 2 weeks – this is as much for medical reasons as anything.
    I’m not saying men skip back to work happily hours after their partners have given birth to their child – and I guess that’s why paternity leave was introduced (it wasn’t around when I had my children).
    The fact that Dr Wright has a stay at home husband is fantastic because of the continuity of care: she doesn’t have to worry about the nursery closing at 6pm when she is commuting home after a long day at the office.
    I am questioning her judgment at returning to work quickly, believing this was setting a good example to the girls at her school. I don’t think it does set an example.
    Will these girls feel under more pressure to be Alpha mummies now?

    jaynehowarth

    February 7, 2010 at 8:06 pm

  4. I think it is very sad actually that she felt she had to. I agree that a woman who has just given birth has just gone through the most dramatic of upheavals even if she feels fine and is on an endorphin high. And what about the baby? They recognise their mother’s voice, smell and respond to her on birth. I’m all for having a proper babymoon – closeting yourself away and getting to know your baby and he/she you.

    I think she will deeply regret it in years to come.

    Alison

    February 7, 2010 at 8:16 pm

  5. Even as a feminist I feel this is somewhat unnatural. And I don’t think it’s a good example for a new mother. I always say each to their own, live and let live etc, but doesn’t this woman want to spend time with her baby? It makes one wonder what is actually more important to her. Good luck to them as a family. I think they may need it.

    Crystal Jigsaw

    February 7, 2010 at 8:26 pm

  6. Ready to get shot down for this, but I think it’s an apalling example. As someone who had PND and real problems with bonding, I would happily have gone back to work (once i could walk) but I needed to stay with my baby to learn to love her. And I did I’m happy to say. Some women clearly think it’s right for them and okay they can do what they want, But tiny babies need their mums, that’s just biology, breast feeding or not. In my opinion it’s not right, but I wouldn’t judge her for it because I’m sure there’s more than meets the eye in this.

    Its a Mummys Life

    February 7, 2010 at 8:29 pm

  7. Thanks Alison, CJ and It’s Mummy’s Life for commenting. Sorry to hear you had problems after the birth of your child and I understand why you would want to run back to work. You were “lucky” in that you had the presence of mind to recognise that you needed to stay with your baby. There’s no one rule that works for us all, but I imagine most of us believe that a tiny baby needs to be with his/her mother – as much as the father, if possible.

    jaynehowarth

    February 7, 2010 at 8:42 pm

  8. Just curious but why do you think it is “fantastic” that she has a stay at home husband? Do you also think it’s “fantastic” when women stay at home? If you ask stay at home mothers, they will tell you no one is telling them that they are fantastic. And do you agree with the Dr. that it is important for women to have careers? If so, then wouldn’t it be equally important for her husband to have a career rather than stay at home?

    It’s rather bizarre that a women who feels it’s so important to show girls how essential it is to not give up your career because of children, that she has to go back to work immediately following childbirth, yet sees no contradiction in having her husband give up his career.

    Sesalu

    February 8, 2010 at 4:56 pm

  9. Sesalu – Thanks for reading and commenting.

    I hold the same opinion if a mother gives up her career as a man: good for them. If they want to/can afford to do so, that is great.

    I don’t think a man giving up his job anymore fantastic than a woman – obviously it is far more unusual(therefore, no one would praise a woman up for doing it, but would always comment about a man doing so).

    I respect whatever is right for each individual family when it comes to career choices. I have no qualms about mothers of babies going back to work full time. What I question is whether it is right/appropriate for her to do so so soon after giving birth. I think it heaps more pressure on girls when it comes to making career/family choices.

    jaynehowarth

    February 9, 2010 at 8:36 pm

  10. Thank you for taking the time to respond.

    My comment resulted from reading how it was “fantastic” that a man stays at home, while women who stay at home never/rarely hear anyone say that it’s fantastic. Instead we hear it’s terrible because they are surely depressed, miserable, frustrated, unfulfilled, dependent, etc. We also don’t hear anything abut how their “choice” should be respected.

    I was also struck by the comment that she wanted her students to see how important it is to “have an exhilarating career” rather than stay at home when you have children, yet her own husband stays at home rather than work in an “exhilarating career” and no one seems to see any contradiction in that.

    Sesalu

    February 10, 2010 at 7:18 pm

  11. Brilliant post Jayne – wonder what the parents at the private school thought? I know the parents at our primary would have had something to say!

    Linda

    February 11, 2010 at 12:43 pm

  12. Thanks, Linda.
    I can only imagine what parents at a state primary would think!
    I am a school governor and think I would question the logic of having someone return to work after such a short time – especially when the law says mothers of new-borns should have the minimum of two weeks.

    Sesalu – I understand your comment and agree that women who give up their careers to stay at home and bring up their children are rarely given the recognition they deserve. Too many people think it’s an “easy” choice. It might well be for some women (or men). It might not be, however.
    Re the contradiction – your observation made me smile!

    jaynehowarth

    February 11, 2010 at 8:26 pm


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