'If I don't laugh, I’ll cry' - Charity founder on life as a working mum

Ashleigh Hunt and her husband Jason lost their daughter Maddison at 24 weeks pregnant. Picture: HUNT

Ashleigh Hunt and her husband Jason lost their daughter Maddison at 24 weeks pregnant. Picture: HUNT FAMILY - Credit: Archant

Ashleigh Hunt, of Dereham, founded the charity Maddison's Movement after being told at 24 weeks her baby girl no longer had a heartbeat. She talks about returning to the workplace following the birth of her second daughter: 

If I don't laugh, I'll cry - but then what happens when I find myself in the midst of a part-time shift at a busy local hospital and it’s suddenly unprofessional to do either?

International Women’s Day feels like the perfect opportunity to welcome you to the common trials and tribulations of a modern working mum, aka Ashleigh for 18.75 hours of the week, Mummy for the remainder.

It goes without saying that I found dipping my toes back into the workplace a bit like quicksand. After settling in physically and acknowledging that others seeing my face around the department was no longer a novelty, I felt like I had to make a decision on how to navigate these two days away from being a mum each week, understanding that a separate responsibility rode on my shoulders during this time, requiring me to be 100pc present.

A thousand questions would flood my mind when considering the type of individual I wanted to be at work, even though "mother" branded me so strongly that I felt I wore it as a hat for all to see and suddenly I felt fear.

Ashleigh Hunt and her husband Jason lost their daughter Maddison at 24 weeks pregnant. Picture: HUNT

Ashleigh Hunt and her husband Jason lost their daughter Maddison at 24 weeks pregnant. Picture: HUNT FAMILY - Credit: Archant

I’m part-time, I have another priority and I’m not very flexible - am I really the most appealing candidate to approach in a time of need, specifically mid-pandemic, or will my responsibilities as a mother place me into the box that just fills in the gaps?

Just like that, the pair of shoes that worked overtime and covered an extra mile felt like they no longer fitted, despite my passion to still want to help. I also recognise the moral dilemma that being offered the responsibility could hold. Would I relish in the opportunity or would I feel guilt-ridden and inadequate as a mother? What if I commit but I don’t get any sleep that night? Or our child care provider phones because my little girl has run a temperature?

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They say it takes a village to raise a child, but I believe it’s the support of said village that secures a mother’s confidence, and empowerment in the workplace has a major part to play in that. Women hold the ability to have their cake and eat it too, in the form of feeling successful at work whilst holding pride that their children receive the best of them. Yet it takes incredible vulnerability and a world-class balancing act to get it right solely on our own. Quite frankly, I don’t believe it to be possible without the grounded voices of those on the outside.

In short, I expected the return of my working days to coincide with the return of confidence, efficiency, and structure, slipping back into its rightful place as though it were muscle memory. It’s what I knew pre-baby and spent years mastering after all. It’s important to celebrate if those expectations prevail as reality and always back yourself to remain on that track, for it is earned and deserved, but it’s also important not to lose sight if your reality differs from those expectations.

In my experience returning to work was, and still remains a process, taking its time to balance the scales evenly. I feel incredibly fortunate to know I have the support both inside and outside of the workplace, but I know the pressure we as mums put on ourselves can be treacherous nonetheless.

I want to encourage women to give themselves the mental allowance to grow again during these early years, as opposed to immediately expecting the same productive outcome from ourselves that we wouldn’t usually think twice about, despite the self-care incomings being replaced with multiple motherly outgoings, then beating ourselves up that it’s taking a little longer to find our confidence again.