What I learned from my mat leave

1,305 diapers changed, 1,256 feedings given and a decent amount of sleep lost, here I am back from maternity leave. Welcoming a child into my life is a precious gift that I had wanted for a long time. Yet during this last year, I learned an incredible amount about myself and my relationship to work. So I’d like to share my lessons learned, with all the vulnerability and humility that such an exercise affords. Everybody has their own experience: below, I share mine.

It can be quite shocking to drop out of the rat race

Ever since I got out of university, I’ve dedicated my life to my career. I truly love what I do; I don’t even count the hours. I don’t question what I do Monday through Friday: I work.

During my pregnancy, people strongly recommended that I take some time for myself before the baby arrived, to take a rest, to prepare myself mentally. I followed their advice, and I can tell you that those three weeks were the longest of my life. Waiting for the baby to come (with all the stress that brings about) all the while feeling guilty because I was leaving a team that already had a ton on its plate: it was not the best combination. I lost all my bearings. I was frazzled. I had to constantly battle with the temptation to turn on my computer, check Slack, contact my coworkers. I had to keep telling myself that I wasn’t indispensable, that people could make do on their own, that I had to trust them, that life at Humanise would go on without me. When my daughter was born, this feeling subsided, but never really quite went away. 

I’m more than a mom, I’m more than a careerwoman

For quite a while, my life revolved around my professional achievements, and I largely defined myself by my job.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a mom. But life being what it is, this happened a bit later than expected. I thought that this new role would be all that I was looking for, but boy, was I mistaken. Don’t get me wrong; I love being a mom. It’s the biggest blessing of my life. Yet I couldn’t help but feel an emptiness. Having discussions with adults, taking about business matters, finding solutions to problems: I really missed all these things.

And so, of my own accord and very gradually, I went back to work earlier than expected. But then a new feeling started to grow inside me: guilt.

That damned guilty feeling

I started to go back to work on a very part-time basis, but I couldn’t help telling myself, “why aren’t you making the most of your mat leave? There are so many women out there who would love to have that much time with their child!” 

When I was at work, I would think about my daughter. When I was with my daughter, I would think about work. And right there is where that stupid guilty feeling would come in: I had the impression of never giving it my all in either of these major aspects of my life.

I would take a Zoom call with my baby in my arms, apologizing that she was making noise. Then I would hang up and apologize to my daughter for not being entirely focused on her during the call. Oof.

This guilt finally started to go away when I decided (1) to devote predetermined full days to work and (2) to come to the office on those days. This way my daughter gets to spend quality time being babysat by Grandma and Auntie, and I get to focus fully on work. Coming into the office also allows me to make a distinct, more wholesome line between my personal life and my work. I can be more present and spend more quality time with my daughter when I’m at home. The guilt is still there, but it no longer takes up so much space in my mind.

Much-needed hindsight

My mat leave came at a pivotal moment in my career. For a long time, I had been the manager who took a lot of responsibility on her shoulders alone to protect her team. Being so close to the action, I sometimes had trouble taking a step back to process it all. So I had a few faults as a manager. A poorly shod shoemaker, you say? But a year later, I see what my role should be with a lot more clarity, and I know what I need to work on. Fortunately, I am also blessed with a team I can count on.

My break also allowed me to come back to work with one certainty: I have chosen and I will always choose Humanise. In our everyday, we can often get exasperated by certain situations, which makes us see the negative before anything else. My maternity leave allowed me to take a step back and think about what was most important to me in my work. I was able to revalidate my desire to fulfill Humanise’s mission, which I believe in more strongly than ever, and most of all, I was able to cement my desire to collaborate with this pastiche of talented, kind and flawed individuals.

One of the most important aspects backing up my decision? I know that I’m valued and respected in all that I am. I am a mother, a manager, and an H. Good to be back, Humanise!

– Valérie Provost, Vice President, Talent and Culture, Humanise