Returning to work from maternity leave in a pandemic

By 30 October 2020Blog
Lindsey Alvis, in a stripey top, holds her daughter on a bright day at the seaside.

By Lindsey Alvis, executive director and joint-CEO

I haven’t written like this before: put down my thoughts and feelings in a blog post for others to read. And I am not really sure why the urge to do this now, but I wanted to try to articulate how the last few months have been. Perhaps as catharsis for me, and also to share with those who’ve found themselves in a similar position.

When the pandemic hit I was nine months into maternity leave after having my first child. Let me be straight up and say that growing, birthing and raising a child has been one of the hardest things I have ever done: physically, mentally and emotionally. Women do not get enough credit. There, I said it.

Anyway, I was just starting to emerge from the cloud of the newborn stage, finding myself slowly and surely. Being at home on maternity leave has been a strange experience, as I am used to being part of public life. It’s work but not as you know it and requires a whole different skill set. In actual fact, I was barely at home, filling my time with groups, play dates, NCT catch ups and basically anything to get me out of the house.

I love my child and adore being a mum, but I am a social creature and desperately need adult interaction to keep me sane. I honestly did not think I’d be the kind of person to sit in a circle singing along to incy wincy spider, or spending hours discussing poo, but needs must.

All that changed when we were locked down. Suddenly we were at home all day, every day. I do need to say here that I am aware of our privilege: my husband and I have both remained in employment and we live in a safe and secure home, for which we are incredibly grateful. I understand that the realities of the pandemic are much harder for many people. But it has been a stressful and traumatic time, filled with anxiety about the future, particularly concerned for my child’s grandparents, and with no respite from the routine. With absolutely no breathing space, mental health suddenly had to become a secondary concern.

My husband worked from home too, so we were locked in together in an endless cycle of meals, naps, washing and cleaning. We did enjoy happy playtimes but, I don’t know about you, I found myself lacking in motivation and really fatigued.  Ironically, I missed those baby groups more than I can ever say, and those parent friends who’d often sat with me in shared exhaustion, sometimes too tired to even talk, always with cake to keep us going. The first time we participated in an online baby group during lockdown I cried, sad that we could not just sit in a room together, our babies getting to know each other whilst we exchanged the latest poo drama. The simplest of activities from before.

And then, all of a sudden, it was time to go back to work, albeit on part-time furlough and working from home basis. What an overwhelming and exciting thing. To go back to work. To be a professional. To drink a cup of tea undisturbed. To go to the toilet whenever I wanted. To talk shop. To grown ups. For a living. Again, the privilege. It was exhilarating. It was also really hard. I was sad that my child was no longer a small baby, that we were moving into the next stage of nursery school and independence. That we wouldn’t be together all the time. That I’d miss stuff. Important stuff.

On the first day we had a team catch up via Zoom. Don’t tell them but I was so happy to see their faces and hear their news. I really have missed being part of a small, dynamic and creative team. Then it was straight back up to speed: our landlord was auctioning our beloved building, Darley’s, so we had big decisions to make, and the small factor of a full board meeting. We also decided to apply to the Cultural Recovery Fund – and I am delighted to say we were successful.

All this didn’t really give me the chance to take things in my stride on my return and in truth it’s been a whirlwind of meetings, decision making, funding applications, planning and strategising. All whilst getting my family into a new routine and juggling a seemingly endless list of things at work and home.

It’s been and still is a lot but, time away from work has taught me how much I value the company I work for, the role I do and the team I work with. I have been extremely lucky to have had such great support. Our marvellous general manager, Emily, and I went through our pregnancies together – our babies were born a week apart – so I had someone every step of the way who really understood what I was going through, checking in with me after midwife appointments and picking up hot chocolate on the way into the office.

Our time opening Us Against Whatever at Liverpool Everyman whilst five months pregnant is one of the highlights of my career – the sheer ambition, achievement, and exhaustion of it. Safe to say our digs were well stocked with biscuits. I had a great maternity cover in Rozzy, an absolute star, who has been particularly supportive during our handover and will no doubt take over the world.

I also work for a flexible and supportive organisation that is open to ideas about new ways of working, responding to the needs of new parents to ensure we don’t move away from the industry, and has, championed by our artistic director, Paul, recently become a member of PIPA (Parents in the Performing Arts). Then there are wider Middle Child family who are fellow parents: Mungo, Ali, Matt B, Ellie and Matt P. Between us we’ve had four babies in the space of six months, and they are always on hand with advice, support and care.

I am trying to take it a step at a time. I am trying to be honest with the board and co-chief exec about how I am doing. I am trying not to be hard on myself. I am finding new ways of working. I am listening. I am being flexible and understanding with myself. Time away has clarified my vision and I am bringing that to the table. I am prioritising my passions and the things I want us to take forward, like finding a brilliant new home for the company in our home city of Hull and working creatively with new parents.

Making work in the current climate is daunting to me and the safety of artists, audiences and staff is of the upmost importance. I am seeking advice and asking for help. I am also carving out small amounts of time off, resting my mind, processing, recalibrating. I am running, occasionally. I am sleeping, child permitting.

All of these things are important because none of us have lived through this before. And none of us know what the future will bring. Protecting our own mental health is crucial to protecting ourselves and the ones we love. Speaking of which, it’s time to sign off, incy wincy is calling.