I’m Returning to Work – How Did You Manage?
March 2, 2018
The Working Mother
March 2, 2018

In April 2008, while reading my local newspaper, I saw the ad that would signal a change in direction for my life, and take me on a journey through New Zealand’s legislation around birth and child rearing.

It was an advert for a position at an Auckland City Council Community Library in Onehunga. It was on the days my husband, Andrew, had off work, which eliminated the childcare question. I was looking for a change, and this job seemed to fit the bill. I could utilise my past retail experience, but explore a different environment in which to enjoy helping people. It was perfect.

I was hired for the position of Library Assistant, working Fridays and Saturdays, and loved it from day one. My oldest boy Matthew was at school, my second boy Aidan was in kindergarten, and my youngest, Fiona, aged about 19 months, stayed at home with my husband Andrew. I knew my young daughter was happy and secure, and on Saturdays all the children got to spend time with their Dad. I enjoyed having time to myself, and relished the return to a customer service role without feeling I had to sell anything. I enjoyed myself so much I almost felt like a fraud collecting my pay check!

Not long after starting my new job, I found out I was pregnant with baby number four. I kept it under wraps for the first three months, and then decided it was time to fess up. Everyone, including my boss, was delighted. I intended to return to my job I loved so much, and would utilise recently legislated parental leave and breastfeeding breaks.

My pregnancy progressed well, and I enjoyed my colleague’s interest in how things were going. I continued to enjoy my job, although in the latter stages of pregnancy, things like shelving books on lower shelves proved to be difficult!

I put in all my paperwork in a timely manner, and at the end of January, with one week until my due date, I commenced my 14 weeks paid parental leave. As I had been at my job for more than six months, but less than twelve, I was legally entitled to 14 weeks paid leave, but that was all. I was fortunate that the Auckland City Council provides above the legal requirement, and could apply for to up to eight months extended leave. I chose to take the 14 weeks paid leave, with a few extra weeks, which would mean my baby would be four months old when I returned to work.

On Monday 9 February, my waters broke but no contractions were forthcoming, and I knew how this would pan out – the same had happened with the boys, and so I knew we were heading for a synto/epidural combo. I was right, and I headed into Auckland City Hospital that evening. Our gorgeous boy Joel was born early the next morning.

Joel’s early days were somewhat fraught. He had difficulty breastfeeding, and was failing to gain weight. Joel would latch, but not work hard enough to get any milk beyond the initial let down – which was keeping him hydrated, but not full and content. We pulled out all the stops – pumping, (and luckily then-two-year-old Fiona was still breastfeeding, and able to help keep the supply up) a supplemental nursing system (SNS), cranial osteopathy, a visit from a lactation consultant and constant and much valued support from an LLL Leader.
We emerged from all the problems at about six weeks, at which point Joel returned to feeding exclusively at the breast. I felt a bit sad that Joel’s newborn days were just a blur, and I hadn’t had the chance to really enjoy him, and soon it would be time to start thinking about returning to work.

Initially I had thought it would be easy to just go back to work and leave Joel with Andrew. After all, I had done it seven years ago with Matthew. But at six weeks Joel was following me with his eyes, didn’t like me out of his sight. Our breastfeeding hurdles had drawn us close together, and neither of us was ready to be parted for six hours at a time.

Enter Rachael, Community Librarian.
Whilst I was on parental leave, my manager left, and Rachael replaced her. I hadn’t met Rachael yet, but knew I had to talk to her about how we were going to deal with my return to work. I took a deep breath and sent her an email about how I was struggling to cope with the idea of me and Joel being separated for so long, and offered some suggestions as to how we could ease my transition back into work with minimum impact on everyone else in the workplace.

Another legislative change that had recently occurred was that relating to flexible work for people with dependents, and so Rachael suggested to me that we utilise the Auckland City Council’s flexible work policy. What was agreed was that for the first three months of my return, I would only work three hours each day, and the employee who had been on the temporary contract covering my parental leave would take up the remaining hours. I was thrilled!

This worked really well, and Joel coped with it fine. I would pump some milk in the morning, and because human milk is a living substance, I didn’t need to even refrigerate it for that short time, meaning if Andrew needed to give it to him, it would warm faster.

Three months came and went, and it was time to move back to my regular hours. And time to utilise another piece of legislation, this time relating to breastfeeding breaks. Rachael and Leeda, Duty Manager on Saturdays, agreed to me having fifteen minute paid time added to my lunch breaks in which I could pump milk. This is over and above the legislative requirements, and was a great relief. It meant I didn’t have to rush my lunch breaks, especially if I had errands to run, and so was relaxed and able to pump plenty of milk to take home. I had a clean and comfy room (a spare office) to use, and I made a little sign to let people know what I was up to in there. My co-workers were understanding and good humoured about my pumping regime.

After I returned from the Christmas break, as Joel approached his first birthday, I signalled that I no longer needed the pumping break. I also had by this time secured another job in a school library that suited my family life better than the community library did, so with some reluctance, I handed in my notice.

I will always be grateful for the understanding and support I received over this time. Firstly, for the Auckland City Council for having these family friendly policies in place and secondly, for Rachael and Leeda for providing me with support in practice by way of flexible work arrangements and pumping breaks. I didn’t only feel supported in being able to breastfeed and work, but felt that there was an understanding of Joel’s and my need to be together more than I had initially planned – and this was never treated as if it were an inconvenience or a problem, but rather that it was perfectly normal and reasonable.

I wanted to give the team at the library something relevant upon my departure, and so decided to get some of the international breastfeeding symbol signs to put up in the library.

I know for a fact that the Onehunga Community Library has always been breastfeeding friendly for patrons, but now I also know that it is breastfeeding friendly for employees, too.

By Donna Henderson, Auckland Central
Aroha | March – April 2010 | Volume 12 | Issue 2