In my previous post I shared my concerns about how to balance taking care of a young baby and the demands of being a head teacher in a high school. It has now been five weeks since I have returned to work full time after maternity leave. My baby is now 7 months old. So I thought it was timely to share how I have found the juggle act between family and work so far.
To my surprise, I have not found the balancing act between workload and baby duty the most challenging. This is challenging but not the most challenging. The most challenging is expressing during school hours. For those who are not familiar with the needs of taking care of a baby under one year old, here’s a brief summary of what expressing means. Breast milk is the main source of nutrition for a baby up to one year of age. (A baby can be given formula, but I choose to continue to breastfeed my baby.) To work full time, you need to express breast milk so that your baby can be fed the breast milk via a bottle or cup by their carer when you’re at work. When you are away from your baby, it is optimal to express at times when you would be breast feeding. This is not just about making sure your baby has a sufficient amount of milk but it is also prevent you from getting mastitis.
So this means I have to express twice at school. Luckily the NSW Department of Education and Communities has a very supportive breastfeeding policy and mothers returning to work have the right to two thirty-minute breaks during school hours for expressing. My school is also extremely supportive. But it is still VERY CHALLENGING because it restricts the amount of time I’m available to support my faculty during class. Expressing needs to be done at certain time periods and it restricts you from doing anything else. This means for one hour a day I am unavailable to support my faculty. It is not like teaching a class or having a meeting where you can drop what you are doing and help another teacher. I’m lucky that being head teacher I have a reduced number of face-to-face classes, which makes it easier to fit in two expressing sessions. For classroom teachers, it would be extremely hard. I don’t even want to think about how challenging it would be for primary school teachers, who don’t have ‘free’ periods each day.
What I find surprising is that I didn’t know about these challenges of expressing until I have to go through it myself. It is just not spoken about. I wish I knew about the challenges of expressing at work. Not for my sake but for others who will also go through this.
Last year I had one teacher in my faculty who returned to work full time when her baby was 5 months old. Like me, she was also expressing so that her baby can continue to breast feed when she was at work. But because I was ignorant and didn’t even give a second thought to this, I don’t think I provided her with the support I should have. Doing things like scheduling meetings at lunch times probably did not make things easier for her. If I had known last year what I know now, I would’ve excused her from meetings at recess or lunch or negotiating a better time. I would’ve also offered to deal with any student issues from classes right before recess and lunch, and to start classes after recess and lunch if necessary.
Teaching is a very female-dominated profession and sometime in the future I’m sure I will be working with and/or leading a colleague who is returning to work from maternity leave when their baby is under one year old. At least next time I will know what kinds of support to offer.