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expecting twins and seeking advice on returning to work in first year - is it possible, madness, etc?!

(42 Posts)
mandasand Sun 26-Aug-12 23:24:36

(I posted this question in the Twins Club 4 and got some really useful advice and insights - thank you! - but thought I'd see if I could catch any other perspectives by creating a new thread...)

I'm expecting twins in Feb/March; no children at the mo. Just had 12-week scan and so I'm gearing up to tell my boss and discuss maternity leave when he gets back from holiday in 2 weeks.

I'm an academic in a research post with 18 months or so to work on a short-term contract once the babies arrive. Lots of stuff on my plate for next year involves writing/proofing books, papers and articles, research activity including data entry; no teaching; 80% of what I do can be done from home.

I love my work. When thinking about maternity leave it's not just a case of needing to go back to work (e.g. my forthcoming books are on a publication schedule and the proofs will need attention around the time the babies come; being so close to the end of the contract it's important for me to keep working so I stand a good chance of being considered for any future contract work; other general financial reasons) but also wanting to (I get a lot of satisfaction from my work; my whole life has been geared towards getting to where I am now aged 37 and I don't want to give it up or introduce a break which, in academia, can often be career-fatal).

Officially, I'd like to take 6 or 9 months of mat. leave through my university employer so that (if my boss agrees, although he's also able to replace me wholesale during mat. leave) my contract will be extended by that length of time at the end if there is no further work forthcoming. So, purely financial and pragmatic to take the mat. leave, esp. as it's quite a generous arrangement.

Unofficially, though, I will want to be starting to do a few hours of work-related stuff (from home) as soon as we get into a routine and I start to feel human again with some sleep under my belt! So, I hope I can do 1-2 hrs per week after months 1-2 (maybe at weekends when DH is home) and 6-10 hrs per week from 3-4 months, and to facilitate this DH may go down to a 4-day week for a year or so and I'd like to be able to find someone local (would this be a nanny?) who would be prepared to come to us and help to look after the babies for, say, three hours on the other weekdays. (Our families are nowhere close, unfortunately.)

Not sure what will happen after the period of mat. leave and the return to full-time work...!

Advice on the other thread helpfully emphasized the sheer unpredictability of multiple babies, and their sometimes very different natures / routines. There's also the fact we're first-time parents! I do understand there's lots of worst case scenarios which may throw any plans into the air (e.g. babies coming early, being sickly in hospital) and that I can't really plan this to the nth degree, but I do need to have a best case scenario plan in place - both for myself, as a way of trying, at least, to manage the necessary workload of next year, and for my boss so he doesn't completely freak out (there's only me and him on the project, and I'm the only one paid to do any work! Also, I want him not to replace me during mat. leave so that my contract will be extended by 6 or 9 months.)

So, to multiple mummies who have wanted to keep their hand in with active work or work-related projects in the first year … is this kind of arrangement even remotely possible, practically, emotionally, psychologically?

mandasand Fri 31-Aug-12 09:52:27

Thanks for sharing your perspective on these issues, Wigeon. I do expect it to be challenging and I don't expect babies to fall into a predictable pattern; rather I'm keen to build a support system which enables me, after a couple of months, to take a small, but increasing, amount of time each week to return to my research (I have a study at home: it's just me, books and the laptop).

Chutney's experience of finding that, even after the twins were born, she did want to carry on with her academic career as she had anticipated, rather than give it up for full-time motherhood as some predicted is one I've seen replicated amongst many other female academics. And ceeveebee's experience in another field also back's up that this can work.

I'm taking a long view and working with DH to come up with ways in which he and I can share childcare to some extent and draw on the support and expertise of another caregiver. Practicalities aside, I think there's something positive for the whole family about parents finding a balance between parenting and other enriching and satisfying aspects of life; I think this is fundamentally sensible rather than it having to be an either / or choice. I've known a few deeply unhappy full-time mothers, not only in the first years when I don't doubt that it can be as difficult as you describe but also in later years as they struggle to find an identity and function in the workplace commensurate with their previous professional lives. These examples too have been instructive.

I don't think your post was all doom and gloom; I appreciate you sharing your valuable experience as a mother, which I lack. But I am also becoming increasing confident in my and my DH's ability to make this work.

Wigeon Fri 31-Aug-12 11:30:11

Glad this is all helpful, mandasand.

I absolutely support you in your decision to continue working and not to be a full-time mother if that's what you want. I myself am currently working in a professional job 3 days a week (with an hour's commute each way), and happy with that decision for me and my family, but I went back to work when each of mine were 12 months. I think the main point of my post is: give yourself a bit of a chance to recover (physically and mentally), to dedicate yourself to your babies, and to learn to be a mother, before rushing back to work as soon as you possibly can.

I think starting any sort of work in months 1 - 2 is just bonkers if you have the choice not to, and even months 3-4 will still very hard work. (Disclaimer: I am fully aware that some people feel they have no choice but to return as soon as possible due to finances). I think you can still achieve the balance between motherhood and career for all the positve reasons you have stated, but after the early months.

It's great that this is a joint conversation with your DH - I am astounded at the number of professional women I know (and I hear about on here) for whom childcare, and balancing work and their children, appears to be soley their responsibility. Amongst people I know, this isn't to do with finances. But that's a separate rant!

chutneypig - even mothers of singletons do have to leave babies crying! I think what I wanted to do is to suggest to the OP that getting babies in a routine might not be as straightforward as she thinks or as the books / The Book suggest.

kalidasa Fri 31-Aug-12 12:56:54

mandasand I am not expecting twins (just one in there) but I am also an academic and I really understand where you are coming from. I'm editing a big multi-authored book at the moment with various deadlines for the contributors and for me running between now and next Easter. The baby is due at the end of November so I am hoping that I will be able to get some editing work done in the first few months after the baby is born, even though I won't officially return to work until April or May. (Though fortunately I am sole editor so if things do get delayed I won't be letting anyone else down.)

I do think that academics tend to have a different relationship to their work than people in many other professions (not always in a healthy way!). I have been off sick for most of the pregnancy so far as I have been very ill with hyperemesis and to be honest I have found being unable to work (I couldn't even work at home for many months as was too ill) absolutely devastating to my sense of self and sense of identity. It is really important to me that I know I will be able to get some work done fairly soon after the baby is born, and my DP (also an academic) supports me in that.

Anyway, just wanted to say that you're not alone. (You're not in London are you? I don't know any other pregnant academics and would love to!)

mandasand Fri 31-Aug-12 13:44:23

Lovely to hear from you kalidasa smile But very sorry to hear you've not had an easy time of it. Any better now you're approaching the third trimester?

As it happens I work for a London university but live in Oxford. Because it's an externally funded research project my boss and I have a fairly loose relationship with the university, but much stronger working relationships with various London-based cultural organisations. Before this summer I used to come down to London 1-2 days per week; this summer I've been bunkered in at home trying (failing) to get a book to press in time for REF publication, and from next week it's back to business (for three months at least, till I'm too big to travel!)

Yes, it is really helpful to know other female academics who've gone through this and even better to go through it together! I have two academic friends who are in the same boat (with singleton pregnancies). There's no doubt that those on permanent contracts are in a much better and safer position, from my vantage point at least! We could try for a coffee sometime?

Absolutely hear you on the relationship with work and, although I've tried not to go on about it (as it's no doubt weird-sounding to non-academics and, as you say, unhealthy!), my sense of self is tightly bound up with my research. There are various, historic reasons for this, and I'm far from unhappy with the situation. To be perfectly honest, although the project of bringing up two healthy, happy, well-adjusted children is of supreme importance to me, the idea of devoting myself to that project 24/7 for a very long time isn't, I think, for me. I think I will need, as well as want, to retain some vestiges of the really rich and satisfying aspects of my pre-children work life and I'm so grateful to my DH for supporting me in that.

Ha, I too am hoping to make some good progress with two edited volumes (and a short monograph!) during maternity leave! I was hoping with one of them to share the work out amongst a team of co-editors but it's looking likely that I'll sole edit both (which, though more labour-intensive, is easier in some ways!)

Wigeon Fri 31-Aug-12 14:45:51

I think you two have just started BoffinMumsnet! smile. Actually, there really is a poster called BoffinMum - I'm sure she's a academic (and a mum!) and I'm sure she would have some interesting things to say about combining motherhood and academia - you could private-message her?

My DH grew up in Oxford, had a glittering undergrad / post-grad / PhD path at two London universities, and was an academic for a couple of years, before deciding that it was all too depressing, not for him, retraining as a secondary teacher and currently working in a lovely school in a job he loves. So I have some idea about what you mean from our brief glimpse into that world.

Don't go feeling too indebted to your DH about how wonderfully supportive he is in your carrying on working in the long-term - he will be the parent of these children too. When did you ever hear a man say "I'm so grateful to my wife for letting me carry on my work now we have children, she's so fantastically supportive, I want to keep working because my job is really important to me and I want to keep that part of my identity even though I'm now a father"?! <gets self off hobby horse> <gets self over to Feminism and Women's Rights topics>

mandasand Fri 31-Aug-12 14:53:40

Ha, good point, Wigeon! Perhaps it's not so much gratitude to my DH, to whom these things come naturally, as a more general sense of gratitude that he is who he is - quite different from the many, less supportive men I have either been in relationships with or observe as the DPs and DHs of women I know!

kalidasa Fri 31-Aug-12 15:02:11

Yes, I am really lucky to have a permanent job (almost certainly - strictly speaking haven't passed probation yet, but have ticked all the boxes for it). But my dept is very male-dominated and a bit old school. My HoD is kind but clueless and just can't seem to get over his astonishment that I am up the duff! Every time I encounter him you can see him trying to remember not to stare at the bump, but totally failing! The admin team are better. There are almost no senior women with children in my dept, and although there are three or four women academics now in our thirties - in fact I think I'm the youngest at 32 - none of the others have had a baby yet. I think we were all waiting to see who jumped first! It just feels like quite a different work environment compared to friends in other sorts of jobs where the fact you might start a family is taken more for granted.

I did start a thread about having children as an academic a year or so ago before we tried, and got some really good advice, will see if I can find it.

Coffee at some point would be great if I can make it. (I have quite bad SPD now after so long in bed so my mobility is really limited.) But I am supposed to be working the first half of next term before my maternity leave begins.

I actually lived in Oxford twice (was an undergraduate there, and then later a JRF) but last left in 2009.

kalidasa Fri 31-Aug-12 15:36:27

mandasand I found the thread I started last year. Some quite interesting stuff on it, and plenty of women who say they got a bit of work done at home during maternity leave:

mandasand Fri 31-Aug-12 15:58:47

Thanks, kalidasa - that's great and I look forward to having a read through. Good of you to share this resource!

I don't envy you your all-male department … oh dear! Looks like you are going to be the trend-setter which isn't always an unenviable position, but others will thank you for it!

Sorry to hear about your SPD, but let me know if that eases once you're in term-time and I'll let you know my London movements.

We overlapped in Oxford! I was here 2001-2009, then returned immediately in 2010 after an overseas postdoc :-)

toomuchpink Fri 31-Aug-12 21:32:09

Hi there,
Yes, to be strictly in line with the law it appears you do need to employ your nanny rather than have her self-employed. That said, I don't think it is entirely clear cut if, for example, the position is part-time.
We are paying a company to do our tax and pay-roll for us, it is not too expensive, but they do have mixed reviews on the web so maybe I should do it for a couple more months before recommending them.
When it comes to recruiting you could just pay a nanny agency a few hundred pounds, maybe more, and let them do all the hard work.
We advertised on gumtree and did it ourselves. Gumtree appears to be well used by people seeking nannys and seeking posts and we got a lot of responses.

mandasand Sat 01-Sep-12 22:28:27

Thanks for sharing your own experience, toomuchpink. Sounds like it may be worthwhile engaging a company to deal with the nittygritty, tho it would be interesting to see how that works out for you. Gumtree is a good tip - wouldn't have thought of that. Thanks!

Kalidasa, an academic friend who is also expecting is reading (and recommends) the following book: It's much cheaper on abe than amazon. I had a good read of your older thread - some really interesting perspectives there. I liked the woman who said something along the lines of 'I was determined to make it work'. I like to think I have some of that kind of drive!

willow3006 Fri 21-Sep-12 19:48:33

Sorry I didn't write earlier! I only just came back across this post again! To answer your 'old' question - I went back full time straight away and employed a very cheap nanny (we couldn't afford the usual nanny rates around here!) - we did give the perk of all school holidays off though as my Dh is a teacher so he looks after them then. They are 10 months now and I don't regret the decision one bit. I'm so much happier back at work and still see the boys loads as I only work 9-5.

mandasand Sat 22-Sep-12 09:23:32

that sounds like a really good arrangement willow! thanks for writing. bet your two love (and will increasingly do as they get older) having dad around in the summers. smile

after ten or so happy years at his company DH is now looking to see if he can get a job closer by so that he can be more present during the week (currently does a 2-hr commute each way, so it's a 12-hour day for him out of the house). I've told my boss now and he's really supportive, so feeling a lot better about possibilities. we've started, tentatively, looking at nannies and nurseries, wondering if a mix of the two might be good. we are a bit shock at the cost of childcare for twins in the south-east though! (another reason DH is looking to move positions, so he might get a raise!)

willow3006 Wed 26-Sep-12 20:41:26

I know what you mean. We're also in the South East and to be honest, I'm literally going back to work for under £200 a month after childcare but need to keep my hand in! It is amazing how you cope though!

mandasand Fri 05-Apr-13 07:00:36

Just briefly checking in to update on how it is all going. I receive so much support on this thread and this kept me going in the later stages of pregnancy.

Our B/G twins were born by c-section a little over seven weeks ago. The first four weeks were quite hard. We spent 11 days in hospital owing to feeding issues (them) and infections (me). We're (formula) feeding three (to four) hourly, one after the other (haven't quite got the hang of tandem feeding yet). At the end of the difficult four-week period I had a lot of bleeding and spent 3 days in hospital for a D&C, and - although I've not quite stopped bleeding - I've been feeling increasingly better in myself since then. My mobility has been slow in coming back. Cycling and jogging are a long way off but I can now walk a good couple of miles a day without too much difficulty. My 'six pack' split badly (currently 4-5 finger-widths): am working on this to give my lower back and hips the support they need.

The thing which has really helped us feel like we are back to some semblance of normality is shift-work with the babies now DH is back at work. I sleep 9pm-2am when DH is 'on duty'. I take over at 2am so he gets five hours sleep before work. We need to tweak this a bit to find some time for him to have 1 or 2 more hours - this should become more possible soon. Currently he is out of the house for 11-12 hours, so there's not much 'overlap time'. He is investigating working-from-home two days per week (as well as applying for jobs closer to home) and we have a nanny starting for a couple of hours a week, moving to two afternoons per week from May if things go well.

Even with the five-hour block of sleep + extra hour or two I'm finding it hard work being sole carer of twins from 2am to 9pm. I can just about get everything done - the nappies, the feeds, the cuddles, the sterlizer, the washing/drying, and the tidying - and some days I even get a chance to have a shower and eat lunch sitting down rather than grabbing bites as I go. But it is fairly relentless and the days and nights rush into each other in a bit of a mad fashion, and more than once I've been in tears when DH has left or arrived back home. So, it's do-able, but I feel hugely ground down, especially as I am not getting much time for other things. As anticiapted, I don't want to be responsible for 85% of childcare and household management, even though I'm notionally on mat. leave. If DH can WFH two days and with the nanny on two afternoons a week I think the balance will be more 65:35 and that feels much more acceptable.

So, am I getting any work done? Well, in the last couple of weeks I've put together a one-day conference for later this year, have been working on a book proposal, and am writing an outline of a chapter - so, yes, I've been doing pockets of work, although tbh these are 'fun' things which are quite easy to manage with half-an-hour here and there, plus the odd chunk of hours at the weekend, but they are not the major or important current projects I need to be focusing on! The proof of the pudding will come when I try to get some real writing done and, for that, I think I need the nanny to start. This should give me 10 hours per week.

I love my babies so much, but the bits of work I've done so far have made me feel like the 'old me' hasn't totally been obliterated by the new mantle of motherhood. I find it refreshing and invigorating to return to the desk, and a better mummy for it, too.

thegirlinthesassyspace Wed 16-Oct-13 15:09:12

/Hi - I just read this as I recently returned to work, and i wanted to see if I'd missed any advice from twin mummies about doing this. I returned to work at 10 months in, they are now 11 months old. I have loved every moment of my last 4 weeks back at work. Its so nice. I also work for a university but 2 out of the 3 days are at home. My girls go to nursery and its wonderful to have the peaCEFUL house again. ON my days with the babies now I really appreciate the time I have with them. Before during maternity leave I was often in the 'keep your head down' mode, one day at a time. And that's with 2 babies who slept through at week 11. I would aim for a routine early on, and be CONSISTENT with everything you decide to do. Use white noise machine if you want. I don't know if it helped with mine, but having it in place made me feel prepared. Better to have than not have kind of thing.
Ok, now the downside of returning to work - babies have been ill almost every week with picking stuff up at nursery. Most have been innocuous 24 hour things. But latest is a pain - very contagious hand and mouth disease. Obviously they both got it, and it can't be treated just has to go its natural course which takes abotu 7-10 days. So...I guess getting a nanny would be better for you in this case (nurseries are sicky breeding grounds!)...but then you'll have to forfeit the peaceful house....decisions decisions...
I have just realised I won't be able to go to work at all this week, and am a bit sad to miss it (i can't believe I said that - I am SAD to miss work!!!) but, every thing has a silver this instance, the babies have had to have extremely long naps to recover...and I have used that time to get on top of some of the deadlines that are looming. Working 3 days a week tends to make things feel like you're doing 5 days very quickly!! IYKWIM!
Sorry for mammoth reply, its definitely doable and I even decided to go back to work early, as like you I realised that work was my goal and a bit of me I was missing/would miss.
One last thing - I recently read a book which is very tongue in cheek called "French Children don't Throw Food" the woman who writes it has twins and its a nice entertaining book, which gives you an alternative viewpoint on what people call controlled crying....
Ok, I better go, babies woken up from nap! lots to do, good luck with your pregnancy....oh ps. definitely use your KIT days, sounds like you will enjoy them!

thegirlinthesassyspace Wed 16-Oct-13 15:13:59

ps. Mandasand congratulations. I must have missed your lats post. congrats again! well done on organising your conference that is fantastic. Good to get out the house and walking a bit. Like you, I had 4-5 finger gap in the abs. Seems to be okay now. I used to walk 2 miles a day with buggy (Out n About Double nipper buggy great for longer or off road walks). I hope your next few months go well and your nanny works out for you. Keep us posted :-)

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