With Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge due to become a mother for the second time mid to late April, it is no surprise she has now completed her last last public engagement and officially started her maternity leave – approximately 4 weeks before her due date.
She followed a similar pattern with Prince George, making her last public engagement at the Trooping of the Colour parade at Buckingham Palace to celebrate the Queen’s official birthday on the 15 June before giving birth on 22 July 2013. It was widely speculated that the baby was due mid July, so a week or so “late” but she had the natural birth she hoped for.
There’s no denying being in the public eye and pregnant would make most of us want to step back even sooner. I applaud Kate for retreating to a more private place to prepare for her next little one but it is not often the norm I see in the corporate world – although it is one I recommend.
In business, the mantra “fail to plan, plan to fail” is well known and well followed. My experience shows and research evidence supports, that during the last 2-3 months of pregnancy (the strongest hormonal change is from 6 months pre, through until 3 months post*) your desire and ability to focus on work naturally wanes.
Even the most driven mothers-to-be who run their own businesses or are passionately connected to their career, find themselves day-dreaming and “checking-out” mentally several times a day but fight this natural occurring instinct which Mother Nature provides, feeling obliged to carry on to prove their capability as an executive and emotionally challenged to relinquish their corporate power and responsibility for more than a nano second possible before their baby arrives.
I am not advocating maternity leave must start a month before birth – each pregnancy and mother-to-be is different. But I am advocating more time beforehand than I am seeing in the City, and more time spent mindfully.
Women who are physically fit and have maintained a heathy pregnancy schedule may feel able to continue with their commute or transition to some pre-birth “work from home” days before they ease into full maternity leave but the emotional adjustment is often overlooked with many women believing the transition to motherhood needs minimal preparation and will just “happen” with a few days at home or possibly during labour.
Women can be as competitive as their male counterparts and I recognise that handing over the reigns of your role and stepping out of work can be emotionally difficult. Some of the rationale relating to the myriad of issues around maternity pay and new mothers wanting to have “as much time as possible after the birth with their child” rather than before, are credible reasons for staying at work longer.
But spending time with your unborn child, or yes, I’m saying it: On. Your. Own exploring your thoughts, feelings and emotions can be an even better time investment for all, longer-term.
If I had a pound for every time a mother-to-be had expressed the “time with my baby” reasoning I would be sitting in 5* star luxury somewhere still enjoying Easter and not at my desk writing. If I had the same for post birth stories, hindsight and Yes, I wish I’d taken more time for myself to prepare, I would probably own the resort.
The amount of women who invest in yoga classes, antenatal care and pregnancy treatments has increased but we still focus on the physical symptoms rather than the mental and emotional shift.
When women find their brain function and ability is changing, with the left – analytical, logical and cognitive ability slowing (think forgetfulness, absentmindedness and the inability to make incisive decisions) to allow for an expansion of the right – instinctive and intuitive (think creative visualisation, feeling and intuition to gather information retained through images and patterns, working back from the the whole picture rather than towards) our “business selves” fight this change and try to cling on to pre-pregnancy abilities.
There is a definite pressure that many women experience to show that pregnancy “will not affect them” despite all signs to the contrary.
Physically many women do recognise they are coping on less sleep, dealing with more aches and pains and are in fact exhausted and living more on adrenalin than natural high energy but are loathe to step down, step out and embrace the changes which means they are not only missing out on the transition to motherhood as an individual but their businesses and baby’s are too.
Transition and times of change are portals of great opportunity. Sleep and space allow for new ideas and thoughts to almost magically appear. “Free” time gives us the chance to conduct a far wider exploration of our deepest feelings.
Taking time to allow our mindset to adjust gradually, and allowing our bodies to rest pre-baby can do wonders for our coping and new learning abilities. The first few weeks with a new baby, even with a text book birth and help are tiring on all levels. If your emotional state is balanced and your energy more aligned, your coping mechanisms and joy-factor will expand.
Businesses who create a culture that encourage a motherhood mind-set shift sooner rather than later are the ones who will reap the rewards. Women who support other women – both those taking maternity leave and those who step in and cover and those who have walked the path before and share the realities rather than the calamities – are the ones who will be creating the companies we want to return to.
Most mothers cite lack of time as their biggest challenge as they juggle post pregnancy with a continuing career yet ignore the specific and special period available before their bundle of joy arrives to really prepare emotionally. We are often all in a rush to achieve so much, tick off our “to-do” lists and have everything “ready” but what can be more important than opening up to our feelings, embracing the changes available so that reactions to external changes are more fluid, enjoyable and effective?