As a new mom and a new starter at MoJ, working and looking after a child during a global pandemic has not always been smooth sailing but there has been a lot of support and ways to get help from the organisation.
Starting a new job after maternity during a global pandemic
I applied for a role at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) at the start of the summer while I was still on maternity leave. Not having worked during the initial COVID-19 outbreak and lockdown, and returning to work after a year off, I was torn between excitement to start a new job, and anxiety about leaving my 11-month old son in nursery for the first time.
Despite not being able to meet people face-to-face, my new line manager and team made sure I felt welcome and provided a very comprehensive and useful induction to my job and the organisation. In my first week it didn’t seem like a big deal to return to work (virtually) after having had a baby. In fact, I felt very productive and was happy to save on the commute and spend more time with my family.
Yet, the reality of working with a child during COVID turned out to be not as simple as I first assumed.
Working and childcare in quarantine
Due to a family bereavement in the second week of my employment we had to travel to Bulgaria where I’m from. Coming back after two weeks of leave, we had to quarantine at home for 14 days. This coincided with a lot of the kick-off meetings and workshops for my team, which I was supposed to start leading. My partner and I had to take shifts to look after our increasingly active son, whilst juggling meetings and working evenings and weekends to catch up with work.
A few weeks later, we had to self-isolate again for 10 days and get tested for COVID-19 as my son had developed some persistent fever (which, for anyone who hasn’t got a baby, happens very often and is not a big deal at all, but as it’s now the symptom of the deadly virus, it becomes a lot more complicated). This resulted in a similarly exhausting setup to before. On a positive note, I had an easy way to lighten up the atmosphere of any meeting by bringing in my son on screen to practice his newly acquired waving skills.
Challenges and ways to get support
Throughout these times there was absolutely no undue pressure or expectation from MoJ or my colleagues to deliver whilst juggling childcare. I felt there was great support and flexibility, especially from my immediate team and line manager who were very understanding when I couldn’t attend or had to reschedule meetings in order to fit in urgent caring responsibilities. I also tried to block in advance some time in my calendar when I knew I have childcare responsibilities, and made sure I communicate this to my team.
However, despite the understanding at work, the constant cycle of work and childcare can feel quite relentless, blurring any boundaries between the job and home. It is mentally and physically draining, especially as there is no one who can physically come in to help, so it is important to take a bit of time to disconnect. I try to practice mindfulness and I also aim to take a bit of time off any screens before bed to relax. Going out for at least a brisk walk every day (when allowed) has also been a respite for me, and on weekends I try to do some exercise. Finally, I’ve relied on daily video calls to keep in touch with family and close friends.
Ultimately, it can be really challenging, stressful and exhausting to work during a pandemic, and caring responsibilities only compound this situation. I am grateful and lucky to be working at the MoJ during these times because I feel like my individual well-being and mental health are prioritised, and there are many ways to seek help or get support.