Weeknotes #1: On returning to work after maternity leave

w/c 23rd March

w/c 23rd March

After years of lurking on other people’s weeknotes, I’ve decided it’s long overdue that I join the bandwagon.

Gearing up to join the world again

I’ve just wrapped up my first week “back” at work (meaning working from home in this pandemic world but more on that later) after a nine-month maternity leave from the Canadian Digital Service. And in many ways, it feels like week one — I had only been working at CDS a few months when my son was born, and those early days were fraught with the stress of moving internationally, while pregnant, with a 4 year old. If I’m honest, when I think back on my short time at CDS before the baby, it’s hard to recall doing anything that had any impact. I just had too much going on.

As my official start date grew closer, I found myself feeling every emotion:

  • Good, old fashioned grief over leaving my baby and ending this phase in both of our lives, particularly knowing that this will almost certainly be the last time I have this kind of time to just be with my baby.
  • But also: Relief! This maternity leave had been much lonelier than my last (not surprising considering I had just moved to a new city.) I assumed I’d make friends doing the school run for my 4-year-old but aside from a couple lovely souls, most of the parents huddled tightly in their own groups and didn’t acknowledge the outsiders in their ranks. I joined a grassroots mums group online and had high hopes for that too but it quickly became cliquey and full of drama (but I did make one good friend there so it’s still a win.)
  • More relief! It’s so nice (or will be nice when daycares open again) to share the day-to-day routine with our new caregiver — to not be the only one responsible for feeding, changing, and educating the baby during daylight hours. With both my children, having that time away each day — even when it’s spent working — has made me feel like a better mum, less irritated by all the small parenting tasks that make being a mum feel like an impossible job. For me, being a working mum and sharing the load feels far easier than staying at home.
  • But mostly: Fear. My imposter syndrome was raging as I thought about heading to work again. I have lots of practical work experience, but I’m older and less educated than most of the very clever people I work with and as a mum, I’m physically unable to put in the extra hours to make my work perfect. Long hours are not expected of me, but there’s still a voice in my head that I should be working twice as hard to make up for my “shortcomings.” I’m thankful I have the sense to recognise that this voice isn’t grounded in reality, but nevertheless it’s still there.


I bought some new shirts and touched up my roots in anticipation of heading back to the office but it turns out this was all for nought — with COVID-19 self-isolations going on and both schools and daycares closed, my “back to work” is stranger (and harder) than I ever imagined. Being home with one kid felt challenging, being home with two was really difficult, and being home with both AND a full-time job feels, frankly, impossible. But yet, here I am, doing it, day by day.

I don’t really know how to do it all, but these things have helped:

  • Asking my work to be flexible (which they have been, immensely so) and blocking out a couple of hours in the middle of the day for non-screen activities and outdoor time.
  • Structuring my day around when the baby usually naps (which has varying success.)
  • Making a big bento box of healthy snacks first thing in the morning for my 4 yr old so she never has to bug me for food.
  • Asking my mum do a regular “nana school” over videocall in the afternoon
  • Never cleaning my house.
  • Embracing the chaos of kids on hangout calls, disney movies in the background, hunching over my laptop on kitchen table while the child does playdough.

Despite it all, hitting the ground running

Any ideas I had about being gently eased back into work and spending my first couple of weeks reading documents and drinking tea (virtually) were swiftly dashed when I was put on a short two-week portage project looking into how we compensate research participants (fyi portage is like a Canadian version of the GDS firebreak, named after a canoe portage.)

Not going to lie, the first few days of being on this project were a bit rough. I was meeting my team for the first time and taking in a lot of information about what they wanted from the quick discovery. My head spun thinking about all the things we needed to find out in two weeks.

But by my third or fourth day back, after a good chat with my line manager and checking in with my past experience, I remembered that it’s not a researchers job to research every question our team has — it’s our job to prioritise the most important questions and do the research that will answer them. For example, my team wanted my research to recommend a solution but I reminded myself that it’s not my job to provide a solution — I’m here to uncover the user needs that will shape how we decide on a solution as a team. Once I figured that out, it all felt a lot more manageable and I was able to feel energised about what we’re doing.

Enough rambling!

In the spirit of “done is better than perfect”, I’ll wrap up my first weeknote without proofreading, adding pictures or putting much thought into structuring it because the baby has just woken up from his nap.

I would like to say a quick thanks to all the weeknotes people who’ve inspired me to start doing this— and particularly to my former colleague Sam Villis whose weeknotes I always feel better after reading.