Meet Sarah – she is our Head of Talent Acquisition. She has recently returned to work from maternity leave. In a very open and honest conversation, she spoke to us about the hopes, fears and expectations that she experienced ahead of baby Ella’s arrival.
She went on to talk about how she has found adjusting to being a mum. We finished up by chatting about her return to work and the steps she has taken to get her work and mum-life balance right during the Covid-19 crisis. Read on to learn about her life-changing journey…
What were your expectations ahead of maternity leave?
I was concerned about how I was going to be on maternity leave due to being quite work-orientated. I love my job and the people I work with and thrive on a busy environment surrounded by smart people and new learnings. So I thought I might be a bit bored. I decided to line up a couple of learning courses to do at home. I worked right up until the end - pretty much until I physically couldn’t move. I ended up having two weeks before my daughter Ella was born, because she was overdue - and then the adventure began with a bang!
How did you find adjusting to being a mum?
Most people see it as the most beautiful gift you could ever be given, and it is. But it is also mentally and physically painful, tough and life-changing.
After a long and tricky delivery, we were stuck in hospital for a week after the birth because Ella had developed an infection. The work-related projects that had still been whirling around my mind pre-Ella immediately vanished as I focused on trying to recover physically to be able to look after my new baby. You are thrown into in a surreal little bubble, but despite this I couldn’t quite fully break away from my wonderfully supportive colleagues. Some of the first people I contacted to share the news were my manager and immediate team.
For the first three months I struggled physically and was in and out of hospital a few times. My partner was commuting back and forth to Leeds. Quite often I would have family members help me with Ella.
She started sleeping through the night from about eight weeks, which was incredible – we realise how lucky we are. I started to feel a lot better and it got more fun. There were also gaps during her naps or in the evening when she was asleep where I could get stuff done. I decided it wasn’t the time to start a learning course after all! I laugh now thinking that I might have been bored on maternity leave. My brain had switched into mum-mode and I now knew I had to give all my energy to Ella and make the most of spending time with her to give her the best start I could.
What were your biggest worries about returning to work?
Pre-maternity leave, we were a high-volume team at the forefront of the growth of DAZN. I knew how much the business would evolve whilst I was away and I was nervous knowing I might return and feel a little left behind. I was worried that my experiences might not be transferable into the team upon my return. I thought I might struggle to adapt to the way the whole place had changed and not be good at my job anymore.
I had arranged for Ella to be in childcare for two days a week and she was going to be with a grandparent for the other days. Whilst I had guilt for leaving her and returning to work, I also knew that she would be spending a lot of her time with family, which is a nice thing. I always knew that her relationship with her grandparents would grow, so I felt happy for my mum and my dad that they would get to spend so much time with her.
I returned to work sooner than my peer group. A lot of them still haven’t returned to work even now. Most have taken the full year so for me going back after seven months, I was worried that I might be doing the wrong thing for Ella. You have this constant mum guilt. To leave her with the child minder for the first time was one of the hardest things that I have ever had to do.
How did your return play out?
I was a bit wobbly for the first few weeks. I had a staggered return to work which meant Ella could transition to her new surroundings more gradually. On the days I left her, I couldn’t stop thinking about her, hoping she was happy. It was tough getting back into busy DAZN life when you are thinking about that little face that you have just left with the child minder.
Luckily my child minder was amazing and kept sending me pictures of her. Ella was thriving because she was especially enjoying the interaction with the other children. It was such a huge relief to know that everything was OK. Every picture was of her smiling. Once that weight was lifted, it allowed my brain to shift into a better place and focus on work.
DAZN has been very flexible with me. For the days that Ella was with the child minder pre-COVID, getting to work for nine and leaving at half five was impossible. The business was understanding of me coming in a bit later and leaving a bit earlier. As long as you get your work done they trust you and that takes a lot of pressure off.
How have you found juggling work and mum-life during the Covid-19 crisis?
It is a tough time right now, not only for new mums but for everyone. Trying to juggle teething, weaning, crawling, working and sleeping is a challenge - especially with the uncertainty of the future.
You do have to find a way to re-wire your brain to make sure you can cope with the everyday demands of your job. You need to roll with lots of things happening at the same time and become an expert multi-tasker. Luckily working at DAZN has given me plenty of practise for that.
In the morning, I would normally try to leave the kitchen neat and tidy before going to work so everything is calm and clear when you get home in the evening after a busy day - it’s not like that anymore. There are bits of toast and porridge everywhere. I am constantly mopping the floor, cleaning Ella’s high chair and picking spaghetti out of my hair.
Where I would normally like to see everything tidy, I have just had to let that go. If the place is a mess, it doesn’t mean that you’re a failure - it just means that you are adapting and accepting that we are in a global pandemic, and that you are working and looking after a 10-month-old.
Something that really helps me after a busy and tiring day is to look back at stuff that I have achieved that day. It might be simply that I got out of the flat and went for a walk, I cooked something new for Ella that she likes or I learnt something new. It could be anything – just to remind me that even the little things can be a big achievement when you are a new mum.
What steps have you taken to get your work/life balance right?
There’s a lot of planning and flexibility that goes into two people working at home with a baby during Coronavirus.
Anything that you can do to be a little more organised really helps. I have put in my diary when Ella needs to be fed so colleagues know it’s not ideal to put meetings in at those times. Ella has got quite familiar with my team now due to all the video calls but when I know that I need to have a conversation that can’t be interrupted, I collaborate with my partner to make sure that he is able to take care of Ella during that time. And vice versa. We compare diaries the night before so we know what to expect the next day.
Preparing food in advance has also helped and takes the stress away from trying to cook something healthy last minute. Even if the mess does stay on her highchair for the rest of the day sometimes!
The great thing about DAZN is, as long as you get your work done, it doesn’t matter when or how it happens. So if I do need to get some fresh air with Ella during my working day if I don’t have meetings or calls, I can catch up in the evening if need be. Some candidates have actually preferred having an evening call with me as it did not interrupt their own working days.
To sum up, how can future mums expect their lives to change?
They are about to experience probably the most magical thing that will ever happen to them in their whole entire life, but they also need to try to keep an open mind that it may pull focus away from other areas of life. I sometimes lose my personal phone for a whole day whereas previously I would often be on it contacting friends and family.
Working in a demanding job and looking after a baby at the same time can be tough at times – more so without childcare during COVID. Accept it. For me, sleep is key. It’s important to make sure that you get time to get some rest and have some time to yourself. Early nights a few times a week are now essential as now you don’t know when you are going to get woken up during the night. So even if you’re not tired, try to wind down and get to bed with a good book.
Now you have a baby, you have a new priority. Don’t beat yourself up if you’re not always able to deliver 110% like you used to in other aspects of your life. This is a new chapter.