x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Do you need a maternity comeback coach?

Hiring a "comeback coach" can help women ease the transition between staying home with their baby and returning to full-time work.

Tatiana Rowson, a business psychology consultant, helps women get emotionally ready for returning to the workplace after giving birth. Pawan Singh / The National
Tatiana Rowson, a business psychology consultant, helps women get emotionally ready for returning to the workplace after giving birth. Pawan Singh / The National

There's no doubt about it: making the switch from feed times, bulky changing bags and jungle gyms to boardrooms, handbags and spreadsheets is a huge leap every new mother has to overcome.

Jessica Chivers, who counts herself among the growing breed of maternity comeback coaches, is also the author of Mothers Work! How to Get a Grip on Guilt and Make a Smooth Return to Work. In her research, Chivers found that in the weeks before returning to work, nearly half of new mothers experienced a sense of dread, two-thirds described feeling anxious and three-quarters experienced guilt.

About 10 years ago, a few smart businesses decided to do something about the fact that they were losing a large percentage of talented women as they went on maternity leave and either didn't return to work, or resigned within a year or two after their return. These businesses decided to invest in maternity coaches to help senior professional women through the transition of having a child.

The investment proved to be sound and maternity coaching was discovered to be an effective and financially astute way of retaining key members of talented staff. The word spread, and when maternity coaches began to offer their services directly to women, as well as via businesses, many decided to seek it out for themselves. This innovative form of coaching is now gaining recognition as increasing numbers of women feel empowered to ask for flexible working situations, find help figuring out long-term career goals and discover a balance between work and home.

The Federal Labour Law in the UAE stipulates that working women are entitled to 45 days maternity leave, provided they have at least one year of continuous service. The Ajman FNC member Ali Al Nuaimi recently told the head of the Human Resources Authority that maternity leave is not long enough, and indeed anyone would agree that it is too little time to adjust to a major life change.

Dr Tatiana Rowson, a business psychology consultant who can be hired through the Human Relations Institute & Clinics (www.hridubai.com), helps women deal with the practical and emotional issues involved in returning to work when they've had a baby.

"Women benefit from coaching before, during and after their maternity leave. Sometimes they need as little as one session in each stage to reflect on the challenges ahead," explains Rowson. "During coaching, women benefit from evaluating their different roles at work and at home; they may consider renegotiating their working hours and scope for flexible working and they are able to think about arrangements they need to make for their return."

Rowson has found a number of themes that frequently crop up during coaching sessions. Here are her recommendations for tackling them:

Ÿ Ask for support: Women struggle when they try to do too much. "Sometimes it is really hard for women to ask for support, even from their husbands, as well as asking for flexibility or support from their employers," she says.

Value skills: Some women undervalue their professional status because they have experienced the limitations involved in being a mum. "I emphasise to clients that they don't lose their skills, knowledge and abilities because their family life changed - it is a matter of adjusting life to accommodate different aspects of their identity," explains Rowson.

Accept bad days: Every new mum returning to work will have a few bad days. It is crucial that women accept this, but it is also important to put plans in place which will reduce feelings of anxiety and guilt.

Know that you will feel conflicted and accept that: Family responsibilities will inevitably impact on working life and women may struggle with changes in their ability to pitch in at the office, for example that they are no longer able to work late. At the same time, women may feel guilty that they are not caring for their children full time.

Prepare to face criticism from all corners: "I observe in my practice that women, whatever their choice, are bound to be criticised. If they stay at home with their children, if they go back to work full time, or if they try to balance both - so it is very difficult to win," says Rowson. "I emphasise to my clients that they have to do what is right for them and if they don't know what this is, my job is to support them to find out."

Rowson's strategies to ease the transition back to work

Attend a few meetings at work before returning full time

- Ask to be included on emails a week or so before you return

- Keep up with news from your industry

- Spend an hour or so in the office, for a few days, before your official return

- Make sure you have clothes that fit well and make you feel good

- Find childcare you trust

- Plan your time at work and home; prioritise and think ahead

- Get your husband on board for extra support

- If you need to, get in touch with day care during the day for reassurance

- Make the most of the time with your baby

- Talk to other women

- Get support; don't be afraid or ashamed to ask

- Consider hiring someone to help with housework and other aspects of family life

- If you are suffering from sleepless nights, rest whenever you can

Dr Tatiana Rowson explains how she helped one mother return to work

My client was a lawyer expecting her second child. She decided she needed a six months break before returning to work, which her manager agreed to.

Towards the end of her pregnancy, this woman experienced complications and her baby boy was delivered at 35 weeks. This bumpy start left her feeling very anxious about leaving her baby in anyone else's care and she dreaded the prospect of going back to work at the six-month mark.

She came to see me before her return date as she wanted to find some clarity on what to do. On the one hand, she loved her job and was really looking forward to going back to work, but she was struggling to leave her baby.

During the coaching process, we explored her life priorities and the different options she had. She worked out that if she could phase her return she would feel less anxious and it would help her get used to not being with her baby all the time. We worked on a realistic plan that involved a few hours a week at the firm and working from home - increasing the hours on a weekly basis. While her manager was not thrilled about it, he had no objection provided that there was no loss to the quality of the work that the firm could perform for its clients.

This new mother still needed support after her phased return started, as sometimes it was hard for her to work from home while being tired or interrupted by baby duties, but on an emotional level the plan gave her time to 'process' her return to work. In three months, she was back to work as originally planned and glad she had found the confidence to renegotiate her working arrangements.

artslife@thenational.ae

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