And just like that, in what feels like the blink of an eye, The Wife is back to work after 23 weeks – two days shy of six months – at home with me and Eli.
We knew before we were even pregnant with him that should we get past the 24 week mark again, and be eligible for maternity / paternity leave, that we’d milk Shared Parental Leave for all it was designed for. And it has absolutely been the best decision for us as a family.
We had used Shared Parental Leave for Leo – I’d given The Wife four weeks of my leave, so she could have six weeks off. At the time, that felt rather luxurious compared to the standard two weeks paternity leave that she would have got. In actual fact, it served to benefit us more than we would know – allowing us to not even consider thinking about one of us returning to work straight away after Leo died. It gave us time to bury our son, and start to rebuild things, before the added stressors of work. That said, six weeks doesn’t really cut it in those circumstances – I’m not sure what length of time would?
Fast forward to Eli’s pregnancy, and we had planned to do the same – but not six weeks, six months. For those who aren’t aware (probably the vast majority, seeming as Shared Parental Leave is relatively new) – Shared Parental Leave allows me as the (birth) mother to ‘give’ a portion or virtually all of my 52 weeks statutory maternity leave and 39 weeks statutory maternity pay, over to The Wife. It doesn’t matter who our employers are, or what each of them pay – so long as we are both entitled under the usual maternity/paternity entitlement, then sharing it out is also an option. You can take your leave together, or you can stagger it, for example, 3 months on / off.
So, contrary to popular belief – we aren’t rocking some special lesbian leave! The Government haven’t dropped the ball and given both of us maternity leave – any couple (provided that they meet eligibility criteria in terms of length of service etc etc) are able to do this.
We opted to take the time off together – mainly because for us, using this leave isn’t for childcare or career progression. Its for family, its for memories, its for self-care, and its because, once your bury a child, work just lacks that same level of… importance. Your priorities change.
We reasoned that after everything – years of fertility treatment, Leo dying, and a miscarriage – we deserved to be able to relax and enjoy newborn life without the added stressors of work, and we BOTH deserved it on equal measure. No, we can’t afford it… (I am only entitled to statutory pay and of that relatively small amount, I have lost some of it because of how we’ve split our leave – but you can share the leave, and not loose any money at all)... but I know for certain that I will not look back on Eli’s first six months in years to come and remember how much money we did or didn’t have – I’ll look back on hundreds of pictures of so many memories. And for that, I am beyond grateful.
I’m sad to see this part of it all come to an end, but equally itching to start a little bit of normality for a while. Its been a busy few months, especially lately – all good things, but busy. We’ve moved house, had breaks away, visited family, swimming lessons, fundraised, been on the news… all sorts! I’m looking forward to taking stock and processing it all. I’m sure it won’t be long before I’m craving some more adult company or wishing I had a spare pair of hands back – no doubt a delayed reaction to the crazy life of baby. But I also know, it won’t be long before The Wife is away with work here, there or everywhere and it’ll just be me 24/7 for a while, and I’ll be glad we took the time when we could to immerse ourselves in the everyday lives of our little family of four.
After all, when else can you both have six months off together before you retire? Unless we both end up unemployed or millionaires, I’m not sure its going to happen again. I’m pleased we gave ourselves that gift. And I’m pleased that we gave Eli that gift – he won’t remember, but I have no doubt that it will serve a positive influence in his development by being around us both equally for the first six months of his life.
The main bits of confusion about it all though, from other people, have been…
Why would you want to spend that much time with your wife at home, when you could be at work? Answer : because we both actually married someone we like to spend time with. Its a fairly sensible idea. Yeah, sure, we’ve irritated each other (who doesn’t?) and we’ve never spent this long in each others pockets, but theres no other pockets I’d rather be in.
Why would you want to be at home changing nappies when you could be at work? Answer : quite simply, because our first son died.
The main answer though, is for the memories. Memories mean everything to us. Absolutely everything. Especially when we had memories robbed from us when Leo died. So with Eli, every second is a memory. Nappies, sick, cries and all. I’m borderline obsessed with taking enough photos (that little voice in my head is always concerned it’ll be the last one), so as a result, we have a lot of photos to show Eli when he is older about his earliest adventures.
No doubt The Wife will come home from work tonight, and will have missed us both more than she would have expected. We miss her too – although, right now, its rather peaceful around the house. But such is the world of perfect timing, she is only back for a week, before a break for Christmas… so life is easing us gently back to normality.
And heres to another six months of memories kid, lets go move mountains.
– J x
You can find our more about Shared Parental Leave here. I’d recommend to absolutely anyone. If you have any questions about it and how it can work, feel free to ask – I feel fairly clued up now having sorted it out twice..!