For Women’s History Month, Jessie Hardcastle, Fit for Kings Manager, reflects on her return to work following her pregnancy.

I joined King’s in June 2009 to a team who could not have been more welcoming. That early welcome to King’s was so effective I’ve not wanted to leave to work anywhere else. I joined the Staff Choir, took part in a variety of internal training courses and, along with a job in the King’s Venues team that meant I helped colleagues from all across the university plan events, I enjoyed the fact that, no matter which campus I visited, there were friendly faces to greet me along every corridor. I had such a sense of belonging at King’s.

In my current role I enjoy inducting staff to Estates & Facilities. Who better to make new colleagues feel welcome than someone who feels like a happy and valued part of the King’s community? What could possibly rock such a sturdy sense of belonging somewhere, which has endured over ten years?

In the last few days of 2017 my partner and I found out we were expecting a baby. I was hugely excited and, with hindsight, pretty naive about becoming a parent.

A picture of a woman with her baby.

One of many things I didn’t expect was that being a new Mum could be incredibly lonely. This was a huge surprise – who would think you could be lonely when you are constantly with the little person you love more than anyone in the world? But those first few months were an emotional roller coaster and not what I thought they would be at all. And when I did manage to attend social events with friends and family, I normally felt like I was just busy keeping my lovely but demanding baby content. This meant that, even at an event surrounded by people who I knew and liked, I still often felt incredibly isolated. You’d think I’d relish going out on my own. But when I did manage a few outings without my little girl, I felt like I had left my heart behind. I didn’t feel present at them. That was just one unexpected part of having a baby.

I had plenty of practical problems arise too, especially related to my return to work. I found out the hard way that, for the best nurseries, you need to register your baby more than a year in advance; yes, that’s while they are still in the womb.

In the months I was off, my boss left. I had a new line manager appointed – a reason to feel a bit apprehensive about returning to work, though thankfully that was an easy transition.

And all those hundreds of colleagues I knew around King’s were not a reason to look forward to travelling about our campuses. It took me a couple of weeks to remember the names of everyone in my own office, let alone anyone outside it. A sort of practical problem you’d expect as a new member of staff, but I now suspect a common and embarrassing problem for anyone who has been on long term leave too.

Just a few months after I became pregnant, King’s held a launch event for the Parents & Carers Network. I (quite literally) tottered along. While on maternity leave, I attended a “drop in” session in the Staff Common Room at the Strand and I brought my little girl. When I returned to work, I attended other drop-in sessions but also an event organised by the network where colleagues talked about what modern family life means to them.

There are so many reasons the Parents & Carers Network has been of value to me. The personal experiences shared and the opportunity to connect with other colleagues has helped settle me back in to feeling part of the King’s community and battle some possible loneliness I might have felt returning to work. I get to hear practical tips from parents with older children (child care in school holidays is already on my mind for the years ahead – I’m unlikely to be caught out the same way as I was with registering for a nursery!) and I get to feel a little more confident myself, as I get the opportunity to offer support and tips to colleagues who are about to go on maternity/paternity leave for the first time themselves. Finally, it’s also been inspiring and reassuring to see colleagues successfully managing careers and family life. I just wish this little gem existed long before I needed it, because countless other staff could have benefited sooner.