‘Wait. Did you just make me redundant while I was on maternity leave?’

worst mum friend
Made redundant while on maternity leave.
Made redundant while on maternity leave.

BY EMMA SORENSEN

Whoever knew you could be made redundant while on maternity leave? Well, now I do. Because I was made redundant today, 11 months into my year of maternity leave.

It happened when I was at my local Woolworths with the baby in the pram. My mobile rang, while I was perusing the herbs and spices for saffron. I was going to make a vegetable tagine for dinner.

A few minutes into the chit chat about maternity leave pleasures (like shopping at Woolworths during daylight hours) she got to the point.

“I’ve got bad news and good news. We’ve sadly had some changes in the office. I’ve had to let several people go. I’m sorry to say I won’t be able to take you back from maternity leave”.

“Am I being made redundant?” I asked, picking up a tin of chickpeas.

This prompted a sad description of the loss of ad sale revenue and how bad she felt having to do the dirty work.

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Casually mentioning my husband’s former career as an employment lawyer I switched into thrift mode, swapping the saffron for the “imitation saffron”, which on closer inspection turned out to be a powdered food colouring rather than an exotic spice. A $10 saving. I gave myself a pat on the back for thinking like an unemployed person.

I had an inkling the redundancy was coming because I’d received an email asking for an urgent catch up chat from a member of staff I’m not really given to catching up or chatting with. The round of redundancies a colleague had Facebooked about the week before was also a clue.

I added breast pads to the pile of shopping balanced on the pram and we finished our chat with the “good news”: she knew someone who might be looking for a part time writer and would pass on my details.

Emma Sorensen.
Emma Sorensen.

“Thank you, that’s kind,” I found myself saying.

I was to expect a letter from finance. She mentioned I might like to come into the office (it’d been a while) and say goodbye, and that it was probably late notice but they were having drinks that afternoon for the others who were departing. I said I’d see if I could make it.

I paid for the groceries, debriefed with the husband on the phone as I walked home, made the baby lunch and cooked the vegetable tagine with imitation saffron.

The strange thing is that being made redundant didn’t feel like I thought it might. It loosely followed the grieving process condensed into a few hours: calm disbelief, shock, anger, sadness, and self-questioning doubt. Sometimes more than one emotion at once. I felt like a bystander.

While the baby napped I added an “end date” to that job on my LinkedIn profile and read an article on surviving redundancy. Summary: Don’t get too depressed, keep looking for something else, think positive. Got it.

I indulged in a quick and quiet wallow in self-pity while I searched seek.com.au and found two part time jobs. One required me to write advertorials on household appliances; for the other I would need to speak Persian-Farsi or Punjabi. This was not promising.

Naturally my major worry became not having washed my hair that morning. It was greasy enough to stay in a ponytail without a hair tie. I woke the baby and arrived at the farewell drinks to find hardly any of my – now ex – colleagues even knew I was among the chosen few to have been made redundant. I had to break the news myself.

One cornered me to explain it wasn’t her decision. Most people were at pains to tell me how bad they were feeling about the restructure. I know they’re left working in a depleted, depressed office, but hell, how about me? I was grieving for the abrupt career change, as well as the water cooler conversations, free weekly fruit, Melbourne Cup lunch and Christmas party that I’ll no longer have.

I’m not unique. I know a lot of people who’ve been made redundant over the past few years – some of them several times in a row in volatile industries.

I’ve always offered the same advice: “Don’t worry, with your skills something will turn up, keep looking, and enjoy the time off”. I was hearing these plus a new one: “oh at least you’ll get to spend more time with the kids”. Yes, very true, but I have a joint mortgage and bills and a husband who could probably use a hand with all that.

Missing the watercooler conversations.
Missing the watercooler conversations.

While I was sad about leaving the baby and increasing my pre-schooler’s days at day care, in many ways I was looking forward to going back to work after maternity leave. After all, I’d get to drink tea, eat lunch, have a conversation and go to the toilet uninterrupted.

It might just have been a job, but it was my job, and it suited me for now. I had a glass of champagne (on the company) to help digest the situation.

As I bid a hasty farewell to my work life and raced to collect the pre-schooler before the childcare centre shut for the day, it dawned on me that the job itself was only a fraction of the problem – the logistics are the biggest issue. Western life is complicated.

Two kids in full-time Sydney childcare costs about fifty grand a year. Then there’s tax and bills. Is it worth it? You don’t need to be a mathematician…

Inner-city childcare centres are not only expensive, they’re hard to get into, tricky to change days, and some days are more popular than others.

I was fortunate enough to work part-time. There’s a lot of rhetoric around flexible working but there are few higher level part time jobs advertised. Most women thinking of having children hang in there with a full time job they’ve got already until they have a baby, and then negotiate to go part time if they’re able to manage the financial and logistical considerations.

Unluckily my industry is also – as widely reported, and as evidenced by my own redundancy – an industry in a time of flux and change that hasn’t reinvented itself fully yet. Freelance writers (many of whom like me have been made redundant) are queuing up to write stories for a pittance. Young graduates are begging to write for free. We’re all guessing at what it might become.

I’m not bitter. I know how redundancy works: it’s not personal, it’s business. It’s about the bottom line. It’s out of my hands.

Redundancy has kindly reminded me that the biggest problem of all as a working mother of young children is juggling the practicalities: compromising on career to balance childcare or vice versa. Every mother does it. But having to start from scratch could be trickier than I thought.

Emma has worked as a journalist and managing editor for magazines and websites in Australia, the US and the UK. After being made redundant she’s thrown herself into a new venture, creative consultancy Antelope Media. You can follow her on Twitter here.

Have you ever been made redundant? Do you have any advice on how to handle this difficult situation?

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