pregnancy

"I returned to work a week after giving birth to my first child. I wouldn't recommend it."

Returning to work one week after giving birth is something I did, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

I grossly underestimated what a physical toll labour takes on your body and I still feel a sense of guilt for the valuable bonding time I lost with my son, Lucas, which I won’t get back.

I was an ICU nurse who decided to try my luck at entrepreneurship with my partner, Alex. Together we started Black Swallow and it didn’t take long for the business to take off. I fell pregnant within the first year of running our business and I needed to quit nursing to give our business the best chance at success.

I was eight months pregnant when we had outgrown our home business and we desperately needed to move into our very first warehouse. I didn’t receive any maternity leave and I had several new employees who still needed my guidance. I worked up until my due date and returned to work within a week, baby in one arm breastfeeding and the other hand on the computer responding to emails.

My labour was excruciating. Lucas was 4kg and he was early. I was induced at 38 weeks with a large-sized 95th percentile baby (meaning he was bigger than 95 per cent of babies) which resulted in many stitches and damaged pelvic floor muscles.

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Catherine and husband Alex after the birth of baby Lucas. Image: Supplied.

I worked long hours at the warehouse and didn't allow myself time to recuperate. The stitches took five months to heal and I'm still working on those pelvic floor muscles.

The lack of sleep drove me to a dark place and I would cry myself to sleep at night, often wondering why I was so silly to quit my stable job and start my own business.

If I had stayed at my full-time nursing job, I would've received paid maternity leave and I could've enjoyed my time being a "normal" mother at home. Financially, nursing paid all our bills and we were fairly comfortable.

However, I knew it was too late to turn back time and I had to push on to ensure my son had clean nappies and a roof over his head. I was also responsible for the full time staff that I employed and had to make sure the business was running efficiently so that everyone was paid on time.

During this difficult time, we managed to turn over $10 million in our second year of business. However, it definitely took its toll on me physically and mentally.

Tiffiny Hall shares her very rough birth story on our pregnancy podcast, Hello Bump. 

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My mother in law stepped in to look after Lucas when he was three-months-old. She looked after him Monday to Friday, so I never got to develop that close bond with my son by spending sufficient time with him.

The guilt was immense. I even found myself on Google researching if my son would grow up to hate me. I admit, it was selfish but I did what I thought was right. I don't regret it, and I hope that my kids will grow up and appreciate what mummy and daddy had to do to ensure they would have a great future.

Things are a little different this time round. Our business, Black Swallow, is two and a half years old and is now at a point where I am able to take the proper time off to be the mother I wanted to be with Lucas.

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Catherine and husband Alex, co-founders of Black Swallow. Image: Supplied.

I am currently nine months pregnant with baby number two, who is expected to arrive any day now. We have an amazing team of experienced staff who are now able to run the business without me being there, so I am able to work a couple of hours from home every day while Lucas naps.

It will mean I can enjoy my time at home this time round with baby number two.

My top tips for anyone juggling a new business with family are to separate work and family, don't try to do both at once, don't work harder, find a way to work smarter and know your roles as a couple, both at home and at work to save arguments.

Building a team who are happy and feel respected at work is also important. If your staff are well cared for, they will continue to go above and beyond to look out for the best interest of the business.

Let go of the reigns too and trust the people around you. I always thought I needed to have a say in everything but I've learnt to sit back and let my staff do what they know best. After all, I was the one who employed them for their expertise and knowledge so it wouldn't be right for me to mould them into the workers I want them to be.

*Since writing this piece Catherine Wong has given birth to her second child.

How long was it before you returned to work after having a baby? Tell us in the comments section below.

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