parent opinion

'I took two years of maternity leave. 300 applications later, I can't get a job.'

“Well at your age, we recommend you start treatment straight away,” said the IVF specialist looking at us intently, as she showed us a graph that illustrated the decline of the success of IVF treatments after the age of 35.

At 34 and 10 years after having my first baby, I felt like my window was closing and I desperately wanted another one. But the timing wasn’t ideal. My partner and I were still very fresh and I had spent the last 10 years working hard to build in a profile in a significantly male-dominated industry.

That point become null and void a few weeks later, when disclosing our relationship to the (all male) executive leadership team of the publicly listed company we worked for. The CEO, with the assistance of his “subordinates”, orchestrated my exit from the business in circumstances that required a state-based human rights organisation to mediate.

To us, it seemed like a sign, a chance to have one last baby-free holiday before we started the expected arduous and gut-wrenching IVF process.

LISTEN: The Mamamia Out Loud team discuss babies in your 40s: is it time we have a truly honest conversation about the fact it doesn’t happen all that often? Post continues after audio.

My plan was to begin my MBA, complete the IVF process and go back to work once I was pregnant. I would have a few months off to have the baby. It seemed ideal. After all, I’d done it with my first and found it fairly easy to settle into the new baby and working mother lifestyle.

My IVF journey was the polar opposite of what I expected and had seen with friends. Whilst it was invasive, intimate and uncomfortable, we were the lucky ones and a single cycle and a fresh embryo transfer resulted in a big fat positive (BFP).

The day we got our BFP was probably the last “normal” day of our lives for the foreseeable future. My pregnancy and subsequent birth was the epitome of the quote “life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.”

Almost as soon as we had seen the almost invisible heartbeat at our dating scan, our pregnancy had become high risk due to my age, a maternal serum screening, and a bleed. This drama combined with incapacitating motion sickness and migraines meant my return to work plan was quickly waylaid.

Whilst I did get better somewhere between 14 and 28 weeks, my rounded tummy became a pretty obvious deterrent to any employer at that point.

At 28 weeks my entire focus changed. A big bleed, an ambulance ride, and a threatened c-section rocked my world. I was no longer focused on what my life looked like after our baby, but what my life looked like with our baby. We managed to keep him in for almost another six weeks before our lives changed again.

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jobless after baby
"I was no longer focused on what my life looked like after our baby, but what my life looked like with our baby." Image: Getty.

Our son was born not breathing at 34 weeks. Whilst I don’t remember anything about his birth, I remember the subsequent days when we were advised on a daily basis he survived is a milestone.

We had our challenges for the next 18 weeks. We spent our time in and out (mostly in) of hospital only to take home a little boy that required around the clock care that tested both our stamina and relationship.

This was to be the last of our challenges. A breathing condition, feeding tube, and undiagnosed allergies meant it was over 12 months before our son was cleared to attend childcare.

Since that point, I’d estimate I’ve applied for about 300 jobs. My success rate for interviews has been okay, my success rate for jobs has not. The things I’ve seen have shocked me, surprised me and made me wonder why I bothered.

I've driven for an hour in the rain and spent $17 on tolls for a senior role only to be told the Managing Director (who the role reported into and was supposed to be interviewing me) had gone to the bank “and not come back”. This meant the Office Manager with no industry experience interviewed me and told me she didn’t understand my relevant experience.

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I've been told I was 'too strategic' despite being the best candidate for a junior role I applied for.

I've had a male interviewer ask me what I would do with my children whilst I was at work.

I've been told I didn’t ask enough questions in my fourth round interview, so didn’t seem interested in working full time, despite flying interstate, and spending three days working on a case study for a board interview.

The truth is, I didn’t set out to spend over two years on maternity leave. But life had other plans for me. During that time, I have finished my MBA, project managed a renovation of our investment property in a different town, consulted in a part-time senior role and raised one child whilst managing a high needs infant.

I have learned more about resilience whilst praying for my child to breathe his own air, more about leadership from raising two children at times with a partner that spends multiple weeks away and more about teamwork from the amazing friends and family that rallied around us, than I ever would from corporate leadership programs.

My partner is the first to say our relationship cost me my career and most other people say having another baby did. But none of that matters because there's no fighting against society's attitude towards mothers.

Even early on in my career when my daughter was small, I can’t even count the number of people that asked who was looking after my daughter. I never remember a male colleague being asked who was looking after his children.

This has only been sustained by my experiences in going back to work that employers don’t appreciate the experience and skills that are gained from being a stay at home parent.

My partner or son didn’t cost me my career. The attitude and opinions of predominately privileged white men, with wives, mothers and daughters did.

Did you find it difficult finding work after having a baby? Tell us in the comments section below.

Read more:

The actual window women have in their lives to have babies.

'The most offensive things people say to me as an unemployed person.'

A letter to every ambitious woman who wants to have a baby.

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