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Issue 151 Spring 2024

Endocrinologist > Spring 2024 > Features



You’d assume that having experienced maternity leave once before would have equipped me, or at least given me a sense of what to expect, the second time around. It turns out, nothing truly prepares you, because each child is a unique adventure and, in my opinion, it definitely doesn’t get any easier on the second go. Yet, despite the challenges, life without my boys is unimaginable.

Photograph of Fozia Shaheen seated in the laboratory, smiling at the camera

Fozia in the lab

I stepped into my current role right before the arrival of my first son. That initial break from experimental work was somewhat smooth. Returning to work after his birth felt like hitting the reset button, almost a fresh start. However, the second time around wasn’t as seamless; it wasn’t just about picking up where I left off – it posed a new set of challenges.

My second pregnancy threw me some curveballs, making it challenging to maintain my usual pace of work. Towards the end, complications and fatigue forced me to pace myself. I wrapped up ongoing experiments, updated my notes, organised the lab, and streamlined everything as much as I could for my maternity cover. I aimed to make the transition as smooth as possible for my colleagues.

I had planned to stay connected with my colleagues and the lab’s ongoing projects. Fortunately, I managed to participate in some training days and attend equipment demo sessions at various companies. Although I initially hoped to make occasional visits to the lab, juggling my older son’s school schedule and caring for a newborn made it challenging. There simply weren’t enough hours in the day.

The first time, I took an 8-month break, thinking it would be sufficient, but it passed in the blink of an eye. So, the second time around, I aimed for maximum time off: around 13 months, combining maternity leave and accrued annual leave. I began my break a month before my due date, spending quality time with my first born during his summer break and preparing for the new arrival.

Baby number two surprised us by arriving a few days early, just as my older son started reception class at school. The next 12 months were a whirlwind of caring for the newborn and helping my older son adjust to both school and his new sibling.

As my annual leave dwindled, I geared up for my return to work, and I can’t emphasise enough how crucial the support of my husband and parents was in making this transition smoother. Their role provided the flexibility and backing that traditional childcare wouldn’t offer. I’ve been fortunate to rely on family support for both my little ones, steering clear of sending them to nursery at such a tender age. It brought me comfort, easing the stress, knowing they were at home with loved ones.

Returning to work the second time was an even greater challenge. Now, with two young children to get ready alongside myself, it felt like a job before the actual workday began. I had concerns about coping, reintegrating, and how long it would take to get back into the flow of things. The initial weeks required adjustment, but, surprisingly, with great colleagues and the chance to pace myself back into lab work, it felt like I had never been away.

Though I often wondered about my baby and how my mum managed with him and my older son while I was at work, luckily, there were no doubts about their well-being, just curiosity. Yet, I won’t deny the joy of a quiet tea break at work.

Returning full-time while juggling parenting duties, dealing with school bugs and managing family responsibilities has been undeniably challenging. Being prepared for illnesses, balancing work and family duties, and not forgetting about your 5-year-old’s school activities are all part of the game. The key for me has been having a supportive group of colleagues who are also parents, understanding the intricate dance of parental life with young children.

Mass Spectrometry Specialist Technician, University of Birmingham

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