Pregnancy is a wonderful thing which, for us, did not come easily. As a new head of department, it has been an especially difficult time for me; balancing the stresses of exam preparation, coursework and leadership with the very profound concerns of becoming a first time parent is pretty overwhelming. I am constantly trying to reconcile my anxieties and neuroses with my happiness and excitement. I firmly believe that open and honest reflection makes us better in all
aspects of life, and I hope that this post might shine some light on this crazy journey so that other expectant mums in the teaching world might feel slightly less alone. It really is an incredible time, but that doesn’t negate the fact that it is also scary, isolating and unpredictable.
Pregnancy is hard. Probably the hardest thing I have ever done (and I still have two months to go!!!). Your body takes over and no amount of planning, reading or preparation can change the fact that you are no longer the master of your own destiny. This is a scary thing if you’re a control freak like me.
School cultures and support networks are absolutely key to making pregnancy at work bearable. My school have been really excellent, but I know that not everyone is that lucky. I would advise any pregnant teachers out there to think about:
- Brain fog. It is inevitable that you will be forgetful, unable to focus, and generally very tired at various points during your pregnancy. This is made doubly hard if you are in teaching where attention to detail and a god memory are pretty vital parts of the job! Try to identify times in the day where you are the least lucid and plan accordingly (for me this is usually from around 2pm onwards). I often teach A Level in the afternoon, and there have been some comedy moments where I’ve been trying to explain some complex and abstract element of literary theory, and forgotten what I was doing mid-sentence. I am combating this by doing a lot more scripting and planning talking points so that I don’t get off track. If I have anything really intricate or important to do (such as coursework annotation or data stuff), I am ensuring that someone can check it for me when finished, because I know I am more prone to make silly mistakes right now.
- Duties. I had a lot of lunchtime duties which meant that I couldn’t actually sit down to eat at all. Some days that meant I went from an 8:30 duty to back to back lessons, and then a full lunch duty; this was insane. My school made this part of my risk assessment and took these lunchtime slots off me. If you have duties which are outdoors in cold weather, it would be worth asking to be moved inside (pregnancy represses your immune system which makes you far more susceptible to colds). If you have duties on staircases or in places which are going to be really busy, ask to be moved to a location where you are less likely to be jostled.
- Seating. If you have your own classroom or desk area where you work regularly, see if the site staff at school can find you a comfier chair with proper back support. As you get into your third trimester, this is a real life saver.
- Stairs and long journeys. Depending on what your school building is like, it is worth plotting out for yourself what your most common routes around the building will need to be. I don’t have my own classroom, and actually teach over two floors. I am lucky that my school is a very modern building with a lift, and so the site manager gave me one of the much coveted lift keys to make my life easier. If you have lots of stairs and room changes, it might be worth asking if you can do some temporary room swaps with colleagues to keep movement to a minimum.
- Get a wheelie trolley! I had one of these already, but it has become a real lifesaver recently because I struggle even to carry a set of books in my arms at this stage!
- Morning Sickness. All pregnancies are very different, but morning sickness can be very disruptive to your teaching day. I was lucky and clear by about 14 weeks, but for some people it lasts much longer. I would recommend confiding in a couple of key co-workers and probably your TA (if you have one), so that you can be covered if you need to make a quick getaway!
- Plan your food! Once morning sickness is over, you will need to make sure you’re planning your food so that you don’t get dizzy during the day. I eat before I set off in the morning, then again before school starts, then again at morning break, at lunch and finally late in the afternoon. If I don’t have food in school, I get anxious about feeling hungry or dizzy. I tend to stock up on healthy things like fruit and cereal bars, as well as high sugar treats like chocolate (a medical necessity…).
- Keep hydrated. I go through about 3 litres of water or squash during the school day, plus any decaf coffee or tea I manage to get my hands on. It’s really important to drink, even if that means more frequent trips to the loo…
- Train your students! My Y11 class are now totally trained; two or three students come to our workroom before the start of every lesson and ask if they can take things upstairs to the classroom for me. The students we teach are amazing, and generally feel such loyalty to their teachers that they want to look after you! I regularly get spontaneous guards of honour from even the naughtiest Y9 boys when I’m walking through the corridor, “move out of the way, pregnant lady coming.”
- Clothes. Wear literally whatever you want. I have experiemented with lots of different maternity clothes, and have found that some days I am happy in a tighter fitting maternity dress, whereas on others I wish I could wear a cunning fashioned sack. Don’t even bother buying special maternity shoes (waste of money) – I can recommend stocking up on a few pairs of comfy flat sandals or cheap wide-fit pumps.
I feel like I’m on a perpetual emotional roller-coaster and, having talked to some other expectant mums in teaching, I know I’m not alone in feeling like this. One of the main problems is that we feel that the moment we become pregnant, we are supposed to be giving off some life-affirming, loved-up, Earth-mother, barefoot vision of maternal bliss. We feel that we should be constantly happy and in a state of doe-eyed wonder at the impending arrival. It is, therefore, rather disturbing when you are hit with the reality of it all and, while pregnancy really is wonderful, it is also hard; pregnant women have some pretty serious stuff to work through.
In the interests of dispelling some of the doe-eyed myths, here is an honest list of some of the crazy (and sometimes dark) things I have worried about in my pregnancy so far…
- Am I a bad mum because I have worried more about Y11 exams than about labour? Is this pattern going to continue as my son gets older, or am I going to get my priorities straight?!
- Will I cope with maternity leave? Spending the whole summer with my husband (also a teacher) and our new arrival is going to be blissful. But what happens when he goes back to work in September and it’s just me and the baby? I like to think I’ll go all super-mum but, in all seriousness, what if I go totally nuts without some adult conversation? Somehow I can’t see myself becoming one of those women who gets really interested in baby yoga and the intricacies of sleep training…
- As a new head of department, the idea of leaving my team for 9 months is terrifying. They are going to be brilliantly led by one of my colleagues, but this doesn’t stop me from being neurotic…what if they forget me? What if I come back and I’m just not needed?! What if I come back and I’ve forgotten how to teach?!
- Returning to work. I don’t know whether this will be a manageable and welcome change, or the worst thing I ever have to do. Even worse, if I DO find it bearable, does that make me a bad parent?! If it does break my heart to leave my child in a nursery, will that make me a worse teacher?
- I have cried about the most ridiculous things:
Not being able to eat a fish hot dog I saw on a TV advert at 11:30pm
Not being able to find my keys
Thinking I’d lost a bra (one I hadn’t even worn in about 2 years…)
Hearing someone ask a beautifully phrased question on Radio 4 Gardener’s Question Time (in my defence, it WAS about Begonias…)
Not being able to stop laughing at a joke during an A level lesson (yes, I laughed for about 5 minutes, and then had a good cry about it. Good thing my A Level students are so cool…)
The EU referendum
The Eurovision Song Contest
A TV advert for a bank (it had a baby in it…)
I feel like now, at the end of May, I am through the worst of the work-related anxiety. Coursework is posted, exams are underway and all I have to think about now is teaching the classes I have left after Y11 and Y13 have gone, and putting things in place for next year. It is a strange thing to plan a calendar when you know you won’t be there, or write a SOL when you know you won’t teach it. I have five working weeks left until I go on maternity leave, and I am making a pledge now to let go of as much of this baggage as I can. Students will still learn, teachers will still teach, and I will be back so quickly that I will lament ANY time that is not spent on cuddles, half-gurgled conversations and watching my baby sleep.