‘I went back to work a week after giving birth’
THE average Australian woman takes nine months maternity leave, but Catherine Wong was back at work just a week after giving birth to her first child.
The founder of online retailer Black Swallow was starting to set up her business when she fell pregnant with her son Lucas.
Ms Wong was still working as a nurse, doing night shifts to pay the bills but quit her job further into her pregnancy to focus on the business full time.
"I worked up until my due date and I was back at work one week after giving birth because the business still needed me. It wasn't an option," Ms Wong, 29, told news.com.au.
"I didn't have paid maternity leave. If I didn't work, we wouldn't have a roof over our heads," Ms Wong said.
Returning to work so soon was a struggle for Ms Wong, who was recovering from a traumatic birth.
"I took five months to heal and I didn't do myself any favours by [returning to work quickly]. I don't recommend anyone do it," she said.
"My baby was in the 95th percentile [meaning he was bigger than 95 per cent of babies]. I had to be induced at 38 weeks because they were worried I wouldn't be able to push him out on my own. He was 4kg and he was early. I had a lot of stitches, it was pretty horrible."
Her staff helped out with any work that required physical activity, so most of her work was at a desk.
"I had the baby next to me and I was nursing him and feeding him at my desk. I was OK, I just had to delegate a lot of my tasks to my team members," she said.
But like many mothers, she felt an overwhelming sense of guilt about leaving her child.
"I felt so guilty. It's something that I still feel really bad about," she said.
"I lost a lot of bonding time with my son, because once I established a feeding routine, I was able to go to work and my mother in law looked after him from Monday-Friday.
"She did everything from feeding to carrying him and he would push me away because he preferred her. I cried myself to sleep on many nights. I'm at home now trying to rebuild that relationship."
Still, it was a sacrifice she was prepared to make for her family's long-term security.
"I had to do it. I had to work and I know he will appreciate that in the future when he is old enough to understand.
"The business is at a really good position right now where I can work at home while Lucas sleeps. I do minimal hours everyday and stay at home, which is what I wanted.
"I had to sacrifice that first year of quality time with my son to be able to work at home and spend more time with him as he grows up. I want to be there for him when he goes to school."
Lucas is now 20 months old and Ms Wong is currently eight months pregnant with her second child, who is expected to arrive in two week's time.
She plans to do things a little differently this time around.
"There's no rush for me to go back to work. I don't need to be there. I can still work from home and my partner goes to [into the office] everyday.
"When I was a nurse I was doing 12-18 hour rotating shifts, coming home at 7am. How can you have any sort of normality at home if you're doing crazy shifts like that?
"That's what drove me to start my own business - that flexibility."
News.com.au has previously reported on the struggle many working women face when trying to balance motherhood and their careers.
An alarming new survey released last week found that having a baby is one of the worst things a woman can do for her career, because Aussie women who take time off work to have children are being screwed over by their bosses.
Despite many companies paying lip service to the idea of a "flexible" workplace, a new survey of 1000 Australian women, interviewed anonymously, tell as a different story.
Many women gave horrifying examples of being made redundant while pregnant or shortly after giving birth.
"I was asked to attend a meeting to discuss my 'return to work options' and when I arrived, I was told my role was redundant," one woman said.
"In actual fact, my maternity cover had been hired into a newly created role, which sounded very like my role with a different title, and I was simply discarded with no options offered to me at all."
Another woman was told to her face that having a baby was going to damage her career.
"My manager basically told me that I'll be less reliable because I have a young child to care for now, and that I should bow out gracefully so someone else could keep their job. I had been planning to return to work full-time," she said.
The report commissioned by jobs website Flex Careers found that on 50 per cent of new parents feel adequately supported by their employer. Sixty-five per cent said their experience of pregnancy, parental leave and return to work has significantly affected their mental health and 71 per cent said the ordeal had significantly reduced their confidence and self-belief.
More than 12 per cent of respondents were contacted while on parental leave to be told their role was redundant, and a further three per cent were made redundant shortly after announcing their pregnancy.
The most heartbreaking stat from the survey revealed that 65 per cent said how the were treated put them off returning to or remaining in the workforce.
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