Take your daughter to work

Harriet recently pointed me to The Guardian’s coverage celebrating your friend and mine, Italian MEP Licia Ronzulli, and her daughter Vittoria’s two year stint within the European Parliament.
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Ms Ronzulli certainly deserves respect for wrangling an infant and then toddler while still doing her job – I am not sure Elphie and I are quite cut out for it…

Last week I made a step gingerly back towards the world of work. Prior to maternity leave, I imagined that my “keeping in touch” time (up to ten days) would predominantly be the two days a year that my company has large divisional training days, but when it came to the first of these last week I just could not do it. It was supposed to be 8am-8pm somewhere in East London and as I tried to imagine the logistics required to get me and Elphie out of the house in time to traipse across London to a training day, I was entirely overwhelmed. We have a La Leche League meeting once or twice a month that requires us to be five minutes down the road by 10.30am and this is often an apparently impossible task – how could we manage 8am?! Then what would happen all day – would Elphie behave? What would I do if she squawked? Where would I feed her?

So I bottled it.

Having been cowardly about that, I was determined that this week I would make my immediate team’s quarterly face to face meeting in Canary Wharf (what is it with this sudden fascination with East London?!). This was at a more realistic time of 5.30-7pm. I would have hours to get there and only an hour and a half to corral the grub. It would be good for me – I would meet my new leader, who I was due to meet on my final two days before maternity leave that never happened; I would remind people of my existence; and I would see a woman who returned to work just as I left who might be able to give me some hints and tips. Think positive – how bad could it be?

So it started well – I departed leaving two and a half hours to get there. The plan was to get to Canary Wharf, have a bite to eat while feeding Elphie and having kept her awake all afternoon, she would be ready for her big afternoon nap. We’d get through the 1.5 hours easy.

So we got there with an hour and a half to go. I scouted the halls of the underground mall for potential bite to eat and breastfeeding combined areas. Being predominantly a business area there weren’t that many buggies about but I did spy a lady breastfeeding in Starbucks – and impressive feat on their bar stools that I decided was beyond me. I opted for Leon instead which was a bit quieter and had some rather bizarre hummus.

My plan began to unravel at that point. Elphie has started to develop a slight aversion to eating in public. She now hates the cover and spends her time batting it away; if away she likes to regularly interrupt her snack to check out what is going on in the room; and sometimes the excitement of being somewhere like Leon is too much and she won’t latch on at all. Brilliant.

New plan. Would finish eating hummus, go and find somewhere to change her (Leon lacked lavatories) and then venture into the cold and more importantly dark outside and try and get her to feed in the sling.

This new plan was quite good – it all worked swimmingly and I was very proud of myself walking into the office lobby a whole 15 minutes early with a sleeping Elphie tucked up in her sling. I had even remembered my identity badge and everything!

We made it to the meeting room, met the new boss, made a decaf coffee (spilled it but nevermind) and had adult small talk with my colleagues. All very civilised. Then she woke up.

It was fine. She was quiet, looking around wondering where on earth I had taken her to this time. The colleagues cooed and she stared intently at them. By this point I had a crowd of around five of them around me when it happened: an explosion from the depths. Yep, of all the times and places, 14 minutes into my work meeting, Elphie had done a poonami. And everyone heard.

An emergency pitstop was required.

Not knowing this particular office and thinking to myself there probably weren’t baby changing facilities, I headed to the ladies. Apparently misreading the sign, I opened the door to a storage room – double took, decided this was a nicer location than the ladies and a step up from a park where she’d been changed in the past and decided it would be our storage room. Of course once changed, she wanted to be fed – so the storage room became a family room for twenty minutes, by which point I was late for the presentations starting and Elphie was wide awake.

I sidled in – immediately disrupting my new leader’s flow as people jumped to offer me a chair despite my protestations (Elphie wasn’t going to stand for no sitting) and I swayed. Sadly the meeting did not that the hubbub of the European Parliament and Elphie occasionally felt the need to interject when a particularly egregious corporate phrase was used. So after a few too many yelps from the sling, I decided to retire. So off we went to another meeting room – from where I telephoned into the meeting happening in the other room! This was much better – Elphie could squawk, I could wander around in circles and we even got some nursing in. Once she was calmer and the meeting moved onto something I would need to see the screen for – we ventured out and finally she fell asleep again and I could creep back in.

Sadly I did not rejoin for the highlight of the meeting (Elphie fell asleep just as the right time) as the corporate speak went off the scale and I struggled to understand exactly what the presenter was trying to sell us given she couldn’t seem to give a single coherent example. I looked down at Elphie and thought I was glad she was strapped to me, as it was certainly not worth leaving home for. (I have a suspicion that on my return, my capacity for listening to what I consider to be meaningless corporate drivel is going to be close to zero).

And then it was done – we had survived! I had met our new leader; we had listened at least to most of the meeting; I had reminded people that I exist and will be returning; and Elphie had been fed and figuratively hosed down.

But it was hard work – I really don’t know how Licia Ronzulli does it, balancing effectively two full time jobs on top of each other at the same time.

Apparently my pre-maternity dreams of whole away days with baby in sling were ambitious to say the least and becoming less tenable as time goes on and Elphie demands more and more
entertaining. The question is, for the next away day, do I persevere for the sake of womenkind to raise the profile of parenting within the workplace and attend with her in sling; or should I conclude that Elphie’s presence is too disruptive and would undermine the very point I am hoping to make?

Guess we’ll have to cross that bridge when it happens!

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