On July 3, 2015 at about 4 PM, I updated my work voicemail and turned on my out of office as I was starting my maternity leave. My due date was July 12 so I had at least a few days to rest and relax before the big day. Little did I know that my water would break a few hours later and life as I knew it had completely changed! While I was in labour, I remember my husband saying, "Could you hold off having the baby so that the baby could be born on July 4?" to which I responded, "That’s not exactly my priority right now!" Sure enough, baby Timothy would arrive on July 4, much to the delight of our family and friends, especially my American husband and family. I guess this means that Timothy will always get fireworks on his birthday.

My maternity leave definitely had its ups and downs. To be upfront, there were many defeating moments; the routine of diaper changes, feedings, rushing to eat, squeezing in chores all while I was sleep deprived was a rude awakening; a very stark contrast to the life I had where I went to work, spent quality time with my husband and socialized with family and friends. Having said that, certainly it wasn’t all doom and gloom at all! There were so many tender moments when I would watch Timothy sleep, smile, clap his hands and take his first steps. When he was just a tiny thing, I remember him sleeping on my stomach and wow what an incredible feeling...

Another highlight of my maternity leave was participating in a program Roots of Empathy with Timothy. The goal of this program is to help prevent bullying by helping young children be more empathetic. This was achieved with having Timothy as the teacher where each month, Timothy and I would go to the same kindergarten class and they would watch him develop over the year. The children eagerly awaited Timothy’s arrival and would sing him songs and play with him all while noticing what he can now do vs. what he did the last time; from rolling over, to sitting, to standing and walking. Timothy and I loved being around the children and it was an absolute delight to be part of this amazing program!

Over the last year, I learned many new things being a first time parent as well as important life lessons that could be applicable to our career journeys:

1. Step outside your Comfort Zone
Some parents seem more natural at parenting while others need to work a bit harder at it; I fall in the latter category. Being an introvert, it is not my natural instinct to be overly expressive and talk/commentate all my thoughts and actions, especially to a new born baby that may not reciprocate. Often when I was alone with Timothy, there was a lot of silence. Over time, this would signal to me that I needed to start engaging Timothy whether it be talking and singing; once I did so, I could see Timothy was more engaged and often excited and happy. While it is still not natural to me, I feel more comfortable doing so as it has developed into a habit.

 

Linking this to our career journey, we encounter many circumstances that don’t feel natural to us whether it’s asserting ourselves, speaking in front of groups, learning something new, adapting to change etc. We can always test new behaviours in "safe" environments with close colleagues, volunteer initiatives etc. and a conversation with our immediate manager may help broker the right opportunities to test and practice these new behaviours...

2. Importance of Self Care
I heard it over and over from doctors, nurses, home care visitors, fellow moms, family and friends that I mustn’t neglect taking care of myself over taking care of Timothy. Whether it was a massage, doing something alone (aka ME time), going out with friends etc. these activities did not hinder my relationship with Timothy but rather enhanced it by invigorating and re-energizing me to be a better mom.

 

Back to our careers, in order for us to thrive at work, we need to take care of ourselves so that we can put our best foot forward at work. We all need time away from work whether its quality time with family/friends, hobbies and leisure activities, sleep as well as some ME time for self-reflection and introspection.

3. Failure is Not Final
While on maternity leave, for a while, I kept beating myself up unnecessarily for not doing something right for Timothy. The failure on my part was not on what I was not doing for Timothy but the fact that I was dwelling on it and not learning from it. Similarly with our careers, failure is not final but instead an opportunity to learn what it means to be resilient.

 

We all make mistakes and sometimes it’s not even a mistake but rather we made a specific decision with the information we had at a given point in time. We may not always like the outcomes and wish that we could have a second chance at a do over but that may not necessarily be possible but what we can control is how we can overcome, be resilient and apply the lessons learned.

After being off for 12 months, it certainly is an adjustment getting back into the work routine. I am excited to have joined the HR T&O team as Sr. Human Resources Business Partner. I started my career in technology so I’m thrilled to be back! A shout out to all my fellow mathies and comp sci grads from the University of Waterloo - yah for pi days and pink ties!

Going forward, managing my time and priorities at work will be critical as I have a little guy to drop off/pick up and spend quality time with. Having adult conversations, drinking a hot coffee and enjoying a hot meal at my own pace are also added bonuses to being back at work!

About the Author:

Elaine- headshot for article

Elaine Stawinski is a Senior Human Resources Business Partner at RBC supporting the Technology & Operations business. She has been at RBC for over five years in various roles in Strategy and HR. Elaine holds an MBA from the Richard Ivey School of Business and a Bachelor of Mathematics from the University of Waterloo. She resides in Toronto with her husband and child.

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