Mayvin_maternity leave OD

Maternity leave and OD: what returning to work means for me

In her first blog since maternity leave, Mayvin Director Sarah Fraser explores whether her tacit experience of working deeply with the unknown of parenthood might mean she brings a slightly different ‘self’ to the OD table.

It’s my first proper day back at work after maternity leave today. I’m sat at my desk with a few post-its and notepads surrounding me, and enough tech equipment to mean I should be able to achieve something! My little girl is playing in the other room with our babysitter, being wonderfully entertained and cared for. I keep hearing them giggling together, or a squeak of delight, and it takes some serious willpower not to jump up and go and share in that moment too. I may have failed to resist a couple of times today!

Even though I’m back working on the same computer, working with a growing organisation at Mayvin, I know everything is different. I feel emotional writing that – everything is different – my sense of what I am in the world for is now acutely attached to that little girl in the other room: her needs, her happiness, her future. But my old self has not gone either, I’m exploring the Mayvin parts of me again, like following some unravelled threads. What ‘self’ do I now bring back to Mayvin, to my work? How does that help enrich my experience of work and others’ experience of me? And what place does my work take in my new world, what meaning does it have?

I’m not going to succinctly answer all these questions in the next few paragraphs, I think it’s going to take a while. However, I recall a theme from reading Margaret Wheatley (2006) about enabling change by helping a system connect better to itself. Writing this blog is my attempt to do just that, recognising the shifts in role and identity in my life, which could easily be smoothed over or managed by talking about how to be really organised, focused and effective in my new role as a working mother. All those things will help, but I think I’m going to need more than that.

On my first new client call this morning, I loved the feeling of my OD brain dusting off and getting back into gear. The fun of having one of those exploratory conversations where I get to be sensitively curious and creatively suggestive, was great. It’s going to be lovely being ‘back’. And to be honest, I felt pretty much the same me; focused, a bit direct in my wording sometimes, but friendly, and wanting to do the best I can for those I work with.

So, what is going to be different? The thing that comes to mind when I think about the different ‘self’ I might be bringing back is something softer. Love and care have been the focus of my every day, and many long nights, over the last year. But I don’t think that completely covers it or gives a sense of what others might notice. Maybe there’s more, a sense of myself as bigger, deeper, or just containing more. Mentally I have found new edges, fragile points and a sense of feeling more brittle than I would ever like to admit. It is incongruous, but this has given me a different sense of strength… to keep going, to bounce back, to endure, to be patient, to ask for help, to see the light ahead, to love and care no matter what.

We know as OD practitioners there is so much to gain from understanding and working with your own vulnerability: for trust, relationships, and a sensitivity to what is really going on around you. I want to find ways to bring this fragility, maybe even brittleness, more into how I am in my work.

Maybe I can let go even more of the desire to ‘know’, and work with a caring determination, knowing I’ve got a bit more breadth, depth and softness to respond to whatever comes up.

Sarah Fraser is Mayvin Director with responsibility for our work in the Third Sector. Get in touch for a conversation about your people and organisation via our website or by email to