I decided that life doesn’t stop when you have a baby and certainly not because you are a single parent. To me motherhood is a new adventure and so I decided to go on holiday to stay with a dear friend who lives in Hong Kong. I have always traveled to far-flung and exotic places and, within reason, I did not want being a mum stopping that.
As I was taking baby girl with me, my friend had arranged for some of her girl friends, some with and some without babies to come over for lunch. It was a lovely afternoon with champagne and delicious finger foods, which I munched on relentlessly.
It was not only lovely to meet some of my friend’s friends but it was also fascinating to discover and discuss with them how the other half live with babies. I was shocked to learn that mums in Hong Kong can only take a maximum of 10 weeks maternity leave. Say what?! 10 months, surely, I hear you cry. No. Ten flipping weeks. The thought of going back to work when my baby was only 10 weeks old horrifies me. In the UK you can take up to 1 year. I go back to work in July when my baby will be nearly 9 months old. That feels about right for me and of course every woman is different.
It was not only the length of maternity leave that is so different. If you are Chinese, extended family is very important and they will help to look after the baby if you are a mum who wants to go back to work. If you are an ex-pat or rich you get the Phillipino maid/help to do it for you. Now, the benefits here are obvious – cheap and onsite 24/7 child care. In the UK, placing your child in a nursery is like taking out a second mortgage. Ouch. The other benefit is that if you are going back to work after 10 weeks the live in help can help with the night shift. You also have built in babysitters on tap.
However, I know I would feel massively territorial knowing that the helper was experiencing all those amazing firsts with my child: first roll, sitting up, weaning etc. I would loathe the help and resent not being integral to my child’s development at such a young age. Not to mention the fabulous baby and mother play and sensory activities that I am a part of in the UK. They are a great way to meet other mums as well as bond with your child and see them develop. They don’t seem to exist for Mums as they are back to work so quickly in HK.
Mums in Hong Kong also have similar pressures with breastfeeding as we do in the UK. One mum, who I had met, had been expressing furiously (moo!) every 3 hours for her 5 week old knowing that her return to work was immanent and she wanted to continue breastfeeding as long as possible as guidelines tell you to. Her freezer was stacked with the stuff. Admirable but even though I breastfeed I have never gotten on well with expressing and would have struggled if roles were reversed.
I go back to work in a few weeks and despite my myriad of pressures and dilemmas of becoming a single parent, moving home and an impending divorce, I am looking forward to different kin dof challenge again. But I will miss my maternity leave. Once the baby blues fog (and shock of my separation) had lifted, I have cherished every part of my time with my baby girl on maternity leave. I have loved experimenting with activities, weaning, baby meal recipes, swimming as well as going long haul on holiday and taking her and me out of our comfort zone. I have not enjoyed the sleep challenges and therefore grateful I didn’t have to go to work on top of being sleep deprived. I feel very lucky in my situation that I am from the UK and although statutory pay is nominal if your work does not have a good maternity pay package, it is better than nothing and adequate if there are 2 of you or you have saved for your little one. http://www.dwp.gov.uk/publications/specialist-guides/technical-guidance/ni17a-a-guide-to-maternity/statutory-maternity-pay-smp/smp-amount/
People in the UK often moan about it because of the crap weather, tax or welfare system or European immigration and other such things. However, I am a real anglophile and love England and being English. Maternity leave is yet another area where I am proud and feel grateful that I am from and live in the UK.
On that note, I’m off to have a cup of tea, in a pub, whilst watching a spot of cricket and I shall then grab some fish and chips for my dinner!