Real Life: Maternity leave: the break is certainly no holiday

I WISH I lived in Norway, writes Sally Williams. Maternity leave entitlement there is 10 months on full pay. Though the word 'leave' is misleading. 'It's one long doss,' snorted a (childless) friend of mine. 'Walks in the park, no racing to get the train, and you get paid for it]' As she works in the personnel department of a large company I suspect it wasn't just her own thoughts she was voicing.

New European regulations state that all female employees are to be entitled to at least 14 weeks maternity leave. What this means is 14 weeks hard work, as new mothers discover.

Babies are bosses: selfish, tyrannical, egotistical. After a few weeks, your old boss doesn't seem so bad after all. At least he didn't interrupt everything you do, isn't incontinent and said thank you from time to time. A newborn baby has no conscience. He can scream with rage for hours. There are tribunals for similar behaviour in the workplace.

A mother's responsibilities are huge, but there is no training. There is no clocking off. And at the end of the day, unlike at the office, little has been visibly achieved. Babies are fed and changed and three hours later it all needs doing again.

Trips to the park or the art gallery are one of the perks (also, you have a legitimate excuse to watch The Jungle Book and visit toy shops), but by the time you've gathered all the equipment - changing bag, nappies, cream, rain kit, sunblock, hats and snacks, you've forgotten where you were supposed to be going.

So why hasn't the human race died out? Because you love your baby more than your boss, and in return for your efforts you get a depth of satisfaction and pleasure which make it all worth while. But mother love doesn't stop mothers wanting to go back to the office - not necessarily for the money or the job satisfaction.

Going back after maternity leave has drawbacks - problems setting up job shares or part time work, exhaustion, organising child care, pumping engorged bosoms in the loo; and missing your baby. But at least the office is a place where you can start and finish a conversation, read the paper and drink a cup of coffee in peace, and where your boss doesn't throw up on you, demand to have his bottom wiped or scream every time you walk out of the room.

'Birth and Beyond: what every new mother should know' by Sally Williams (Boxtree, pounds 9.99)

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