Missing my daughter’s first steps was heartbreaking but I have no regrets about going back to work

Gina and her baby girl Jessica (Picture: Gina Clarke)

Going back to work after having a baby, especially your first, is never easy. I can relate to Serena Williams, who missed her baby’s first steps because she was training – as a working mum myself, I have missed many firsts.

Serena Williams cries as she misses daughter Alexis’ first steps for Wimbledon training

Jessica was a lovely baby. Bald as a button, she would rock the bright pink outfits I placed her in that just screamed ‘it’s a girl’. Despite our breastfeeding hurdles, I had started to pump a stash ready for going back to work at the nine month mark, so I didn’t have a gap in any work pay.

And heading back to a job I loved on part-time hours meant that I relished the time apart from my baby girl, and I began to feel like myself again.

Leaving for around three hours a day, it felt like it was a good break for me and more like playtime for her. By the time she’d had a nap, I’d be ready to pick her up again.

Six years ago I was working as a community reporter and I loved that people knew who I was, and felt they could approach me.

The fear of leaving my baby with a stranger at the nursery each morning slowly fell away, as compliments in my workplace made me feel that perhaps I was getting the balance right. A new family and success in my career. What more could I ask for?

And then I came home one afternoon, when she was 11 months old, and my husband John had picked her up at lunchtime while I was delayed on a project.

He was sat on the floor in the kitchen, a dazed smile across his face.

Then, he began to reach out his arms and I saw that behind the breakfast bar in front of him my cheeky cherub was standing up, arms stretched out towards him.

‘Show mummy,’ he said.

And with a giggle, she toddled the two or three steps towards him, before they both collapsed together laughing. It was glorious. And heartbreaking. It was obvious that these weren’t her first steps.

Instead, she had taken them earlier that afternoon without me.

I had a slightly bitter taste in my mouth for a moment, and my heart started racing.

What had my work cost me? But then I saw the smile on my husband’s face and I realised that I didn’t need to see her first steps – but he did.

Rarely do men get to experience any of a child’s firsts. From steps to words, we mums rely on our phones to capture the magic moment, proudly showing dad later, when he’s around.

Actually, John had managed to be there for more firsts than me.

Complications with my C-section meant that he had been the first person to hold, feed and change our two children while I was still in surgery. He’s had the first stinky poo, the first skin on skin contact and the first inhale of that precious baby smell.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I still work part-time, which means I get to do the school run, and in that sense I get a lot of firsts myself.

Ranging from the funny to the frustrating, I count my blessings that I’m the one that gets them.

Do I feel bad that I didn’t get to see her first steps?

For the 10 minutes following – absolutely.

But in the five years since, just being with my daughter and watching her grow has more than made up for it.

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