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Helena Curtis on returning to work

Helena Curtis is the UK Culture and Engagement Lead at PepsiCo. As a mother of three, she talked to us about her experiences of returning to work after maternity leave.

Can you tell us a bit about your experiences with maternity leave and returning to work?

I’ve been juggling motherhood and my career for the past 12 years. With three children, I’ve navigated maternity leave and returning to work each time, and I’ve learnt a lot along the way.

When I was planning for my first maternity leave, I wasn’t even sure if I would want to go back to work, because I didn’t know how I would juggle everything. I was used to working well into the evenings and committing to meetings all over the country and I couldn’t imagine I’d want that once I had a baby at home.

I cried when I left my 11-month-old at the childminder for the first time. I was scared not only of missing key moments like her first steps and first words, but also that I wouldn’t be any good at my job anymore. I worried that the shift from baby talk to business talk would be too great.

And how was it when you did return to work?

It took me a little while to get back into the swing of things, but I got there. In fact, realising I could be both a mother and good at my job, I found a new sense of confidence and drive to advance my career. I started taking on challenging projects that stretched me, and flexed my working hours around my daughter. I couldn’t stay in the office late, but would log on at home in the evening once my daughter was in bed.

That sounds amazing. Was it the same when you had your second child?

It was very different the second time round, as when I returned to work I was already pregnant with my third child. I’d agreed to lead a key project, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to see it through to the end.

On my first day back, I had to tell my boss that I was pregnant again. I worried about it for days before I returned, but thankfully she was amazing and really supportive!

Those few months were probably the most challenging of my career. I was combining the most high-profile and pressured role I’d ever taken on with both a teething baby who didn’t sleep and all-day-long morning sickness. It’s not something I’d advise to anyone who is looking for any kind of work/life balance.

Ok, so not the easiest of experiences. How did it go the third time around?

While I still worried about how on earth I was going to juggle it all, going back to work was emotionally so much easier. I knew all three children were settled and I was desperate to reconnect to the piece of me outside of being a wife and mum.

On a practical level, I’ve needed to have much stronger work/home boundaries as our family has grown. It’s very rare I work in the evenings now; if it’s urgent then you may find me logging on super early before the kids are awake, but that’s now a conscious choice rather than a habit.

You must have learnt so much from all these experiences. Do you have any advice to give to our members, who might be in similar situations, or thinking about having children?

There are the basics, like knowing your rights and planning childcare and your working arrangements. I also think it’s important to keep an open mind to what the future will bring, be realistic about how flexible you can be and set clear boundaries between home and work. I get a lot from celebrating my small successes, like picking my kids up on time!

If I’ve learnt one thing from my growing family and shifting career, it’s that there’s no right or wrong when it comes to the choices you make. That being said, there will always be a right decision for your family right now. What you need will change as you go through different stages of family life and your career. Businesses should be supportive of your personal life, and it should never hold you back from achieving what you want in your career. In my view, it’s not about the balance, it’s all about the sway.

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1 Comment

  1. I love hearing how women manage work life and great to hear these stories. I do however think the juggle with career, family and kids when you do a start up is an entirely different story! Pressure is immediate and constant and the challenges immense bringing a brand to market as a start up. I am juggling this right now, 4 children and an sme start up. One day I will wrote a book! Keep up the good work grocery girls.

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