Lauren's Story


Prioritise your now.

Lauren Hill
Mum to three beautiful children and Senior Marketing Manager at Westpac Foundation & Westpac Scholars Trust.  

As I parked the car outside the trendy café in Surry Hills, Sydney, I could feel the knot forming in the pit of my stomach and my breath become a little shorter. I had been rehearsing my resignation spiel for my entire 45 minute trip, but as I sat there in the car no longer having to concentrate on navigating the city at peak hour, I started doubting myself and my mind went into scenario planning mode (a true sign of a mother!). What if my decision disappoints my boss or even angers him after he has waited 10 months for my return to work?  Will I ever find another part-time job again? Is it worth going through the struggle of finding a job and then having to prove myself? What if he suggests I take more time to make this decision or entices me back with more money (unlikely but a girl has got to dream, right!).

On paper, my role ticked the return to work boxes – part-time, some flexibility with my hours and working from home when required, a decent salary, good people who respect me as a team member, and I didn’t feel marginalised for not being in the office five days a week. But here is the catch, while I had been on maternity leave, I had moved home and the office has moved location putting a significant distance between us.  The logistics of managing my family’s needs and work commitments with the complicated commute was overwhelming. No matter how many hours my husband and I spent crafting possible schedules with his work commitments or contacting long daycare centres or nannies or au pairs, we couldn’t find a solution that worked for all five of us.  

When returning to work with my second child, I learnt a valuable life lesson that was the key driver for my pending resignation. In short, I kept my first child in a daycare close to where I worked so that when I returned back for the second time, I would be all sorted with my care arrangements and logistics. It meant for the year I was on maternity leave, the kids spent a lot of their time ‘commuting’ 34km round trip, I missed valuable morning walks connecting with other parents and my baby missed sleeps in his cot. I never returned to that workplace because I got a great job offer elsewhere so all my long term planning backfired. BIGTIME. The lesson I learned was that I needed to make the decisions that worked best for now so that I wasn’t enduring life for a future perceived benefit, but living it. Of course, we all need to have long term plans and work towards those but not at the cost of your present circumstances. Each decision we make will take us on a path and sometimes the outcome is better than the one we planned for in advance. Revisiting this lesson reaffirmed that the best outcome for me and my family right now was for me to resign.

The café was buzzing with employed people on a mission to grab their caffeine fix and get on with their busy day. I saw my boss dressed in his signature open collared shirt casually reading the paper at a table in the corner. One thing I always respected about him was his honesty but now I was nervous to be on the receiving end of how he would take my news. To my surprise, he was supportive of my decision and shared his story of how his wife had also chosen to prioritise their family to allow him to focus on getting his business up and running. I left on great terms with him and I almost melted with relief as I slid back into my car seat to make the drive home. I was feeling lighter than ever before knowing I had made the right decision for now. Even though the future was uncertain, this was a better outcome than the stress and pressure I would undeniably inflict on myself and my family to make this work, work.

Ironically, not long after I resigned, I started working with FlexCareers as I am deeply passionate about flexible work to help families thrive. I spent the next few years working from home and now I work part-time at a respected Not for Profit within a financial institution which I love. I don’t think I would have been on this career path if I hadn’t made decisions along the way to make the best of the current life phase I was in. Instead of rolling with the punches, call the shots! With my littlest starting school next year, I feel like the level of unpredictability is starting to plateau and getting a sense of what it feels like to have more control over my time. I’m excited about what the next chapter holds for me and my family and enjoying this journey called life.

Note to reader: Thank you for reading my story. Another very important lesson I have learnt through three return to work experiences is that we are all different and our unique circumstances means we need different work and life arrangements. I remember once thinking to myself, ‘How does she manage to work full-time, and I can’t even manage 3 days of work’? But then I had a husband who did a lot of international travel, a daughter who needed significant educational support, an extra human to raise and different career ideals! We are all different. What works for us and our families is different. Do what works for you! Good luck.

Sarah's Story

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Going back to work after my son was born was more a matter of having to take things in my stride, than a conscious decision.

After a high risk pregnancy and premature birth, Tex was born two weeks after I had received the national Rural Women’s Award and became an ambassador for rural women across the country. The whole pregnancy I had been travelling and to speaking engagements and other events as the state winner of the award, so when the birth came I continued to do the same, it’s just that I travelled with more luggage. 

That continued until my son was about 2 and into absolutely everything. Life was starting to feel out of control – and as a person who is used to maintaining a certain element of control, that made me pretty highly strung. I didn’t like the person I became. 

I remember one day that we were flying home from an interstate event, the flight crew had put us in a great seat under the bulkhead where there was plenty of room for Tex to sit and amuse himself. Before we’d even taken off, he got so annoyed that he had to sit still on my lap and grabbed at absolutely everything within his reach – including the ipad that the businessman sitting next to us had in his lap. Tex threw it across the aisle, and although I apologised profusely, I didn’t get one of those ‘I understand, he’s just a kid’ glances.

On the same trip, at the airport on the second leg of the flight I was attempting to push an overloaded luggage trolley with one hand, while pulling the pram (with Tex in it) behind me with the other. It was the last straw after having been provided with accommodation on this trip to a second story unit, and already having had to mobilise this same load up and then down four flights of stairs. As the luggage trolley wheels skidded and tipped the trolley every few metres, things continued to slide off of the top. I was soon in tears, absolutely exhausted as I stubbornly dragged it along. One of the cleaners from a car rental company saw my struggle and ran out to help me, pushing the trolley all the way to the check in gate for me. I don’t think I’ve ever been so grateful. With that simple act of kindness, he had changed the entire course of my day. 

It wasn’t long after that trip that I became pregnant with our second child. I was working on an ad hoc basis from my home office. Travelling less but working more with the scaling of my own business. 

When our daughter Scout came along, the first few months went by in a blur. I hadn’t actually stopped working. In fact, I actually had my laptop open and was using the delivery table as a desk, keeping myself busy during labour. Some people play music, I do work.

By the time our daughter could crawl,  my mental health had already begun to spiral. I wanted to work, but I was a mum with two young kids depending on me. I returned to medical treatment for depression, and began seeing a psychologist weekly. I completed a Mindful Awareness Parenting series of personal development with her, and continued cognitive behaviour therapy.

During this time I learned something about myself that I hadn’t realised. I love my kids and wouldn’t change a thing about this beautiful family we have created, it’s just that for some reason parenting didn’t come naturally to me. It didn’t ‘fill my cup’…. work did. Whatever I was managing to put into that cup was being emptied out almost immediately, and there seemed to be a constant demand for more. I felt incredibly helpless, overwhelmed, perhaps even suffocated. 

It took a long time and a great deal of trial and error to find ways to manage the juxtaposition of being a mother and business owner. The advice I would give to anyone else going back to work is to cut yourself some slack. It will be different for you than it was for someone else – they aren’t in your shoes, and you don’t know what is going on behind the mask that they wear.

And as a parent, I would tell you that in those moments when you think you can’t handle it for a single second longer, take a deep breath and know that this is just temporary, it is going to pass. This is a phase…. Everything is just a phase. If it is a good phase, enjoy it while it lasts. If it is a difficult phase, hang in there, it won’t last forever.

The other thing I would say to people going back to work is: if you want to feel productive, perhaps a home office isn’t the best idea. If you can work elsewhere, you are more likely to remain focused and on-task. It is far too easy to allow divided attention and parental guilt to interrupt your flow from a home office! 

What I did better my second time around was learn to let other people take control – delegate to my team, let my family help out more, outsource things that I didn’t need to do myself. 

What I didn’t do well, was use the time that I had created for myself wisely. I created space and then filled it with more work because it felt so good, but all it did was increase the expectations on me and make me feel as though I wasn’t achieving as much as I should be. And what’s worse, I began to feel as though I was losing my mind. 

I made allowances for the fact that I probably still had ‘baby brain’, but that didn’t explain my loss of short term memory, inability to make decisions or the incredibly slow speed I was now processing information at. And it didn’t account for my constant irritability. Or the weird physical stuff that was happening to my body (gosh I could give you a list of about 20 things I can’t explain)!

Although it is widely recognised that cognitive decline is one of the side effects of serious depression and anxiety episodes, improving it is rarely a treatment goal for patients (treatment usually revolves around improving emotional wellbeing and lifestyle). The research shows that cognitive function does not return to pre-episode levels in the same timeframe that emotional state recovers. It can remain impaired for a long time, and it seems that the impairment might get worse after each serious low. 

And that’s where I’m at now. I’m at the stage of trying to remember how to spell things or do simple calculations, trying to remember the directions to a nearby place or the name of my friends kids. It’s not great. 

I have had a psychiatric review to make sure that I am on the correct dose of medication for the stage that I am at, I continue to see my psychologist every fortnight, and have physical check-ups with my GP quite regularly. I’ve bought myself a smart watch and I’ve set it up to remind me to eat, and to track my sleep. It gives me the much needed nudge I need to get up and move around every so often, and get a drink of water. 

So, small steps. I try to make healthy choices in my work day as well as my home life. I have put into place things that give me an objective perspective on how I’m travelling, and hold me account to the progress that I want to make. It is a slow and often frustrating process. But I have to stick at it, because the decisions that I have made by choice, have led me here. So I can either see my current state as a ‘mental health condition’ and motherhood as a ‘having to make sacrifices’ – or I can choose to surrender to the path I’ve chosen, and be the best version of myself that I can, one day at a time.


Tiffany's Story

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How tragedy and Postnatal Depression led me to my purpose.

The signs were everywhere but I didn’t see them. I was so desperate to have this be perfect I daren’t admit it even to myself. I missed my mum, every day I wished she was there to help me, to listen to me, to hold my baby and love her – spoil her the way I saw other mums spoil their grandchildren. It’s all I wanted, yet she was gone forever. I felt so sad for my baby that I gave her more of me than I could spare, to the detriment of my relationship, my work, and even myself. The hole was too big and I couldn’t fill it. There were good days of course; and they were enough to give me hope that this could be everything I had dreamed… if I just kept trying…kept giving. I couldn’t escape the persistent wish that I could belong again to someone who was there for me as I navigated this new life. I tried to replace mum with neighbours or anyone who would show me the slightest affection. I would walk down the local main street five or six times a day hoping someone would stop and admire my baby just so I could talk to them; so I could connect and maybe be heard or seen or loved. I’d walk into shops and not want to leave. ‘Help me, I’m not ok. Please look beneath my smile and see me...I’m not ok – I’m losing my life, I don’t know how to do this or who I am anymore.’ It’s almost unbearable the guilt and shame I felt thinking this way...feeling so empty. I had everything I wanted and my daughter was perfect. But despite my desire to have a child I found I couldn’t be whole. ‘I'm sorry baby’, I would cry. ‘I'm so sorry that I feel this way, you don’t deserve this.’ I was exhausted trying to make it something it wasn’t…and my fear of admission broke one day as I yelled at my husband after months of unrest.

I want to cry for the pain I felt and the shame I still carry with me. The ‘postnatal depression’ label is not a fair one. It’s not something I had like a bad cold. My life at that time shouldn’t be explained by a simple diagnosis that trivialises my pain and makes me wear it. This was my life; my family, my husband of ten years, and it all collapsed around me like dominos.

It wasn’t during that time that I realised this pain would become my work. It was looking back and realising that when Faith was born I was happy; I almost burst with love as I watch her sleep or smile at me.  My Postnatal Depression (PND) wasn’t the result of hormonal imbalance. Or from losing my mum. Or my husband drifting away from me. It wasn’t the loneliness and isolation. It wasn’t the lack of identity after leaving my work and colleagues. It wasn’t even the monotonous days of washing, feeding, settling, and playing with Faith. It wasn’t any one of these things. I was a strong, intelligent, capable woman in my mid-30s. I had faced loss, trauma, illness, all the things life had thrown at me and survived. I was brave and resilient as hell. It was all of it, all at once. It was the profound mismatch between expectation and reality. I was a new mum with no support, geographically and situationally isolated, hormones changing, relationship struggling, with the extraordinary pressure I had placed on myself to be perfect, for my daughter to behave perfectly; be the good baby everyone wanted her to be. This rite of passage would shape me in ways I never saw coming.

I didn’t realise at the time how pivotal losing my mum would be; how it would change everything. My research now and in the future is dedicated to helping women face the huge demands they bear with confidence, knowledge and a sense of empowerment. It is to challenge our norms and fight for a voice. I am dedicated to helping new parents, despite their hurdles, find support. In every tragedy there may be a gift and this life I have created which once felt so empty, is inspired by the heavy cloud I carried and the subsequent desire to support parents. I have been afforded unfathomable support by Westpac: my scholarship, the professional and alumni networks, their unreserved faith and resources to support me to make a difference for women in Australia.

So while I can’t remember the exact moment I chose this as my work, I’m often reminded about how important it is. Like the day I stood in the customs line, exhausted from a 20-hour flight. Behind me stood a mum with three huge bags and a runaway two-year-old. She looked tired as I stood and watched her demand the little escapee return who swept under the dividing ropes and between people, evading both her mother and the guards. People shook their heads and the mum stood, looking broken, and my heart sunk for her. Embarrassed, she lowered her head to hide tears of defeat. I left my bag and moved to her side, gently placing my hand on her arm. ‘That was a tough flight hey’, I whispered. ‘You’re really amazing you know.’ She cried and as I hugged her and then looked up, trying to find her little girl. ‘Hang in there, she won’t leave without you.’ We shared a moment of understanding and I returned to my bags.  

Today I sit here with my second daughter, 4 months old. I'm cool as a cucumber. I'm a different person and can credit experience for such a change. I’m still a high achiever and perfectionist. Still emotional and sentimental, and sure as hell still missing my mum. And I sit here with a determination to change the way we handle parenting, and the experiences we face with it. I sit knowing that it’s not women who are at fault; we live in a culture which demands more of us than our fair share whilst separating us from each other in uncountable ways. The task is great. PND is not a simple diagnosis nor is it a simple fix; it’s as individual and multifaceted as the mums who are affected. And each one of those mums deserves a voice, and someone willing to hear it.