by Holly Walker
Three weeks into our experiment combining parenting and Parliament and I am pleased to report that it is getting easier.
After the first sitting week, when Dave and Esther came into Parliament with me and I fed her between meetings, she has settled into a comfortable pattern and is happy to drink expressed milk from a bottle, so there is no need for her to spend all day here. This is probably for the best – Parliament isn’t the most fun environment for a baby, let’s be honest – but it was hard at first. Yes, there were tears, but they were mine, not hers! She seems perfectly contented to hang out with her dad, though it is nice that she also seems excited to see me when she comes in for a feed at lunchtime.
While I found it hard to be away from her at first, in a way I also think it is better. Like many new mothers, I have a tendency to obsess and stress about every little thing – is she wearing enough layers? Too many? Is the strap of the buggy too loose? Too tight? Does she need help to roll back on her back after rolling over? Is the light too bright in her eyes, the music too loud? And so on and so on. Of course, these things are important, but babies pick up on stress, and it’s not much fun for her or me to be in a constant state of nervous tension. Her dad is much more zen about these things, and consequently, she often seems calmer when hanging out with him. Although work is busy and stressful in a different way, I am enjoying having a break from constantly being alert to the needs of someone else. It also means that when I get home at the end of the day, I’m delighted to see her instead of exhausted and ready to hand her over, which is how I felt at the end of days at home with her on my own. So in a way I think work is making me a better, calmer mum.
I think being a mum is also making me a more efficient MP. I am writing this at my desk as I express milk in a half hour gap between meetings. I’ve found these times when I am forced to be stationary for 20 minutes or so with the office door closed a great opportunity to catch up on emails and writing and am suddenly much more efficient at it than when I am free to wander away and when people can pop in with urgent questions. I am constantly updating lists of tasks that I need to complete so that I can leave as soon as the bells ring for the dinner break (I have leave from the evening sessions of Parliament for the next couple of months) and get home to bathe Esther and put her to bed. I don’t have time to spend ages preparing for every speech, so I’m backing myself more and consequently speaking with more clarity and confidence. I’m much more realistic about what I can achieve, so I’ve had to prioritise carefully, and as a result, I think I’m more effective than if I was trying to spread myself too thin.
Of course it’s early days and much could still change and get harder. Sleep, and the effects of sleep deprivation, are cumulative over time so who knows how I will be feeling after a month or two! But for now, so far, so good.