Getting the mix of work and family just right requires an expert juggling act from any parent. This juggling act can become even trickier when you throw in long hours, demanding conditions and shift work.
Someone who knows a lot about demanding careers and what it takes to balance them with family life is Shelley, a doctor and mother of three.
We spoke to Shelley to find out just how she manages such a full plate.
Having a baby while studying
Shelley’s first baby was born during her third year of studying Medicine.
“With my first child it all fell into place having him in the mid-semester break of my third year,” she said.
“So I didn’t require any leave at that time but it meant that I was back at study two weeks after his birth.”
While Shelley was pregnant she met with the Dean of the School of Medicine to discuss her options and was met with a rather negative response.
“The Dean had a pretty negative view toward my ability to have a child during the course of my studies,” she said.
“He told me that others had tried to previously and had failed and asked why I would be any different.”
Shelley was determined to make it work and continue on with her studies.
Once her first baby was born Shelley was pleasantly surprised at just how accommodating and supportive her university was.
“The Uni arranged a space for me to express and store breast milk,” said Shelley.
“They were also very helpful with financial aid given that my ability to partake in part-time work was limited.
“When I had my second child, during my fifth year of Medicine, they were similarly supportive and understanding when I needed to take the time off.”
Maternity leave makes it easier
By the time Shelley had her third child she had completed her internship and was well into the first year of her residency.
“As I had been working with the department of health for more than 12 months I was entitled to maternity leave,” said Shelley.
“With maternity leave you can take up to two years away from work to care for baby with 14 weeks being paid leave.
“As I am the primary income earner for our family I only took the 14 paid weeks off before returning to work full time while my partner stays home and takes care of the children.
“Overall there were no issues with me taking the leave and once you return to work there are things in place to help support new mothers.
“For example the maternity leave agreement allows you to take two extra thirty minute breaks to breastfeed or express which helps a lot.”
As one can imagine the work hours of a doctor can be quite long and unseemly making it all the more difficult to strike that important balance between family and work.
Shelley said it takes a lot of work from both her and her partner to ensure that their children as well as themselves have everything they need.
“Shift work is definitely associated with extra difficulties,” said Shelley.
“When I first went back I was mostly working evening and night shifts and with evening being the busiest time at home it was sometimes difficult to manage.
“Trying to fit in homework, dinner, family time, bath time and bed routines is challenging and often meant my partner was too busy to cook meaning he would order in rather than cook.
“To make things a bit easier I actually changed my employment from Obstetrics and Gynaecology to General Medicine which meant I worked 8am until 4pm Monday to Friday, no night shifts or weekend work.
“Changing to a different area of medicine does mean that I have effectively put my career on hold for the time being.”
Creating a work/family balance
With the slightly less demanding hours of Shelley’s new job she is able to spend more time with her children in the evening and at the weekends.
“I try and have weekends as work free time,” she said.
“On a Saturday morning I go out with the kids to let my husband have a rest after a hectic week and then we catch up on any household duties that need to be done.
“Sunday is family day and we enjoy the day out with each other or at home.
“When the youngest has gone to bed I do homework/activities/story time with the two older kids.
“Balancing time between each of my children so that they all feel as though they are getting their special attention from Mum is hard but obviously really important.
Shelley also employs a couple of strategies that help to make sure she gets some time for herself too.
“I like to exercise so I leave the house early while the kids are still sleeping so I can fit some in,” she said.
“I also make sure that I cook at least twice a week as it is something that I really enjoy doing, my husband cooks the rest of the time or we go out/order in dinner.
With such a demanding career and busy schedule Shelley could be excused for ever feeling overwhelmed by her situation but she said she feels that with the regular hours of her new job she is enjoying a good balance between family and work.
“My youngest was diagnosed with a metabolic disorder which would mean that she required frequent feeding day and night.
“While I was still at home, before returning to work, I was really worried about how I was going to cope with the work load.
“I talked to some social workers about any alternatives I might have to going back to work but unfortunately that wasn’t an option for me.
“But once I got back into the swing of things it was actually not too bad, especially after switching to eight hour days.
“While I feel I have a good balance between family and work, I would like to get back to Obstetrics and Gynaecology in the future.”
Advice for professional women
After getting her degree, working full-time as a doctor and raising three beautiful children Shelley is more than qualified to express a few words of wisdom to any women who are thinking of having a baby but are worried what it might mean for their careers.
“I would read up on what your entitlements are first,” she said.
“Be aware of what help or support is available such as provisions for breastfeeding or expressing as well as childcare.
“See if you can change or reduce your hours when you come back to work so you can ease back into it without feeling like you have to take on the whole world in one go.”