New mum perspective: don’t view us as pregnant ticking time bombs, keep us connected & coached and don’t ignore depression

Arti

We were very lucky to get a privileged insight into the wellbeing of a (very new!) mum when Arti Kashyap-Aynsley, Global Head of Wellbeing & Inclusion, spoke to us just a few weeks after the birth of her second daughter Ayla (her first, Mia, also features in the photos).

While she stresses that every mum is different in their wellbeing needs, there are many useful nuggets to fuel thought in what she says in this interview.

What was your experience of disclosing you were pregnant at work like?

After the first meeting that I announced I was pregnant with my first child, someone who was junior to me sent me an email immediately after saying ‘what are we going to do about your work?’ Because we need to give it to somebody now’.

That was six months before I was due to give birth. I felt like saying ‘I’m pregnant and still capable of working!’. 

Whilst at Ocado, it was the opposite. People acknowledged I was pregnant, but I worked up until my maternity leave without really ever taking my foot off the gas and was involved in all core processes surrounding my maternity leave, including finding my maternity cover.  

What helped the second time around was that I didn’t feel like I was being looked at like a ticking time bomb, instead I was able to work at the pace I felt comfortable and was supported with anything I needed. I was in control and able to set my boundaries which was so important to me, especially as my work and what I do and deliver on is core to my identity. 

What do you think employers should be aware of wellbeing wise when a woman discloses that she’s pregnant?

For employers it is important to understand that there are a myriad of things going on for someone disclosing they are pregnant.

Firstly there is he physicality of all things pregnancy, alongside all of the hormonal, emotional and mental aspects.

Beyond this there is then this sense of feeling anxious / nervous that you will be written off or not taken seriously, whilst one begins to try and navigate what they want from their career and what their identity as a parent may be.

So many individuals want to still continue at pace with their career, whilst also balancing the life change coming and navigating stigma that exists around their circumstances.

In addition there are financial aspects that are being balanced, i.e. what does the maternity cover look like, how will a household manage, what does that for other considerations like time off, potential child care for additional children, etc. 

This is a life stage that is impacting every aspect of an individual from a wellbeing and identity stand point and will look and feel different for everyone – there is no textbook case. 

And how can employers help with that identity piece?

It’s important to start a conversation. Even having guides on how to have a conversation would be helpful.  I don’t want to say script it exactly,  but a guide which makes clear what this conversation should look like and how leaders can support expectant parents on their team.

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There are so many wonderful organisations out there that support businesses and their parental leave policies and actions, but at the core of it, every individual wants to just feel supported, heard and listened to. Every individuals’ needs will look different throughout the pregnancy (including post-natally) so it is really important to take time for such important conversations. And ensure that they don’t just happen once but continue to be ongoing. 

Beyond that I think implementing coaching programmes are a really good idea – and not just after the baby is born but before you go on maternity leave to support parents with their journey and that shift in identity. 

What else would be helpful generally for wellbeing of new mums?

Other helpful things employers could do are make a return to work plan, organise a sponsor or mentor and ensure you have people you can connect to at work – especially if this is something that individuals want. 

We have Care Journeys for mental health challenges, why not outline the pathway for expectant parents so they know how to make best use of the company benefits and resources that are available?

We haven’t done that yet at Ocado because we are focusing on new policies around fertility and menopause launching in early 2024, but it is something on our roadmap for later in 2024. 

What can employers do to keep expectant mums engaged in work and avoid confidence drops, which we’ve written about in terms of imposter syndrome after maternity leave?

Coaching is the biggest game changer.  Ocado has a ‘return to work’ coaching programme which I will definitely be engaging in alongside an Executive Coach that has been provided to me to support my development. My experience has been amazing. It has given me an outlet to work through all aspects of my pregnancy and that balance with work and the challenges I face around my identity and that need to balance motherhood and working life successfully.

What I especially love about it all is that my coach is external to Ocado and so she looks at everything as an outsider with a different lens on things that really supports me and also provides me with a safe and confidential space to really work through things. 

What about the role of dads?

There are so many gender norms around the role of a woman and a man, whether in the workplace or at home, that need years of work to change. But it’s great we’re encouraging more men to take on roles at home and be a more available parent. And I think progressive parental leave policies that we see organisations now administering are playing a huge role in helping to shift that narrative and dialogue. 

I just think as a consistent focus we likely need to normalise the conversation around paternity leave. 

What’s your biggest piece of wellbeing advice to a new mum?

My biggest piece of advice is around taking time for yourself. As a mum I know that isn’t easy. But having a space, even if a couple minutes a day, to just check in with yourself and see how you are doing is important. It guides you being able to articulate what you need and allows you to understand where you are on the journey.

The other thing I would advise is to draw up a few lists that you revisit from time to time and check in with that address big questions such as: accomplishments you want to achieve ahead of mat leave, what you want your mat leave to look like and what you are really looking forward to achieving upon returning from mat leave. 

I  found lists like this so helpful for me – especially on things I wanted to achieve as it kept me super focused on things at work. 

With post natal depression do you think employers have a role?

Yes.  I struggled with pre and post natal depression in my first pregnancy. It was really hard because it was during the pandemic and all the resources were taken away. But employers have a role to play in terms of the benefits that are available and reminding people about things like their EAP and counselling services. There’s also probably an onus on employers to check in with their employees on this – in a way that links to those ongoing conversations mentioned above. 

What would have helped you at this time?

I was really fragile during my first pregnancy, outside of the pandemic and a whole host of things going on in my home life, I was on a really big emotional wave with post-natal depression. What would have helped is more conversation, more checking in, even if it was a text message every now and again. That time and that sense of showcasing the value and importance I hold as an individual and not just an employee would have made a world of difference. 

When you are on maternity leave it can feel very much “out of sight out of mind” which adds to the isolation. It is a lot for someone to be involved in so much at work and then suddenly feel so cut off. So whilst you want space as a mum, you also want a link to that life and want to know that those relationships you hold are real and that you are cared for as a real human and not just an “employee”. But this is just what I would have wanted, which I know is different for everyone. 

This is why that ongoing conversation is important, because it allows people space to articulate and work through what they would want and how they could be best supported. 

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