Women at Work: Engineer

Women at Work: Engineer

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Name: Stephanie Jenkinson

Current profession: Engineer

Town or county you live in: Kent

How did you get in to engineering?
I loved physics and maths during school, plus was surprisingly good at it. I also love learning how things work and Mechanical Engineering seemed at the time like a logical next step. I went to a defence university on the Wiltshire/Oxfordshire border, so my second passion then became defence and security. I love the feeling that I might actually be making a difference

Briefly describe a typical day at work…
I am currently on a secondment doing more of an administrative role for the senior management. But before this, a typical day would involve designing items and working with the workshop staff to see them built. I would also be involved in research projects and conducting explosive trials on site.

What is the best part of your job?
They occasionally let me blow things up! Being involved in making a difference to the defence and security of the UK.

And the worst?
I hate being bored and working for the civil service seems to have two speeds – rushed off your feet or barely enough work to get through the day.

How many children do you have?
One daughter.

How old was your child when you went back to work?
She was about 7/8 months.

How did you find going back to work after having a baby?
I actually cut my maternity leave short; I was supposed to take 11 months off, but I found I was starting to chomp at the bit with wanting to have adult conversations that didn’t revolve around children. I adore my NCT and other mum friends, and there is no way I would have got through the past 15 months without them. However, I also spent a really long time at university (eight years). I am highly qualified and, on the whole, love my job and was desperate to go back to it. I wanted something that was just for me. While I was off on maternity leave (and to a certain extent the months leading up to it) I ceased to become the qualified person that I am and suddenly just became a mum. Hats off to anyone who does do the stay-at-home mum thing, I so admire you. However, I am aware that I do not have the patience for it and honestly thought (and still do) we would all be better off if I returned to work.

Did you go back to the same job? Or consider a career change?
I went back to a different job, which has been a change. It has been fascinating to learn about how the whole organisation works and I think this will make me more efficient and more aware of what I am doing when I go back to the science. I am now looking for a job back in the science and technology areas, so I can use my brain fully. The past six months have been great to ease me back into working.

Who provides childcare for you?
I am very fortunate to have gained a place at a charity nursery that is also conveniently located a short walk from where I live. It has made returning to work possible financially, as it considerably cheaper than the other nurseries around our area. I have recently become a trustee of the nursery as well to try and help them with their upcoming relocation to a new site.

Was it easy to negotiate flexible working/returning to work?
I am exceedingly fortunate to work for the civil service, so returning to work was completely on my terms. Due to accrued leave I was able to return to work three days per week for three months, but get paid full time and use annual leave for two days per week. I am now back up to full-time hours (again, I wanted to do more, so it was my decision), but I work four days in the office (with an extra hour tagged on each day) and half a day at home with my daughter one day per week. I still use my annual leave to have days at home with my daughter when I want to. Again, I am very lucky that my job allows me the flexibility to be able to take time off, as and when I want, and to be able to work from home, but most importantly understand that my family must and always will come first now.

Would you say your attitude to work has changed since having a baby?
Yes! As much as I would still love to be able to do the extra bits and pieces that meant staying late, or working an occasional weekend. My time with my family is precious, so when home time comes along I am out of that door and on my way to nursery to pick her up – something that I look forward to all day.

What advice would you give to mums on maternity leave?
Get yourself a good group of parent/mum friends. There are plenty of free groups around, if you didn’t do any pre- or post-natal courses. Go along to them, find likeminded individuals and make friends (I know this is easier said than done. I struggle massively with this due to anxiety, but for my daughter’s sake I forced myself to do it). I would have been lost without the friends I have made through courses and playgroups – just make sure they have similar views to you on parenting. They have been a source of comfort when my husband doesn’t understand those nitty gritty things that play on your mind. I have a lovely group of friends who I know I can call on for anything (including babysitting frequently, as I have no family nearby) and I hope they know that I would also do anything for them!

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Why I love my mummy mates

Why I love my mummy mates

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Mummy mates won’t judge if you turn up half an hour late, stressed, covered in baby sick, with no make-up on and unbrushed hair. Credit: Providence Doucet/unsplash.com

In this post I’m going to praise the NCT, but not because of their antenatal course content. It was informative, especially the bits about options for giving birth, labour and birth plans etc, but that’s not the point I’m trying to make and, to be honest, I forgot most of it when the baby came and went into a total panic about how to keep my small human alive. But, the one great thing about doing that course was the friends I made. Here’s why…

I remember the first group session, when we all sat around in a circle and introduced ourselves. I looked at these strangers and thought, “I can’t imagine being friends with you. I’ve got plenty of great friends and don’t need any more. This is a load of bollocks.” That sounds really harsh, but it takes me a while to like people. I’m fine with small talk and socialising, but when it comes to proper friendships, I am picky. For starters, I don’t like it when people are too nice to me. You don’t know me well enough to like me yet, why are you being so nice? It puts my back up.

I tend to go through three stages of friendship: polite indifference, annoyance/tolerance and then humour. If I take the mickey out of you it means I like you. So I was a little sceptical about NCT. We did our classes over a number of evening sessions spread out over a few weeks. By the end of the course, I felt I knew some of the people a little better, but we were still at the awkward stage where you don’t want to reveal your true self (in my case my inappropriate, disgustingly rude sense of humour) for fear of being branded a weirdo.

Then one couple had their baby six weeks early, which totally freaked everyone out (including the new somewhat unprepared parents!). The whole group went for a curry after the course had finished and they bought their new tiny baby along. It turns out the most scary thing for a heavily pregnant woman is to see a newborn baby in the flesh and realise that: 1) one of those will be coming out of you soon and 2) that you will be responsible for such a tiny helpless thing.

After that, I was the next mum to give birth, four days before my due date. We had arranged a walk around Knole Park to encourage labour and I had to cancel just before as I went into hospital with suspected waters breaking (see my post about the Week of Wee). After that the babies came thick and fast. Then the Whatsapp conversations began. Usually at 2, 3, or 4am. Random questions, cute photos and general chit chat. We started to bond. Going through such an intense situation at the same time makes you bond much faster than a normal friendship.

Once we had got through the newborn fog (the first two weeks or so), we started to meet up regularly at weigh-in clinics, for coffees, walks and baby classes. It was so refreshing to chat to women who felt the same way as you. Who were sleep deprived, unwashed, stressed, freaked out and stumbling through life like zombies. We were each other’s support network, agony aunts, life coaches and shoulders to cry on. We held each other up and made each other feel that we were doing a good job as mums. We moaned about our husbands, the state of our vaginas, our sore boobs and laughed at our weak pelvic floors. We ate cake and drank hot chocolate by the bucket load (we still do this quite a bit…).

There’s absolutely no way I could have got through this past year without my mummy friends. The women I wasn’t bothered about getting to know are now such an important part of my life. They are always there to listen to my moaning or offer advice when the J has a weird rash/strange poo/random mark on her body. We can sit and moan about how our children are little shites and joke about wanting to send them back. We can be honest and chat without judgement, because we know that we aren’t really being serious, we just need to vent.

So thanks ladies, you are awesome and I’m so glad to have you in my life. Oh and thanks for putting up with my gross jokes and weird banter.

When Grump and I signed up for the NCT course I was astonished at how much it cost – for a baby course! But a few of my friends with kids had said how great it was for making friends and how important that is for a new mum. Well I couldn’t agree more. That £250 (or thereabouts) was worth every penny, because it gave me so much more than a bit of birth and parenting knowledge, it gave me some proper good mummy mates.